Kodak is a looped film recording the production of 16mm film in the Kodak factory in Chalon-sur-Saône, France. Dean has explained:
I was trying to get hold of black and white film for my 16mm camera ... and ... I was told that Kodak had stopped producing it ... I found five rolls in New York and I decided on a whim to think about using it to film the Kodak factory in Chalon-sur-Saône, at this point not knowing that they had just decided to stop all film production there. The idea of the film was to use its obsolete stock on itself. The point is that it’s a medium that’s just about to be exhausted.
(Quoted in ‘Kultureflash Interview: Artworker of the Week: Tacita Dean’.)
In the event, although Dean’s film opens in black and white, with a long shot of reflective metal surfaces on machinery operated by men in white overalls, it quickly shifts to colour, capturing intense blues and greens that are abstracted by the artist’s close framing. During the course of forty-four minutes, a sequence of static shots shows mysterious closed spaces in which giant rollers turn and broad sheets of transparent film are manipulated through complex machines. At times the camera lingers on close-up views of machine parts and film; at others it observes from a greater distance, showing moments in the operators’ day – such as smoking in the salle de repos, wrapping an enormous black tube in plastic sheeting or cutting paper on a roll. Although everything takes place in the claustrophobic interior of the factory, whose oppressive hum constitutes the film’s sound track, light dominates. In addition to the bright white spots of single lights, turned on exceptionally the day that the artist was filming, two sets of complimentary colours recur through her careful framing of the factory corridors and rooms: the ubiquitous red light that is safe for finishing photosensitive film contrasting with a gentle green glow in a distant doorway; and sulphuric yellows juxtaposed with a rich purple light coming from a room we cannot see. Dean has written:
From a viscous blue solid to an evanescent transparency, the manufacture of film is a journey of sublime beauty, and one I would never have known were it not for its incipient obsolescence. Film is drawn as a line in endless circuits around this immense factory, pulled at great speed up and down and across rollers, outlining and defining a building and a process of immeasurable sophistication and scientific splendour.
(Quoted in Tacita Dean: Analogue, exhibition catalogue, Schaulager Basel 2006, pp.8–9.)
Dean is known for her fascination with incipient obsolescence; in 1996 she travelled to the Netherlands to film the last waves being operated by a wave machine, footage of which became her film Delft Hydraulics. In the same year she created the complex installation Foley Artist 1996 (T07870) which focuses on the foleys who produce sound for films; at the time she made the film, the foleys’ craft appeared to be under threat of extinction as a result of the digital revolution. More recent films such as Fernsehturm 2001 (T07871) and Palast 2004 (T12212) celebrate buildings from an era – that of the communist German Democratic Republic – with an outdated ideology. While the television tower filmed in Fernsehturm owes its continued survival to its suitability for adaptation to tourism, the government building whose windows provide the screen for Palast was demolished a few years after Dean made her film. Similarly, although the Kodak factory in France continued to make X-ray film for a short time after it stopped 16mm production, its premises were demolished in December 2007 to make way for new industries. Kodak ends with views of the deserted film-packaging factory, where packaging clutter and abandoned office chairs randomly lying around on tarmac contrast tragically with the clinical order of the operating part of the manufacturing process. Having worked with film as her principal medium since the early 1990s, Dean feels passionately about the end of analogue film production as for her, the digital technology which is supplanting it,
just does not have the means to create poetry; it neither breathes nor wobbles, but tidies up our society, correcting it and then leaves no trace ... It is too far from drawing, where photography and film have their roots: the imprint of light on emulsion, the alchemy of circumstance, marks upon their support ... what we are losing is a vast immensity of treasure and yet we are choosing not to replace it properly.
(Quoted in Tacita Dean: Analogue, exhibition catalogue, Schaulager Basel 2006, p.8.)
As is usual with Dean’s films, Kodak was produced in an edition of four, of which Tate’s copy is the first. It is exhibited projected onto a screen sunk into the wall so that it is flush with the wall’s surface in a purpose-built space. The projector is concealed behind false walls.
Tacita Dean: Film works, exhibition catalogue, Miami Art Central, 2007.
‘Kultureflash Interview: Artworker of the Week: Tacita Dean’, http://www.kultureflash.net/archive/171/priview.html
, accessed 11 September 2009.