artist / participant
Tacita Dean is one of Britain’s most respected and successful international artists. This year is a phenomenal one for her, with solo exhibitions LANDSCAPE, PORTRAIT and STILL LIFE at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery. The Fruitmarket Gallery is proud to present our own exhibition of the work of Tacita Dean to complement these showings. Taking performance as its theme, our exhibition will be presented in the context of the Edinburgh International Festival, the world’s pre-eminent celebration of the performing arts.
The exhibition is built around hourly screenings of Dean’s ‘bewilderingly intricate’ Event for Stage (2015), in which actor Stephen Dillane delivers a virtuoso solo performance, variously acting from a script given to him, page by page, by Dean, seated in the front row of the audience; declaiming lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest; reminiscing about his family; reading a story; and announcing the changing of reels for the two cameras that are filming him. It’s a performance about performance, given by an actor playing the part of an actor. Commissioned for the Sydney Biennale in 2014, the work was filmed over four nights, then edited into a single film, Dillane’s changing hairstyles marking the cuts from one performance to another. As the piece moves swiftly backwards and forwards between ‘reality’ and ‘illusion’, the audience never quite knows how much of what we are seeing to believe (much of the script concerns the role of both text and actor in creating and preserving the ‘magic of suspended disbelief that is the theatre’).
Event for a Stage is joined in the exhibition by a number of works that together examine performance and its relationship to fiction, the imagination and the collective effort of artist and audience. We are delighted to be able to show, for the first time in the UK, When first I raised the Tempest (2016), the longest so far of Dean’s signature blackboard drawings. A storyboard for a film or play that has never been made, it connects to The Russian Ending (2001), a suite of photogravures in which Dean reimagines a selection of found postcards as stills from fictitious disaster movies. The earliest work in the exhibition, Foley Artist (1996), celebrates the unseen sound artists of the screen, scripting an imaginary film entirely through the efforts of two foley artists.
The person and personage of the actor re-emerges in the three small films, all filmed in 2017, and all using Dean’s pioneering technique of masking film so that it may be run several times through the camera, collaging together scenes shot completely separately to appear as one unified film. A Muse, shown here for the first time, shows actor Ben Whishaw calling over space and time to the poet, essayist and professor of Classics, Anne Carson. Providence magically transports actor David Warner to a field of hummingbirds; and the miniature His Picture in Little brings together David Warner, Ben Whishaw and Stephen Dillane.
The films, installations, drawing and photogravures in this exhibition bring into focus Dean’s understanding of the possibilities and complications of performance. Turning truth into fiction and unspooling the threads of narrative even as they seem to be weaving them into a convincing tale, these beguiling, entrancing works offer another window into the imagination of this most complex of artists.