An Aside Selected by Tacita Dean
‘Nothing is more frightening than not knowing where you’re going, but then again nothing can be more satisfying than finding you’ve arrived somewhere without any clear idea of the route.’
[Tacita Dean, from the exhibition catalogue to ‘An Aside’, p.4]
In 2002 the Hayward Gallery invited Tacita Dean to select work for a touring exhibition, as part of an ongoing series of shows curated by eminent contemporary artists. The resulting exhibition, ‘An Aside’, presents a diverse group of works by seventeen international artists.
Although the making of exhibitions is, for Tacita Dean, an aside from her career as an artist, she has nevertheless approached the selection process much as she would the making of her own work: as a journey. The end result is arrived at largely through chance encounters and unconscious associations, rather than being pre-imagined from the outset.
Described by Tacita Dean as a process of objective chance, the selection began with an early audio and slide work by the German artist Lothar Baumgarten. This led, by means of an anecdote linking Baumgarten with the painter Gerhard Richter, to a drawing by Richter of fellow artist Isa Genzken — one of several portraits that populate the exhibition. As the exhibition evolved, other threads or trains of thought emerged: a recurrence of landscape and still life; natural forms abstracted or removed from their usual context; the workings of the unconscious and the imagination.
In its final form, the exhibition features paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and film by major twentieth-century and contemporary artists. Tacita Dean’s thoughtful and considered selection has created an open-ended journey through the works, in which numerous routes are possible.
Tacita Dean was born in Canterbury in 1965. She studied at Falmouth School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art and has lived and worked in Berlin since being awarded a DAAD Fellowship in 2000 – 2001. Although best known as an artist-filmmaker, Tacita Dean’s work also includes drawing, writing and sound.
Eileen Agar (1899–1991)
In 1936, the Surrealist artist Eileen Agar made a series of photographs of rocks at Ploumanac’h in Brittany — a destination chosen purely by chance from a train window. Agar emphasises the surreal or comic aspects of the rocks, which she described as ‘enormous prehistoric monsters sleeping on the turf above the sea: a great buttock ending in a huge thumb, or a gigantic head tuned with organ pipes’.
In 1935, Agar met the painter Paul Nash, who introduced her to the concept of the found object. Agar’s photographs are comparable with Nash’s photos of the stones at Avebury and Stonehenge taken in the 1930s and reflect the Surrealists’ interest in objects that appear to mutate from one shape into another.
Lothar Baumgarten (born 1944)
Since the late 1970s, German artist Lothar Baumgarten has explored the ways in which the Western world dominates non-Western cultures.
While studying under Joseph Beuys at the Düsselfdorf Art Academy, he began to document the landscape and sounds of the Rhine river swamps. The resulting audio and slide work, Da gefällt’s mir besser als in Westfalen, El Dorado [There I like it better than in Westphalia, El Dorado], 1968–76, manipulates the natural sounds Baumgarten recorded there to evoke a tropical environment. Described by Tacita Dean as being about ‘an imagined elsewhere’, this piece prefigures Baumgarten’s later interest in the Amazon. In a related group of bread sculptures (Mosquitoes, 1969), Baumgarten appropriates and transforms disposable, everyday materials.
Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) and Walther Brüx (born 1917)
German artist Joseph Beuys advocated the creative potential in all human beings and was interested in how art could play an active role in society. During the late 1940s, Beuys lived in his home town of Cleves where he and three fellow artists met regularly to make portraits of one another. None of Beuys’ drawings of his friends from this period have survived, but a year later he made a self-portrait bust in plaster (four versions of which were cast in bronze after his death) in which he appears to depict himself as an androgynous, even female, figure (Portrait Bust, 1947).
Walther Brüx’s bronze portrait of his friend from Cleves (Portrait Bust of Joseph Beuys, 1946) is almost the contemporary of Beuys’ self-portrait bust. The cap that covers Beuys’ head in this sculpture is a reminder of the injuries he suffered while serving as a fighter pilot during the War: in later years, he was famous for wearing a felt trilby hat to insulate the metal plates in his head from the cold.
Fischli & Weiss (David Weiss born 1946; Peter Fischli born 1952)
Swiss artist duo Fischli and Weiss work collaboratively on their sculptures, films, installations and photographs that reposition commonplace objects to create new, frequently humorous or absurd, relationships. Their fascination with the mechanisms that animate objects is evident in Son et Lumière, Le Rayon Vert [Sound and Light, The Green Ray], 1991: a kinetic sculpture created from low-tech materials. The title refers to the rarely-seen optical phenomenon that occurs on the horizon during the last moments of the setting sun, itself the inspiration for a novel by Jules Verne (1882), a feature film by Eric Rohmer (1994) and more recently, a short film by Tacita Dean (2003). The exhibition also includes the sculpture Marokanis Sitzkissen [Moroccan Pillow], 1987: a trompe l’oeil object, which replicates the pouffe of the title in black rubber, creating a confusion between the real and the simulated.
