Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tacita Dean: Film

I walked over Hungerford Bridge yesterday because I wanted to get to the south bank of the Thames. I didn't want to stay on the north side with all the traffic and noise.

I'd enjoyed lunch earlier in Soho at the Freelance Media Group's monthly meeting and it was great fun chatting and eating especially as it's held at the Groucho Club. Then I had a quick catch up with my friend who helps runs the group over a cup of tea in a nearby café.

When we parted company what I really wanted was some silence and inactivity. As I walked over Hungerford Bridge a heavy mist settled over the Thames and I could barely see the outlines of office buildings behind St Paul's Cathedral. And with the mist came silence. I turned left at the Festival Hall and walked along the river bank towards Blackfriars Bridge. There were few people around and the Christmas Market stalls, not yet open for business, were being decorated with tinsel and lights. In a few days time I'll be able to buy gingerbread, clothing, bags, notebooks made from recycled paper and more food than I can point a stick at but not yesterday or indeed today.

There was a lone busker singing along to digital music stored on her laptop. It sounded quite pleasant but I walked passed without throwing any change in her cap. There were a few second hand book stalls set up outside the British Film Institute. I had a brief look but didn't feel like lingering and turning any pages.

As I reached the OXO tower a tug sailed by towing a barge with containers, probably full of household waste, in the direction of the Thames estuary. The sound it made boomed across the river and briefly penetrated the silence. I had to leave the Thames Path at Blackfriars Bridge and shortly afterwards I entered the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern.

Tacita Dean's installation Film is on show at the far end of the Turbine Hall. This venue used to be a power station and the Turbine Hall is vast. By the time I'd reached the bench provided for viewers to sit on to watch Film I'd become accustomed to the lack of light. I had to walk slowly and tip-toed around other viewers. We sat in a straight line and it reminded me of monks observing a religious service in the middle of the night. The silence was interrupted by clanging coming from somewhere else in the building.

Tacita Dean is an artist who uses film in a similar way a painter uses paint. Film has sprocket holes, there are 24 frames a second and 16 frames in a 35mm foot. Images can become distorted, the emulsion can get scratched and film is expensive. Stocks of it are becoming increasingly hard to find. In fact some companies have stopped making it altogether because digital recording with its special effects have taken the film industry over.

Apparently Tacita has no time for digital recording preferring instead the subtle nuances of physical film. She labouriously filmed and spliced together this film that lasts 11 minutes, but feels in the darkness a lot longer, a combination of moving and still images and it feels like a homage to traditional film making. She combined footage of waves in water with bubbles and fountains, along with escalators and blocks of colour in primary colours. I quote from her: 'Film is a visual poem. I found its rhythm and metre from the material itself... Film is about film, and in the end, I let the material's intrinsic magic be my guide.'

Having watched this film, which is on a continuous loop, spellbound for more than 11 minutes I left Tate Modern as dusk was falling so it was almost as dark outside as it had been inside. As I walked over the Millennium Bridge towards St Paul's the brightly lit windows of the City of London school and adjacent offices echoed the images I had been watching in Film just a few minutes before.