‘The whole of cinema is under threat’: Tacita Dean on vaccinations, Giotto and the future of film

The British moving image artist tells us about her favourite books, music and artists on the A brush with… podcast

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A brush with...

In this podcast, based on The Art Newspaper's regular interview series, our host Ben Luke talks to artists in-depth. He asks the questions you've always wanted to: who are the artists, historical and contemporary, they most admire? Which are the museums they return to? What are the books, music and other media that most inspire them? And what is art for, anyway?

Tacita Dean's Kodak (2006) © Tacita Dean, courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

As her new work for The Dante Project, a collaboration with the Royal Opera House, goes on show in London, Tacita Dean sits down with Ben Luke for an in-depth podcast interview in which she reveals the cultural influences that have affected her the most, from W.G. Sebald to Cy Twombly.

Tacita Dean's Purgatory (4th Cornice) (2021), made alongside The Dante Project © Tacita Dean. Courtesy Marian Goodman. Photo: Alex Yudzon

Tacita Dean on… the semantics of film

"The problem with film is that it's still considered a technology, and what I have learned is that the future of film is, to some extent, a semantic issue. It is aggressively labelled as obsolete and old fashioned because technologies go out of date. [...] But for me it's a medium, not a technology. And if you call it a medium then you put it on a completely different trajectory. Mediums outlast their times: people are still painting paintings and carving in marble—it's normal, and it's permitted. Why can't I still work with film?"

Still from Tacita Dean's Buon Fresco (2016), showing a close-up of Giotto's fresco at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery

… filming Giotto’s frescoes in the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

"I wanted to be the eye of Giotto [...] because the detail in those frescoes is stunning and so modern and contemporary sometimes—the way in which he does a rope, a fingernail, a sandal.[...] The film is called Buon Fresco (2016), because that was the method in which Giotto made the works, and it brought in things like pentimenti and showing visible mistakes, because you draw immediately into the surface so there's no room for changes of mind. You see the little mistakes, the outlines, where things should have been or what was wrong, they’re all just embedded in there. It's a bit like film in the sense that everything gets layered and embedded. The world of film has the same layers upon layers of emotion."

Tacita Dean's FILM (2011) © Tacita Dean, courtesy Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

… the importance of cinema

"The pandemic has placed the whole of cinema under threat, even digital cinema. Anyone who's a parent knows that we need the institution of cinema to keep our kids watching from start to finish. You need the building, the darkness, the kind of contract you make when you go to a film to sit and watch it [...] I think streaming is flawed, useful in airports or whatever, but we mustn't lose cinema."

Still from Edwin Park (2011), Tacita Dean. Courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery

… Edwin Parker (2011), Dean's film capturing Cy Twombly in his studio

"Cy’s studio in Lexington, Virginia was in a shop next to a cake store. It was a really small, humble place. The point about Cy is that it was all about the encounter. Most of the time he wasn’t toiling over canvases, as is the cliche of artists, For him, it was so much more, so he's just sitting reading, thinking, being, watching the leaves fall, observing autumn ending. I love [the film] for everything it shows about the reality of an artist's life. It’s not an obvious depiction of an artist, but it's quite a realistic one."

Still from Edwin Park (2011), Tacita Dean. Courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery and Marian Goodman Gallery

… Luchita Hurtado and vaccinations

"My film One Hundred and Fifty years of Painting (2021) [shot in 2019], is a conversation between the artists Julie Mehretu and Lucita Hurtado, who would have turned 50 and 100 respectively in 2020. We filmed them in Luchita’s apartment in Santa Monica talking in a cyclical way. Both painters are immigrants to America, both beautiful women and mothers [...] And when Luchita talks about the death of her six-year-old son to polio, if ever there's an argument for the eradication of world illness, that's it, isn't it? Especially with all the people who are now resisting being vaccinated. You just really think: ‘Please just go and watch Luchita talk about losing her son,’ because it's painful as hell."

• For the full interview with the artist, listen to our podcast A brush with… Tacita Dean, which is available on the usual podcast platforms. A brush with… series 6 runs from 15 September - 6 October 2021, with episodes released on Wednesdays. This episode is sponsored by Bloomberg Connects.