Zur Letzten Ruhe 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 black and white photograph on which Zur Letzten Ruhe is based depicts mourners gathered around a grave at a funeral. In the centre of the image the priest stands with arms folded looking down at a coffin heavily bedecked with flowers. To his left and right is a mainly female congregation with bowed heads. A simple wooden bench is positioned at a three-quarter angle to the camera in the foreground.
Dean’s notes create a detailed narrative to accompany the image. The title of this print translates as ‘the final resting place’ and her subtitle for the work is ‘the (hastened) Russian Ending’. A woman on the left of the image is identified as the widow of the deceased; Dean’s notes tell the audience that ‘she murdered him’. Dean translates an inscription on a banner hanging from the coffin as ‘your grieving wife (we know otherwise)’. Dean highlights the bench in the foreground, describing it is the site of her fictional film’s last scene, a ‘confession/denouement’ in ‘one take’. Notes in the bottom right corner of the print suggest that the story is not over: ‘sequel inevitable ... he must be avenged’.
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, 53.
Jordan Kantor, ‘Tacita Dean’, Artforum, vol.40, no.7, March 2002, p.138.