Young British Artist (YBA) Tacita Dean has devoted herself to film, drawing, and photography but is best known for her unconventional 16 and 35 mm films, which use long takes and steady camera angles to create a contemplative atmosphere. Her use of light gives her work a profound effect. While her works often derive from true stories, they are seldom straightforwardly narrative. Rather they are meditative pieces and are more painterly than cinematic.
Dean originally studied to be a painter and completed her studies at the Falmouth School of Art in 1988. She received her Master’s degree from London’s Slade School of Fine Art in 1992. In 2000, she won a scholarship in Berlin and made this city her home. She also lives and works in Los Angeles.
Dean explores themes of time and chance often using images of derelict spaces and the sea – with its lighthouses, shipwrecks, sunsets, and storms – in films and drawings. In her 1996 “Disappearance at Sea” she focuses on a lighthouse that comes on at the end of the day, which is juxtaposed with twilight shots of the horizon line. This work was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1998.
In 2001, Dean filmed a sunset off Madagascar and recorded the “green ray,” the vision that takes place at the moment the sun vanishes below the horizon line. In 2005, Dean worked on a series of found postcards of trees, which she changed by painting out all the backgrounds with white gouache. This led to her own photographs of ancient trees in England. Her 2006 photograph, “Crowhurst yew,” is a photo of a gigantic yew tree located on the grounds of a twelfth-century church. This tree is thought to be over four thousand years old.
In 2013 she shot a 26-minute 35 mm film “JG,” both in color and in black-and-white. “JG” explores her search to find Robert Smithton’s submerged artwork “Spiral Jetty” which he made in Utah.
Her videos document everyday life in Berlin as in “Fernsehturm” (“TV Tower”) and the passing of time, with shots of the demolishment of the Palest der Republik, the “people’s palace” of the former East Germany.
Dean won a Hugo Boss Prize at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 2006 and was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts in 2008. In 2014, Dean became an artist in residence at the Getty Research Institute. In 2018, Dean had three exhibitions at the same time in London at: The National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, and Royal Academy of Arts. In 2020, she had an immersive installation at Helsinki’s Museum of Modern Art which centered on a selection of her 16 mm films and her 2018 monumental chalk drawing on blackboard, “Chalk Fall,” which depicts a massive white cliff.
In 2019, Dean was commissioned to create the set design and costume for the Dante Project for the Royal Ballet, which will premiere at the London Royal Opera House in 2021. Her work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Tate Gallery, Madrid’s Reina Sofia National Museum, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and others.