diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 05, 2011

For the twelfth year running, a world-renowned artist has been invited to fill the Tate Modern's enormous Turbine Hall. Some years it's great (ooh, orange sun) (ooh, spiral slides), other times it's a bit of a duffer (ah, bunkbeds), (oh, please do not step on the sunflower seeds). And this year? Nearer great than duff, for sure, as visual artist Tacita Dean presents "Film".

Half the Turbine Hall is blacked out, as a tall thin screen stretches from floor to almost roof. The official paperwork describes it as a "monolith", and the orientation as widescreen rotated through 90° (from landscape to portrait). Nah, it's just a big film, and all the better for it. Up each side are the perforations writ large, as a reminder that this is proper grainy film and not newfangled digital. Tacita is a fervent supporter of old school 35mm, and wants to remind us all what we'll lose when progress consigns this long-standing display format to obsolescence. Her film certainly trembles and quivers as if the screen were made up of a billion tiny insects - or maybe that was just me staring at the image too hard. But what you're meant to watch is the vertical canvas, as it flips from objects to abstract to natural and back again. Eleven minutes all told, which seemed the right length to enjoy without ever getting stale. Sometimes all you see is a film representation of the Turbine Hall window shielded behind, perhaps with coloured circles or triangles obscuring part of the image. Other times there are clouds and forests and escalators, and the occasional mountain, and hang on were those tomatoes? It's a bit random, often surreal, but that needn't matter because the message is the medium itself.

Once you've been standing in the dark for a while, it's interesting to watch others entering the space to see how they react. Some stay only briefly, some settle down on the seats for the full loop, others walk up the edge of the Hall for a closer look. But it's children, very young children in particular, who appear most transfixed by Tacita's projection. They pause and gawp, then smile, then toddle gaily forward towards the giant source of illumination. Several pairs of middle class parents turned up while I was there, attempting to open their infant's eyes to art via this wonderfully accessible visual piece. Look at that Jack, no come back here Jack, stand there while Daddy takes your photo in front of the waterfall Jack.

The Tate's giant pop-up continues to screen daily until 11th March. You could watch the whole video virtually on YouTube, should you be unable to visit the South Bank before then. But remember, as the in-auditorium advert has it, that film always looks better properly projected at the cinema.

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