Tacita Dean is one of Britain’s most respected and successful international artists. This year has been a busy one for her, with exhibitions at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery focusing on the genres of landscape, portraiture and still life. Taking performance as its theme, our exhibition complements these showings, and is presented in the context of the Edinburgh International Festival, the world’s pre-eminent celebration of the performing arts.
The exhibition is built around regular screenings of Dean’s Event for a Stage (2015), in which actor Stephen Dillane delivers a virtuoso solo performance, variously acting from a script given to him, page by page, by Dean, seated in the front row of the audience; declaiming lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest; talking about his family; reading a short story; and announcing the changing of reels for the two cameras that are filming him. It’s a performance about performing, given by an actor playing the part of an actor. The work was filmed during four live performances, then edited into a single film. As it moves swiftly backwards and forwards between ‘reality’ and ‘illusion’, the audience never quite knows how much of what we are seeing to believe – much of the script concerns the role of text, actor and audience in creating and preserving the ‘magic of suspended disbelief that is the theatre’.
Event for a Stage is joined in the exhibition by a selection of existing and
new films, installations, drawing and photogravures that together examine performance and its relationship to fiction, the imagination and the collective effort of artist and audience. Turning truth into fiction and unspooling the threads of narrative even as they seem to be weaving them into a convincing tale, these beguiling, entrancing works offer another window into the imagination of this most complex of artists.