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Tacita Dean’s exhibition features three films based around the sea as well as a new sound work evoking the elusive search for Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty.
Delft Hydraulics, by far the most formal and contained of the three films, was shot in a marine laboratory in Holland. A short loop of a wave machine shows the shimmering surface of a tank of water undulating until it begins to suggest an autonomous ribbon, perhaps like film itself. In contrast to the other two films, Delft Hydraulics addresses man’s attempt to contain and control the sea and re-claim the land that it has conquered.
Disappearance at Sea, the longest of the three films, was made almost entirely on location at St Abb’s Head Lighthouse and is filmed at the moment when the day becomes dusk, which in turn becomes night, and the lighthouse bulbs light up automatically. The film, which was originally made for the small lighthouse in Berwick, is made in Cinemascope allowing the spectator a greater sense of the space and rhythm of the film by allowing the action (the light of the lighthouse) to move much more slowly through the frame.
Donald Crowhurst, one of the eight competitors in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, was a notional starting point for Disappearance at Sea. Ill-prepared and afraid, utterly alone and without human contact, Crowhurst developed an obsession with time, believing he was floating through prehistory.
Disappearance at Sea II (Voyage de Guérison), the second film in Cinemascope (shot from Longstone lighthouse in the Farne Islands by day), is loosely based on part of the story of Tristan and Isolde. In contrast to Crowhurst,Tristan surrendered himself up to the forces of the sea on a ‘voyage de guérison’ – a journey of healing.
Robert Smithson made his famous ‘Spiral Jetty’ as an extension of the land. Over the course of time it has been reclaimed by the Great Salt Lake and is able to reveal itself only very rarely. Dean’s new sound work, Trying to find the Spiral Jetty, evokes her own fruitless search for one of this century’s most elusive works of art, which, with its unfurling, spiral form, is again reminiscent of film.
Seabirds (Magnetic) and Mosquito draw a parallel both to the films and the sound work. They are made from small edits of 16mm magnetic track – the part of a film which carries the sound. It is the physical embodiment of sound and a sound can be measured in terms of it comparative length. In the first case, all the sounds are made by seabirds – the cry of a cormorant is shorter than that of a curlew; the cry of the kittiwake is shorter still. The length of the mosquito buzz, by contrast, is very long.
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