Christine Sullivan Echo 1999

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Artwork details

Artist
Title
Echo
Date 1999
Medium Photograph, colour, on paper on aluminium
Dimensions Support: 1500 x 1840 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 2002
Reference
P78594
Not on display

Summary

This work was the result of a commission undertaken by the artist during the transformation of the former Bankside Power Station into Tate Modern. For sixteen months between October 1998 and February 2000 Sullivan had access to the changing site as builders worked towards realising the vision of architects Herzog & de Meuron. She has described the intention of her project, saying, ‘I chose to utilize the site’s ad hoc constructions as a means to refer to art practices and locations of art production, such as alternative art spaces and industrial studio spaces’ (correspondence with the artist, 1 June 2004). This photograph forms the left panel of a diptych with Narcissus, 1999 (Tate P20229), although the artist has specified that the works may also be shown separately. Both images were produced in an edition of five, and depict the spaces adjacent to the undeveloped oil tanks underneath the garden to the south of the building.

The photographs were shot consecutively with very long exposures using available light. Sullivan has described how she became fascinated by the site, saying, ‘I chose to photograph in the area of the oil tanks initially out of curiosity and then out of obsession. The area of the oil tanks has a very particular poetic quality ... it is a place where the mythological is physically real’ (correspondence with the artist, 18 November 2003). Sullivan has suggested parallels between the oil tanks and the mysterious and transformative region known as the Zone in the film Stalker, 1979 by Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-86) where wanderers are forced to confront their true selves.

Echo depicts a cavernous, largely empty space. The bare concrete walls are washed with a cold grey-green light. An uneven pile of bricks lies near the corner of the room. Across the back wall a heavy blue cable stretches up along a pillar and off to the right, out of shot. The immediate foreground of the image is in shadow. At the bottom left of the image, a square hole opens into a room beyond, exposing an area bathed in warm orange light. A thin shaft of this light pours through the hole, tracing a line across the floor to the far wall, where it illuminates what appears to be a single brick or small piece of wood standing upright. Sullivan explains, ‘the line of light [was] caused by the sodium vapor lamp from within the oil tank piercing through the hole in the wall’ (correspondence with the artist, 18 November 2003). It also provides a visual echo for the vertical strip light in Narcissus.

In the myth from which these two works derive their titles, Echo is a nymph who falls in love with the beautiful youth Narcissus. Deprived of the ability to communicate except by repeating the last words of her beloved’s sentences, Echo is distraught when Narcissus rebuffs her, and takes refuge in a cave in the rocks. The various visual repetitions in the diptych reinforce the myth’s themes of reiteration.

The image is about space and light. During her project documenting the changes to the former power station, Sullivan began to ‘consider the building as an artwork in itself’ where ‘the empty and partially completed areas ... can be considered as much a part of the aesthetic experience as the installed artworks themselves’ (Sullivan, p.27). Sullivan draws attention to the beauty of industrial areas before they become recognizable gallery spaces. She was also aware of the singularity of the moments she documented. She has commented, ‘Over the course of my visits to the site, the images that I created became the only fixed point within a constantly changing environment; the photographs charting a parallel museum of transitory spaces and anonymous, impromptu artworks.’ (Sullivan, p.27)

Further reading:
Christine Sullivan, ‘The Transfer of Power’, tate: the art magazine, no.21, 2000, pp.26-31 reproduced p.26 in colour.

Rachel Taylor
November 2003
Revised June 2004

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