LANDSCAPES is the 3rd of Tacita Dean’s series of exhibitions, with PORTRAIT and STILL LIFE being displayed in other galleries in London, broadcasting the artist’s wide range of talents. By reminding the viewer that the places you go are often linked to something personal, LANDSCAPES creates an incredible vision of reminiscence, curiosity, and emotion.
Grand pieces are present, like ‘The Montafon Letter’, depicting the Austrian Valley mountains in a mix of pitch black backgrounds, sharp edges, and soft white and grey strokes; Dean uses the events of its 1689 avalanches to provide the viewer with an understanding of chance, the malleability of the future, and a sense of powerlessness against it all. Her slate drawings, however, are far more abstract, with titles floating in each piece helping the viewer anchor their interpretations to what would otherwise be simple clouds. She does this with surprising efficacy.
Dean also creates space for the softer feeling of nostalgia, with her collections of ‘Round Stone’ and ‘Four, Five, Six, Seven and Nine leaf Clover’, which I feel grounded the exhibition. The care she put into collecting, preserving, and organising these otherwise meaningless objects from childhood could be keenly felt. It conjured up the feeling of being young and building your world around small found things. This curiosity and attention to the world around us can get lost in adulthood. Dean’s curation brought a bit of that childlike wonder back: it was almost humbling to see.
Dean then juxtaposes these curations with my favourite piece of the exhibition: the strong ‘Quarantania (Mount of Temptation)’. This striking collage represents a scene from the Christian bible, in which Jesus encounters the Devil in the Judean Desert, and is tempted by him. Dean uses rich colour to depict the scene, making it stand out from the rest of her largely-monochrome exhibition. The piece is dynamic, angry, and painful, somehow portraying how Christ must have felt without description or explicit story telling.
The connection of memories and emotion to landscapes and the world culminates in her final piece, a hour-long film entitled ‘Antigone’. Antigone, incidentally also the name of Dean’s sister, was both the daughter and sister of Oedipus. She was a strong woman, standing for justice, but, as with most Greek myths, was caught in her family’s tragedy and destined to die. Dean fills out her story using the film. We know of Oedipus’s story, which culminates in him blinding himself after he learns of his atrocities; from here, Dean follows Oedipus in his journey leading to Antigone, and her part in delivering him to the gods.
For Dean this film was 20 years in the making, and stemmed from her experiences in Utah at a screenwriter’s retreat. Conversations with fellow writers and the poet and classicist Anne Carson, whose poems form part of the script, shape this film; it is an exploration of her relationship with her sister, along with a meditation on how fate interacts with the world – which could be defined as landscape – to take you to your destination. The ideas of fate, emotion, and of self-reflection from the other pieces in this exhibition are repeated like a mantra here. Different videos are played side by side, making it impossible to focus on either. This immerses the viewer in sound and light, creating a canvas on which the viewer can project their feelings as Oedipus delivers a monologue, but can also become confusing and distracting.
This exhibition shows Dean’s range in the media she uses to convey how the world we live in can affect us, as well as how we can use it to affect our own personal journey. There is often no clear narrative in Dean’s pieces, and many pieces are abstract – Dean simply invites us to reminisce and explore, without promising a tidy explanation. No two visitors will come away having experienced the same thing.
Where? Royal Academy When? Until 12th August How Much? £12; students £10