Meditations on Time: Tacita Dean in Mexico City
Museo Tamayo, Mexico City | November 5, 2016 – March 12, 2017
Tacita Dean’s retrospective exhibition at Museo Tamayo in Mexico City traces the artist’s career from 1986 to 2016. Showcasing large and small-scale paintings and photographs, manipulated postcards, found objects, installations, and a series of 16mm films, the exhibition is in dialogue with the architecture of the space, illuminating the artist’s perceptive sensibility of Mexico, and stressing her interest on the ephemeral—the microcosm of life. “I had an intuitive feeling that Mexicans would like a more poetic aspect of my work,” said Dean at an interview held at the museum.
Dean’s work threads the fragile connection between time, nature, and the way in which mind and eye perceive. For instance, her series A Concordance of Fifty American Clouds (2015 – 16) is a collection of paintings suggesting “the morphing identity of clouds,” as Dean says, and the impossible act of capturing a single, permanent image with the human eye. Nonetheless, the artist’s devotion towards this exercise is evident in her stylistic decision-making and color palette. Each depicting the fluctuating condition of clouds: her paintings at times seem cartoonish, at others hyperrealist.
Lit only by natural light during the day, the series is displayed amongst other cloud paintings, such as Cúmulo (2016), produced in Mexico City. The paintings communicate with one another within the ample gallery space. Some of them installed high on walls close to the ceiling and placed near windows and skylights generate a play of light and shadow within the space that almost compete with their static, permanent depictions. Some of the compositions have words written across their surfaces, almost illegible hidden letters camouflaged within the image. The metaphor is clearly visible though: clouds may vanish and dissipate, yet thoughts and ideas linger, transporting the mind.
If a single concept encapsulates Dean’s conceptual obsessions and questionings, it is time’s subjective unfolding. Certain works meditate on nature’s innumerable, pulsating languages, and how the passing of time expresses itself through microcosmic simultaneous processes. Ant, Teotihuacán (2016), is a series of four found postcards manipulated with gouache, based on her experience at Teotihuacán. While at the archeological site, Dean sat at the base of the Sun Pyramid and stared at an ant crawling around a rock, imagining its dimensional time-space. She thought about how, perhaps, this rock was the ant’s own Sun Pyramid.
Dean’s sensibility, comprised of absurd and poetic reflections, is also delicately suggested in A Ball of Red Fluff (1986), a small typewriter text that Dean wrote during a visit to Mexico, where she narrates a conversation she overheard while sitting on the back of a bus. A couple of tourists and Mexican police officers discuss the presence of military troops in the country, but a ball of red fluff on someone’s hair distracts and ridicules the whole conversation. The piece is charged with humor and the presence of absurdity in
Nature, the material world, and time’s continuity—a triangle of synchronized symbolic gestures—are explored through Dean’s artistic process, such as in her delicate 16mm-film portraits. Here she stresses the importance of film as a medium, and its endless conceptual and formal possibilities. For instance, in Michael Hamburger (1999) she articulates the subject’s own perception of time with the anamorphic composition of the film, an unusual rectangular format. As Michael writes in his studio, walks through his apple garden, has dinner with his wife, time slows; the viewer is transported to a contemplative, experiential space. The cyclic repetitive actions reveal the way we await. In a sense, Dean’s film portraits act as mirrors reflecting ordinary life, composed of a lingering essence. A subtle message of inevitable death hides within, exposing the body’s time-based limitations and fragile materiality.
Through ethereal metaphors, Dean unravels and confronts the viewer with introspective questions, hovering between a mystical and a scientific approach. In a three-minute 16mm black and white film, A Bag of Air (1995), Dean recites what seems to be an “alchemical recipe,” or a “poem-ritual,” as we see a plastic bag getting filled with air. As the camera simultaneously rises in a hot-air balloon, we hear her voice-over explaining the final distillation of air, “a delicacy of substance, that is both celestial and terrestrial.”
What is life but only a process of continuity? Four, Five, Six, Seven, and Nine Leaf Clover Collection (1972 – present), arranged on simple blank surfaces, recreates a cosmological order where each cloverleaf articulates the collective aspect of life’s condition. Nature, rooted in movement and progression, reveals the interconnectedness of meaning between visual perception and formal transformation. Through human consciousness, sublime encounters with nature uncover individual subjective processes. Tacita Dean’s intellectual and artistic practice contributes to a continual, growing source of dialectic significance, reassembling eternal, existential questions.
LUCIA HINOJOSA (Mexico City, 1987) is a writer and visual artist. In 2013 she co-founded diSONARE, a bilingual arts publication.