With films, drawings, photographs, audio recordings and installations, Berlin-based English artist Tacita Dean explores the ways that chance and coincidence influence daily life, constructing narratives that connect past and present, fact and fiction, private histories and larger events. Across one archipelago of works – Disappearance at Sea (1996), Disappearance at Sea II (1996) and Teignmouth Electron (1999) – Dean documents the tragic account of Donald Crowhurst and his attempt to fake a solo voyage around the globe, which culminated in his eventual loss of sanity and his death at sea. The works tell the story through various fragments and landscapes, including a magnificent sea vista from a lighthouse beacon that produce what the artist refers to as a ‘missing narrative’ reminiscent of an atmospheric nineteenth-century seascape painting.
Dean's compulsion to archive forgotten fragments of history is perhaps best captured in FLOH (2002), a collection of photographs she discovered in flea markets across Europe and America – holiday snaps or banal occurrences retrieved and preserved for the future. Other works include a Jukebox (2000) filled with ambient sound recorded around the world on the eve of the new millennium; views of a changing Berlin filmed from the revolving Fernsehturm television tower (Fernsehturm, 2001); and the sounds of a frustrated attempt to follow directions (as misleading as they are meticulous) to find Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty in Utah's Great Salt Lake (Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty, 1997). Dean’s work has been presented at museums and galleries throughout the world (including Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Tate Modern and Tate Britain, London; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; and ARC / Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) as well as in major international exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale (2003 and 2005). Her films have also been screened at the Venice and Rotterdam international film festivals.
Art and cinema theorist Jean-Christophe Royoux uses his Survey to dissect the multiple layers of time – durational and historical – at play in Tacita Dean’s work. In the Interview, writer and art historian Marina Warner talks to the artist about the remarkable origins of several of her works, highlighting their charmed relationship to chance. Literature and culture critic Germaine Greer uses the Focus to examine the man and the building at the heart of the three-part film installation Boots (2003). For Artist’s Choice, Dean has selected a 1939 poem by W. B. Yeats and a passage from a 1995 novel by W. G. Sebald that both capture the elegiac spirit of the her own work. Artist’s Writings range from a reflection on the distant South Atlantic island Tristan da Cunha to a very personal obituary Dean wrote about the Italian artist Mario Merz. Also included are project notes on a half dozen of the artist’s key works.