Yet another Turbine Hall turnover

Art Art & Lit

It’s that time again. The Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall is once more filled with a new installation as part of the Unilever Series – and this time, it is Tacita Dean’s austerely titled piece, “Film”.

Not surprisingly, it is a colossal filmstrip, standing vertically upright and celebrating – or perhaps mourning – the use of analogue film in this technological era. Lasting for 11 minutes, the silent 35mm film was made using a CinemaScope lens and is projected onto a screen measuring 13 metres high. Its scale alone is impressive, and it demands hushed, almost awe-inspired, viewing.

Clearly, the film is all about cinematic technique in our digitalised age. With archival footage, the verticality is emphasised as snippets of bubbles float downwards, or waterfalls cascade from the top to the bottom of the screen. Volcanoes appear, flickering red, then black and white – collaged blue spots hover over a flowing stream – sunlight dapples through the trees. Clocks flash, and escalators drag themselves downwards before our eyes. There is an obvious contrast of natural landscape and the manmade interior, and all these collaged effects are lovingly cut and created by hand; it certainly achieves its mission of acting as a tribute to good old, gritty, handmade film techniques.

But really, is that all we’re looking for when it comes to the Unilever Series? Some people I’ve spoken to found Film downright boring. So what if it’s just a large movie collage of some fairly clichéd imagery? It’s quite hard to remember every shot that flashes past the screen, and is undeniably in danger of fading into one jumbled mesh of scrambled images. Dean herself identified the work as a visual poem – but then, isn’t that just a fairly shallow and dubious generalisation of a lot of artworks we’ve already seen before?

To be honest, I don’t think so. So it may not be the most memorable and exciting Turbine Hall piece to date, but it does tug at your curiosity, and it does ensure that you want to return to watch it again. It is mesmerising, like a string of dreamlike images crossing over between that consciousness between sleep and wakefulness, and you can’t help but be seduced by the flickering handmade quality of the thing. You can’t understand it properly after just one viewing, and surely that is what one looks for in an artwork? It’s not instantly comprehensible, but it is instantly seductive, playful and beguiling. It taunts us with familiar everyday images, and turns them over in front of us; they are inverted and manipulated by the artist’s hand, and they become surreal, almost alien. Its observations of normal-turned-abnormal snippets require our own observations back, so that a speculative dialogue is created between screen and viewer.

The Turbine Hall is such an impossible space, and Film is most certainly a brave attempt at wrestling with it. It holds your attention and, even though it admittedly has its moments of arid repetition, ensures you want to watch it just one more time. So if you are a film fan, an art lover or really just someone who returns to the Turbine Hall out of habit – and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you, with it being free admission to see some cutting contemporary art – I advise you hop on the Oxford Tube to get a look. Or two. Or three. Whether you find it questionably dull or a piece of collaged genius after its 11 minutes of running time, Film certainly deserves your eye, and your interest, with its colourful and alluring clutters of whimsical imagery.

[Photo: poppet with a camera]