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– Autumn/Winter 2000

Tacita Dean

Peter Wollen

1. 'Artist's film' is the usual label for work by Tacita Dean but, I can't help wondering, what exactly is an 'artist's film'? At first sight, it seems like a self-explanatory description, but in practice it is a strangely limiting category which, generally speaking, applies only to the work of artists who are recognised as such within the institutional framework of the 'art world', as it is called.

The makers of 'artist's films' - such as Tacita Dean - have usually been trained as artists, formally at least, and tend to exhibit their work in galleries and museums, whereas others, who often have a different educational background and tend to exhibit their work in screening rooms with seated audiences at set times, are considered to be 'film-makers' - or were, since 'experimental' or 'avant-garde' film now seems to have been institutionally and politically side-tracked. It is not a helpful distinction, even if it has a certain validity because the institutional differences between the two categories of film-making often carry with them different traditions and, up to a point, different outlooks. Of course, the idea of an 'artist's film' can be extended backwards in time to cover works by artists which were, in fact, screened in performance contexts or in cinemas. It was not until the 1930s that films were first screened in art galleries. The film work of Joseph Cornell, for example, was first shown in Julien Lévy's Manhattan gallery in 1932, along with revivals of earlier films by Léger, Man Ray and Dalí. Yet as long ago as 1921 Alfred Stieglitz had warned Paul Strand that Manhatta, the experimental film he had made in collaboration