Ein Sklave des Kapitals belongs to a portfolio of twenty black and white photogravures with etching collectively entitled The Russian Ending. The portfolio was printed by Niels Borch Jensen, Copenhagen and published by Peter Blum Editions, New York in an edition of thirty-five; Tate’s copy is the fifth of ten artist’s proofs. Each image in the portfolio is derived from a postcard collected by the artist in her visits to European flea markets. Most of the images depict accidents and disasters, both man-made and natural. Superimposed on each image are white handwritten notes in the style of film directions with instructions for lighting, sound and camera movements, suggesting that the each picture is the working note for a film. The title of the series is taken from a convention in the early years of the Danish film industry when each film was produced in two versions, one with a happy ending for the American market, the other with a tragic ending for Russian audiences. Dean’s interventions encourage viewers to formulate narratives leading up to the tragic denouements in the prints, engaging and implicating the audience in the creative process.
Dean’s interest in narrative and the mechanisms of the film industry are also evident in her other work. Her installation Foley Artist, 1996 (Tate T07870) depicts cinematic sound engineers recording acoustic effects for a short soundtrack. The Roaring Forties: Seven Boards in Seven Days, 1997 (Tate T07613) is a series of chalkboard drawings that use the conventions of the filmic storyboard to suggest dramatic events taking place in tempestuous waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean. The Uncles, 2004 (collection of the artist) is a film about the artist’s own family connections to the first two Chief Executives of Ealing Studios, Basil Dean (1888-1978; Chief Executive 1931-37) and Michael Balcon (1896-1977; Chief Executive 1937-59).
The final print in the portfolio, Ein Sklave des Kapitals is the only image in the series with colour. The source image on which the print is based appears to depict an amateur performance of a play in a hall. The photograph shows the players crowded on stage presumably for their curtain call at the end of the performance. The stage set is heavy with bourgeois detail: a houseplant rests on a decorative side table on the far right, and in the background the branches of a Christmas tree are visible. In the centre of the stage a young girl stands on a small plinth. In each hand she holds aloft a flag; the flags are coloured red against the black and white background.
Dean describes this image as ‘The Russian Ending (definitive)’ and ‘the (official) Russian Ending’. The work’s title translates as ‘a slave of capitalism’ and Dean’s commentary describes her fictional film as a polemic on ‘the defeat of capitalism’. Her directions specify that ‘the Internationale is sung then cut’. At first glance this image belies the series’ theme with its apparently happy ending; it is only with hindsight and knowledge of twentieth century Soviet political history that the hopeful and idealised imagery in this print take on the tragic air of the rest of the Russian Ending series.
Clarrie Wallis, Sean Rainbird, Michael Newman, J.G. Ballard, Germaine Greer, Susan Stewart, Friedrich Meschede, Peter Nichols and Simon Crowhurst, Tacita Dean, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London, 2001.
Dorothea Dietrich, ‘The space in between: Tacita Dean’s Russian Ending’, Art on Paper, vol.6, no.5, May-June 2002, pp.48-53, reproduced pp.48, 51 in colour.
Jordan Kantor, ‘Tacita Dean’, Artforum, vol.40, no.7, March 2002, p.138.