Rodney Graham (born 1949)
The work of Vancouver-based artist Rodney Graham often makes reference to cinema, employing looping or circular narratives. In the silent film installation Rheinmetall ⁄ Victoria 8, 2003, a German typewriter from the 1930’s is gradually obscured beneath a covering of flour — an old special-effects trick to simulate snow. The source of the image, a 1960’s Victoria 8 projector, is physically present in the space. Like many of Graham’s films, this piece exposes the workings of cinema, with its deployment of traditional film-making techniques and equipment of the kind also used by Tacita Dean in her own artistic practice. Rheinmetall / Victoria 8 is a kind of filmic still life, in which the now obsolete mechanical artefact is transformed into a mountainous object.
Raymond Hains (born 1926)
Raymond Hains is one of the most influential figures in post-War French art. Describing himself as an ‘inventor’ rather than an artist, Hains was associated with both the Nouveau Réalisme and Situationist movements, and is best known for his lacerated posters and pavement sculptures. Taking his inspiration from the street, Hains’ art of coincidence includes journeys, readings and photographs influenced by the surrealist idea of ‘objective chance’, as explored in André Breton’s book Nadja (1928). In his photo essays, such as the one made for the catalogue to ‘An Aside’, Hains appropriates street signs and advertising hoardings to make playful word and image associations linking proper names and places. Formal echoes of Hains’ abstract, torn-up posters are found in Roni Horn’s collage drawing Were 4.
Roni Horn (born 1955)
American artist Roni Horn has frequently employed doubling in her paintings and portrait photographs, reflecting an interest in notions of difference and identity. This pairing or mirroring of human images, evident in Horn’s self-portrait collage Were 4, 2000, is also used by Marisa Merz in her double clay heads. Horn’s photographs of the land and seascapes in and around Iceland capture the subtle, almost imperceptible changes that occur in nature over time. Her search for the entrance to the centre of the earth, located in Iceland by Jules Verne in his novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1871), is documented in her artist’s book Verne’s Journey (1995). Untitled (Brink of Infinity), 1995 is one of a number of works by Roni Horn from this period exploring the symbolic, psychological and imaginative power of the ocean.
Sharon Lockhart (born 1964)
American artist Sharon Lockhart’s work investigates the relationship between film and photographic images. Her films explore issues of time, sequence and narrative, often using a fixed perspective to capture daily activities that appear tightly choreographed. Her 2003 work NO is described by Tacita Dean as ‘an autumn elegy about time, perspective and labour in a landscape that is changing colour’. This film shows a husband and wife pair of farmers methodically covering a field with straw in preparation for winter, transforming the landscape in a highly ritualised way. The cyclical, repetitive nature of their endeavours mirrors the repeated cycles of nature. Like a landscape painting, NO also links thematically with other still life and landscape works in the exhibition, by the artists Paul Nash, Roni Horn and Yvan Salomone.
Marisa Merz (born 1925)
Italian artist Marisa Merz was associated with the Arte Povera movement, first identified in the late 1960s, and characterised by a use of ‘poor’ or everyday found materials, an interest in organic forms and a blurring of the boundaries between art and life. Marisa Merz conceives of her work as an organic whole existing solely in the present. She primarily uses materials and practices traditionally associated with female domesticity in her sculptures and installations, and the notion of the home as a private realm underpins much of her work. The pair of delicate, unassuming clay heads in ‘An Aside’ (Deux Têtes [Two Heads], 1983) were selected by Tacita Dean during a visit to the artist’s house in Turin, where they were in a corner, gathering dust.
Paul Nash (1889–1946)
In his essay ‘The Life of the Inanimate Object’, British artist Paul Nash wrote about the endowment of inanimate objects with ‘active powers or personal influences’, using as an example ‘a stone which looks like a bloodhound’. Influenced by European abstraction and surrealism, Nash was a pioneer of modernist art in Britain, best known for his paintings of the English landscape and his desolate scenes of the battlefields of World Wars 1 and 2. He was interested in those sites with ‘a spirit’ or ancient past, such as the standing stones at Avebury and Stonehenge. ‘An Aside’ includes a group of vintage prints which imbue organic objects with human or animal characteristics, such as the stick-man of Lon-gom-pa, named after a Tibetan lama. These are shown alongside his painting Event on the Downs, 1934: a surrealist juxtaposition of objects, both organic and manmade, within a landscape of rolling hills and cliffs. Nash’s early twentieth-century interest in the significance of found objects resonates in the painted stones of Kurt Schwitters, Raymond Hains’ posters and photo-essays and Rodney Graham’s 1930’s typewriter.
