On Jan. 31, Dr. Shekhar Deshpande, Professor and Chair of Media and Communication, published “Tacita Dean—The Materiality of the Signifier” on his blog, World Cinema. The article addresses FILM, Tacita Dean’s 2011 installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, and the artist’s return to celluloid film, a medium “richer in its capabilities of indexical signification” than its digital successors.
Dean’s demonstration of the “green ray” off the coast of Madagascar, where the digital cameras gazing at the sinking sun failed to capture the magic of the green ray in its final moments for the day, is a testimony to the essential difference between celluloid and the digital. The abilities of indexical signification of film are richer while that of the digital are manipulable and deceptive. As the medium that Dean and many other artists thrive on disappears—16mm film—so is 35mm film. Along with film, vastly rich and complex discourses of viewing, social relationships, institutions and habits are vanishing in front of our eyes. Dean’s work cannot be dismissed as merely an anxiety of an artist or a defense of nostalgia that pines for the return of the past. As Marshall McLuhan cautioned us decades ago, we look to artists and poets to think of the future that we cannot see. Dean’s FILM installation at Tate Modern emphatically asserts the specificity of cinema, denying, as Rosalind Krauss points out in her elegant speech at Tate Modern, the mythical grip of “post-medium” condition. Celluloid and digital are not all cinema; each is a different manifestation of a generalized experience called cinema.