Critics’ Picks

Tacita Dean, JG, 2013, anamorphic 35 mm, black-and-white and color, optical sound, 26 minutes 30 seconds.

Glenside

Tacita Dean

Arcadia University Gallery
450 South Easton Road
February 7 - April 21

If film time offers a temporal alternative to real time, then Tacita Dean’s JG, 2013, returns film to its phenomenological density in order to pose a metaphysical question: How do our interventions into the natural landscape shape us in turn? In the spirit of its namesake, JG approaches the question with a Ballardian appreciation for the issue’s technical and metaphorical intricacies.

Commissioned by Arcadia University, the film places J. G. Ballard’s short story “The Voices of Time” (1960) in conversation with Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970. Returning to the salt lakes of Utah and Southern California that inspired Smithson’s iconic Earthwork, Dean’s 35-mm film unfolds in extreme close-ups of salt crystals and long shots of briny sandscapes. These images are overlaid with stenciled shapes produced via Dean’s recently patented masking technique (which debuted in her FILM at Tate Modern in 2011). To achieve the effect, differently shaped masks are placed over the aperture gate of the camera. Once a frame has been shot, the film is rewound and run through the aperture again, layering differently exposed images atop one another to form a collage of variously stamped indices.

In this way, each layered frame mirrors the astonishing geology of the landscape, in a trick internal to the chamber of the camera itself. A moonfaced clock hovers in an aqueous field of salt; emerald water stenciled into the shape of Smithson’s Jetty rests on the surface of the Great Salt Lake precisely where the iconic spiral ought to twirl; and the spiral itself fluctuates wildly, invoking a spool of film in one frame and the spinning arms of our galaxy in another. Shifting conceptions of scale through the juxtaposition of asynchronous imagery, JG therefore insists on 35 mm’s experimental potential even in the moment of celluloid’s digital eclipse.