Multi-Layered Narratives

Multi-Layered Narratives

In a 2018 interview with Royal Academy, Tacita Dean (b. 1965) stated that she “didn’t care about the long run, caring only about now.” Dean is a British European artist born in Canterbury, currently living and working between Berlin and Los Angeles (where she was the Artist in Residence at the Getty Research Institute from 2014 to 2015). She is perhaps one of the best-known female artists of her time – a nominee for the Turner Prize in 1998, winner of the Hugo Boss Prize in 2006, and a Royal Academy of Arts electee – exploring a sense of history, time and place, as well as the quality of light and the tangible essence of analogue film reels.

Dean works across 16mm film, photogravure, sound installation, gouache, artist books and found objects, with an impressive portfolio that transcends categorisation by genre, medium or interpretation. Glenstone Museum, Maryland, opens an installation comprising three monumental chalk- board works – Sunset (2015), When first I raised the tempest (2016) and The Montafon Letter (2017). Affixed to the pre-cast concrete walls of the pavilion, these large-scale, multi-panel chalk-on-blackboard drawings create a panoramic effect as visitors descend into the gallery space.

Glenstone comments: “These drawings operate between the didactic and the sublime, depicting – amongst other things – the sea, sky, ships and rocks. Executed on Victorian-era chalkboards, the works manage to evoke both a classroom setting and the murkiness of photographic negatives. The process of erasure and punctuation innate to the medium are in dialogue with the scene and the indecipherable text peeking through the many layers of chalk. There is also a performative element at play: the artist adjusts the works with each installation, changing words and modifying shading.”

Dean began working on Sunset (2015) after moving to Los Angeles in 2014. Shrouded in thick cloud, the sunset manages to be both still and moving – impending darkness looms. The motif is inspired by the California sky and recalls the work of Romantic-era British landscape painter John Consta- ble. When first I raised the tempest (2016) takes its title from Act Five in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Prospero responds to the spirit Ariel: “I did say so, when first I raised the tempest. Say, my spirit, how fares the king and ’s followers?”

Lightning strikes through the dark, ominous clouds; their forms conjure the supernatural storm and subsequent shipwreck at the heart of the play. Spanning 32 feet, the work is Dean’s widest blackboard drawing to date. The title of The Montafon Letter (2017) alludes to a series of 17th century avalanches in the mountainous Montafon valley of Austria, from which one priest miraculously survived. The scale of these works, alongside their allusions to both tangible and images landscapes, places the viewer at the centre of a dramatic and multi-layered historical narrative.


Glenstone Museum, Maryland. Opens 6 May | glenstone.org


Image Credits:
1. Installation views of The Montafon Letter, 2017; When first I raised the tempest, 2016; and Sunset, 2015. Chalk on blackboard. Dimensions variable. © Tacita Dean. Photo: Ron Amstutz. Courtesy: the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris.

Posted on 4 May 2021


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