Exploring 35mm film at visual artist Tacita Dean’s ‘JG’ exhibit

tacita dean TIFFWe all know film purists just ain’t down for the current switch to everything digital. I totally understand the reluctance; film has that quality that is really hard to replicate in a digital medium. There’s something about film that makes movies look important. I’m personally not a purist; I think the switch to digital has made movies and filmmaking more accessible, and has forced people to get more creative with the medium. That being said, I forgot that the remaining people who still using film are also forced to get more creative and still need the space in the film world to do so. Only few a places and dedicated people remain who are willing to put in the time and effort into making and showcasing art using traditional film.

Right now, the TIFF Bell Lightbox has an exhibit on featuring artists who work with 35mm film, including a section on visual artist Tacita Dean’s work entitled JG (2013). This short film uses 35mm to showcase footage of natural landscapes and some little creatures. However, what’s unique about her work is the way she manipulates the film. She used a super old and somewhat basic filming technique of exposing her film with sections covered (or masked), then passing the film through the camera again, exposing the reverse space. This process creates the effect of two (or three or four) things being filmed at a time. At first, it seemed pretty straight forward, images side by side like a split screen, but throughout the film, Dean uses this technique to explore shapes that correspond with their subject in interesting and innovative ways. The warmth of the colours (aided by the 35mm film) really made the experience. The footage looked old and new at the same time and the whole feel was very National Geographic educational film from the 70s (in a good way).

tacita dean TIFF 2

It was really exciting to see all of the featured artists (including Daniel Young and Christian Giroux) using and exploring 35mm in a way that is truly experimental but also reflects the history of the medium. It’s obvious that all artists are aware of how 35mm works and feels, and they use that as a launching point to take it somewhere a little bit more modern. From the showcasing perspective, it was also interesting to see how TIFF had to accommodate the 35mm reels. While the exhibit is partly about the work being projected, it’s also about the art of projection itself, which is probably the saddest part of losing film. For anyone interested in visual art in film, or 35mm art in general, the exhibit is definitely worth a visit.

The Tacita Dean / Daniel Young & Christian Giroux exhibition runs at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from June 12 to August 23. Admission is free.

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