Gerhard Richter (born 1932)
‘An Aside’ includes an intimate pencil study of the artist Isa Genzken by the German painter Gerhard Richter. A student at the Düsseldorf Art Academy (during Joseph Beuys’ Professorship), Richter came to prominence in the 1960s with his influential photo-paintings based on found photographic images and newspaper clippings. During the following decade, he moved towards total abstraction, in his monochrome Grey Paintings and numbered series of Abstract Pictures. Richter’s inclusion in this exhibition can be traced to a story told to Tacita Dean by Lothar Baumgarten. This anecdotal link gave form to the exhibition in its early stages of research: as an experimental journey where one work led, though a series of chance discoveries, to the next. Richter’s drawing was the first in a series of portraits selected by Tacita Dean, a process described in her narrative ‘aside’ in the exhibition catalogue, titled ‘Heads’.
Yvan Salomone (born 1957)
Since the early 1990s, French artist Yvan Salomone has produced an ongoing series of watercolours based on his personal archive of photographs. Salomone’s approach to the traditional Breton technique of watercolour painting is highly systematic and conceptual. Executing one per week, always in the same dimensions, the paintings depict fragments of the surrounding landscape. Unlike the pastoral landscapes depicted by Paul Nash and Sharon Lockhart however, Salomone’s painted still lifes are set within the industrial wastelands of the Northern French coast and beyond. The paintings are collected together by Salomone in a series of artist’s books, which intersperse black and white reproductions of his watercolours with found images.
Thomas Scheibitz (born 1968)
Thomas Scheibitz’s paintings typically take found images from popular sources, such as maps, charts and advertising logos, which he pares down into layered, interlocking planes of colour. Heaven, 2000 is based on a sketch of a domed ceiling in an Italian palazzo that Scheibitz has abstracted further and turned inside out. For Tacita Dean, his brass sculpture Star, 2002 is reminiscent of the star form or Fröbelstern invented by Friedrich Fröbel, the founder of the kindergarten movement in Germany. The star shape symbolised the pure geometry and universal harmony Fröbel found in nature — ideas that were to influence his philosophy of childhood education. Star also recalls the trompe l’oeil objects made by Fischli and Weiss and is shown alongside the sandstone sculpture Ohne Titel (Sandstein), 2003 made from a headstone reclaimed from the garden of the Scheibitz family’s stonemason business near Dresden.
Thomas Schütte (born 1954)
‘An Aside’ includes a new work by the prominent German sculptor Thomas Schütte. A student at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Gerhard Richter in the 1970s, Schütte’s early work consisted of simple architectural models that hinted at the social engineering behind post-War reconstruction, whilst his more recent output includes large ceramic heads and an ongoing series of distorted figures in steel and bronze. Underpinning his practice is a detached, humorous view of everyday life, in which references to twentieth century sculpture and the built environment are combined with more personal narratives. Dogs are a recurring motif in his art and are typically represented as sad, wretched creatures; the ceramic sculpture Hund III (2005) is one example.
Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948)
In 1945, the avant-garde German artist Kurt Schwitters left London for Ambleside in the Lake District, where he was to live until his death three years later. A painter, sculptor, collagist and writer, Schwitters invented the umbrella term ‘Merz’ in 1919, which he applied to all his creative activities, most notably his architectural constructions or Merzbau. Schwitters worked predominantly with found objects and ephemera, from bus tickets and photographs to pieces of wood. The pair of abstract, painted stones, which date from his years in the Lake District, are uncharacteristic of his more well-known collages and three-dimensional structures. Schwitters’ act of appropriation and modification of a found object is reminiscent of Thomas Scheibitz’s intervention upon a piece of sandstone in Ohne Titel (Sandstein).
An Aside Hayward Gallery Publishing, London, 2005 ISBN 1853322474
Tacita Dean: The Green Ray (ed. Hans Ulrich Obrist), Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2003 ISBN 3883756776
Tacita Dean Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2003 ISBN 2879007860 (English version edited by Steidl)
Tacita Dean Tate Publishing, 2001 ISBN 1854373552
‘An Archival Impulse’ Hal Foster October 110, Fall 2004, pp.3–22
‘Time Has Told Me’ Mark Godfrey Frieze Jan–Feb 2005, Issue 88, pp.103–107
Nadja André Breton, Penguin Books Ltd., 1999 ISBN 0141180897
The Green Ray Jules Verne, Wildside Press, 2003 ISBN 0809530740
Fata Morgana Werner Herzog (dir.), 1970 DVD ASIN B000059PPP
The Green Ray Eric Rohmer (dir.), 1986 DVD ASIN B0000DINKY
'For me, an aside is no stage whisper but a decisive moment when an actor chooses to address the audience directly whilst not affecting the action on stage. The play is not interrupted and the players continue to work together to form a whole, but the individual has spoken out to us, in character or out of it, as is their wont, desire or instruction.’ Tacita Dean, 2005
Supported by Association Française d’Action Artistique; The Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni; The Goethe-Institut; Embassy of the United States of America; The Canadian High Commission, London; The Idlewild Trust; The Italian Cultural Institute; The Mercers’ Company; Frith Street Gallery, London; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and Paris and The Elephant Trust.