The Crimea 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 source image for The Crimea is a black and white image of a desolate landscape rendered almost indistinguishable by the graininess of the print. In the foreground the land is pockmarked. Large explosions punctuate the landscape close to the low horizon line. On the left side of the image is a large black cloud. On the far right a slightly smaller expanse of dark smoke stands out against the grey sky.
The Crimea, a peninsula on the north coast of the Black Sea now incorporated into the Ukraine, was the site of the Crimean War (1853-6). One of the most famous incidents of the war was the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized in the 1854 poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92). The texts superimposed on the photogravure describe the image as ‘a war film’. Camera instructions encourage the viewer to read the image as the ‘final zoom’ in which ‘smoke disappears into air’ and the protagonists are ‘all dead (or dying)’. Acknowledging the influence of previous artistic explorations of devastating wars on former Russian soil, near the bottom of the print Dean notes ‘ref. Dr. Zhivago’, referring to the 1957 novel by Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) and the popular 1965 film adaptation directed by David Lean (1908-91).
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 p.48.
Jordan Kantor, ‘Tacita Dean’, Artforum, vol.40, no.7, March 2002, p.138.