A compilation program with two main films: JG (Tacita Dean, 2013, 26’30”, USA) and Spiral Jetty (Robert Smithson, 1970, 35′,USA).
JG (Tacita Dean, 2013, 26’30”, USA, anamorphic 35 mm with optical sound, color and b/w)
JG is a sequel in technique to FILM, Dean’s 2011 project for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. It is inspired by her correspondence with British author J.G. Ballard (1930-2009) regarding connections between his short story “The Voices of Time” (1960) and Robert Smithson’s iconic earthwork and film Spiral Jetty (both works, 1970). The new 26 1/2 minute work is a 35mm anamorphic film shot on location in the saline landscapes of Utah and central California using Dean’s recently developed and patented system of aperture gate masking. An unprecedented departure from her previous 16mm films, JG tries to respond to Ballard’s challenge—posed to her shortly before he died—that Dean should “treat the Spiral Jetty as a mystery her film would solve.”
JG advances Dean’s aperture gate masking invention that she developed for FILM. This labor-intensive process, analogous to a form of stenciling, allows her to use different shaped masks to expose and re-expose the negative within a single film frame. Requiring that the film be put through the camera multiple times, the technique gives each frame the capacity to traverse time and location in ways that parallel the effects of Ballard’s fiction and Smithson’s earthwork and film. The process also serves to restore the spontaneity and invention that distinguished early cinema in comparison to the relative ease and what Dean calls “the end of risk” afforded by digital postproduction.
Among the masks used in JG is one that references the template and sprocket holes of a strip of 35mm Ektachrome slide film. Serving to explore the tension between the still and moving image that has distinguished Dean’s work from the outset, this Ektachrome mask is a reference to Ballard’s own 35mm camera, which Dean was given by Claire Walsh, the author’s longtime partner, just prior to the shoot and which is depicted in the film. The black unexposed outlines of the other masks—a range of abstract and organic forms that suggest mountain horizons, planets, pools, and Smithson’s Jetty, appear to be traced by hand. A work that could only be made using 35mm film, JG is also about drawing and collage and, as such, strives to return film to the physical, artisanal medium it was at its origin.
Spiral Jetty (Robert Smithson, 1970, 35′,USA, color, sound, 16 mm)
The film Spiral Jetty is a “portrait” of Smithson’s monumental earthwork of the same name at Rozel Point in the Great Salt Lake, Utah. Completed in April 1970, Spiral Jetty is an iconic earthwork and Smithson’s most renowned piece. At 1500 feet long and 15 feet wide, Smithson’s spiral of basalt rocks, mud, and salt crystals juts out from the shore and coils dramatically into luminous red water. The film documents the making of this earthwork, which has attained near-mythic status as it has disappeared and then re-emerged from the lake over the past decades. A voiceover by Smithson illuminates the ideas and processes that informed the evolution of the work, with allusions to prehistoric relics and radical notions of space, scale and landscape. Poetic and oddly hypnotic, the film includes stunning aerial footage of Smithson running along the length of the glowing spiral in what seems like an ecstatic ritual. The film Spiral Jetty, together with a series of photoworks taken during the construction of the earthwork, have become integral parts of the overall project.
“Back in New York, the urban desert, I contacted Bob Fiore and Barbara Jarvis
and asked them to help me put my movie together. The movie began as a set of
disconnections, a bramble of stabilized fragments taken from things obscure
and fluid, ingredients trapped in a succession of frames, a stream of
viscosities both still and moving. And the movie editor, bending over such a
chaos of “takes” resembles a paleontoligist sorting out glimpses of a world
not yet together, a land that has yet to come to completion, a span of time
unfinished, a spaceless limbo on some spiral reels. Film strips hung from the
cutter’s rack, bits and pieces of Utah, out-takes overexposed and
underexposed, masses of impenetrable material. The sun, the spiral, the salt
buried in lengths of footage. Everything about movies and moviemaking is
archaic and crude. One is transported by this Archeozoic medium into the
earliest known geological eras. The movieola becomes a “time machine” that
transforms trucks into dinasaurs.
The film recapitulates the scale of the Spiral Jetty. Disparate elements
assume a coherence. Unlikely places and things were stuck between sections of
film that show a stretch of dirt road rushing to and from the actual site in
Utah. A road that goes forward and backward between things and places that
are elsewhere. You might even say that the road is nowhere in particular. The
disjunction operating between reality and film drives one into a sense of
As I looked at the site, it reverberated out to the horizons only to suggest
an immobile cyclone while flickering light made the entire landscape appear a
quake. A dormant earthquake spread into the fluttering stillness, into a
spinning sensation without movement. This site was a rotary that enclosed
itself in an immense roundness. From that gyrating space emerged the
possibility of the Spiral Jetty. No ideas, no concepts, no systems, no
structures, no abstractions could hold themselves together in the actuality
of that evidence. My dialectics of site and nonsite whirled into an
indeterminate state, where solid and liquid lost themselves in each other.
It was as if the lake became the edge of the sun, a boiling curve, an
explosion rising into a fiery prominence. Matter collapsing into the lake
mirrored in the shape of a spiral. No sense wondering about classifications
and categories, there were none.” (Quotes from Smithson’s “The Spiral Jetty, 1970, published in Robert Smithson:
The Collected Writings, edited by Nancy Holt, New York University Press, pp. 109-11).
Presentation by Mia Lerm-Hayes, professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History at the University of Amsterdam, who is currently writing a book about Tacita Dean. She will present extracts from the artists’ correspondences and some film fragments.