Tacita Dean’s installation in the turbine hall at Tate modern is quite hypnotic. It is a tribute to 35mm celluloid film on a grand scale, flickering away in its darkened space dominating everything around it and dwarfing the people watching. It encourages stillness and silence. The bright colours, familiar objects and strange moving shapes and images draw your eye. You never know what is going to happen next. A large orange looms out at you, an eye appears and watches calmly, a monochrome waterfall tumbles silently downwards accompanied by bright blue dots, flowers and trees bloom and fade. It is an abstract look at beauty and loss, tied into the death of analogue film and its gaze is without panic or pity, this is how the world is. It creates, destroys and moves on. It is certainly full of surreal imagery and quite serious in tone but I’m not sure that I really understand what it all means. I wonder if that matters? Probably not. You don’t have to understand exactly how Cyd Charisse moves to recognise beauty and grace or understand the comedy techniques which Buster Keaton uses before you are able to laugh.
It has been made specifically for the turbine hall at Tate Modern and won’t be shown anywhere else. The wall of the turbine hall showing through behind the image forms part of the images so it would be a different work if it was installed somewhere else anyway. It fits the space it was made for like a glove. No small achievement when that space is 115 feet high.
There is a dreamlike quality in the way that familiar objects appear on a scale that you don’t expect and process gravely downwards without seeming odd or disturbing. They just are. The saturated colours sing out in the darkness, pitted against monochrome backgrounds or used together to form moments of pure joy in colour. It’s not realistic, any more than old fashioned black and white photographs were after they had been hand coloured, and it doesn’t mean to be.This is film turned on its head, slipped into a portrait format, the familiar made into something strange and new.
It was very strange to see something which was both calm and monumental, there is no wow factor in watching it, you are drawn into contemplation rather than amazement in spite of its size. I watched it wondering how and why things are as they are. There are no answers of course, only a quiet dignified acceptance and a realisation that loss and change are an inevitable part of life.This work is a wonderful response to a very challenging space. I wish I could have stayed with it for longer.