Tacita Dean at the Royal Academy - Landscape

Tacita Dean inaugurates the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries at the Royal Academy with a show exploring Dean’s notion of landscape.

The exhibition opens with the chalk drawings on blackboard and slate.  An entire wall is taken up with the monumental chalk drawing of snow and ice-covered mountains.  The scale is magnificent, the scratchy marks on the surface are very human.  The undeniable beauty of the work obscures the danger inherent in the far reaches of the world and in many natural phenomena.  The title of the drawing, Montafan Letter, refers to the description of a series of avalanches which occurred in the Alps in 1689.  The first avalanche buried a village, the second coincided with the funeral held for the dead, while the third miraculously uncovered the officiating priest.

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The smaller, more intimate and minimal slate drawings of clouds are to my mind the most successful. The marks and the titles suggest clouds, but could as easily be thoughts or inner landscapes.  The short phrases, words seemingly left behind, suggest half thoughts or notions half remembered.  The balance between the slate and the chalk is all.  The representation of a shaft of light piercing the clouds is breath-taking.  Also known as a film maker, Dean’s handling of light should not surprise.  There is a sense throughout the exhibition of Dean’s awareness of the history of art.  The spirit of Constable, lover of clouds, is close. The arrangement of the slate paintings across three walls is intriguing, ignoring the eyeline, allowing each piece to be alone within the whole, the final small work set high up, like a balloon drifting away.

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Dean has included a David Nash watercolour in the exhibition.  Like Nash, Dean is a collector of stones.  A beguiling collection of round stones of various tones and hues is presented on a large square plinth.  Here is the earth, set below the sky. The careful placement of these inherent engaging objects allows them to play off each other. The smaller ones would fit comfortably in the hand or pocket while the larger ones call to mind early cannon balls. Only the acrylic case saves them from being disturbed.

  Round Stone Collection

Round Stone Collection

The impressive collection of delicately fading clover leaves by contrast appear weighed down by the heavy display case. How big a role does chance play in Dean’s practice, in life?

Dean’s versatility shines through as she tackles landscape in its broadest sense.  In this exhibition, Dean’s focus has zoomed in and out, observing from afar and offering up small details.   As I explore the notion of what it is to connect with place, the idea of collections merits further exploration.  Why collect, what does a collection of found objects achieve in the studio or on display?