In The Studio: Tacita Dean, artist
'I feel evicted – both from my studio and from my medium'
Tacita Dean welcomes me to her rooms in a studio complex behind the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. We sit in a transparent glass box slung over a wooded garden, a recent extension and different from the small rooms she previously occupied. Dean moved here at the invitation of Thomas Demand and Olafur Eliasson, who then worked in the adjoining spaces. It is the perfect solution for Dean, an artist who typically works alone, yet admits to being "quite social".
Born in Kent in 1965, Dean was a Turner Prize nominee in 1998. She moved to Berlin with her partner, artist Matthew Hale, after completing the prestigious Daad fellowship in 2000.
In 2011, Dean created Film, a Tate Modern Turbine hall commission, and admits that, until it was installed, "I really did not know how it would look". Film was Dean's homage to a medium she loves, now under the threat of extinction. "Fuji has announced that it will stop producing film in March and Kodak is in Chapter 11 for insolvency. I have been campaigning for Unesco to make film a heritage protected site."
She is frustrated by Hollywood's attitude. "I am an artist. We know about media. An oil painting is different from an acrylic painting. We know we would not make an inkjet print in place of a painting. Why does the cinema industry not want two media?"
Soon after London Dean was in Kassel working on Fatigues for dOCUMENTA (13); the resulting poetic blackboard paintings emerged from a mis-shot film she commissioned in Afghanistan. "I thought I would go back to drawing and I did not know if I could physically do it because of my body" (Dean was born with rheumatoid arthritis). "I covered the walls with black felt-tip pen and I thought, 'I am going to have to draw my way out of my particular problem.'" She returned to Berlin from Kassel to find her studio was to be bulldozed. "I feel evicted from my medium and my studio."
Trying to lighten the mood, I confess that her film of crossing the English Channel in a small boat actually made me feel sick, and she laughs. "The whole crew was seasick."
There is a reflective tenderness in Dean's films of Merce Cunningham, Michael Hamburger and Cy Twombly, each made shortly before their deaths.
No one could accuse Dean of taking the easy route. "Material resistance is what artists need, and what they have always needed," she says. She is meditative, and ascribes this to her beloved film. "What it allows is total invention. There is no play any more. No unknown. But people think that degree of magic is easy to get."
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