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This print is one of five photographs that form Sam Taylor-Wood’s Soliloquy series, which was produced for her 1998 one-person exhibition at the Prada Foundation in Milan. Tate owns two of the five photographs, the other one being Soliloquy I (Tate P78318). Soliloquy II was printed in an edition of six; Tate owns number five in the edition.
The work comprises a large single image with below it a highly elongated, panoramic scene. A man stands in the centre of the large upper image on a gravelled path surrounded by hunting dogs. He is naked from the waist up apart from a small crucifix on a chain around his neck. The belt on his trousers is undone. He is unshaven and his face looks drawn. At the same time, his bearing is dignified and elegant. Behind him are autumnally-coloured trees and foliage. The scene below is set in a tiled changing room. Men and women, dressed and undressed, sit, stand or perform sexual acts with one another.
This presentation of a large image above a smaller panoramic one echoes the format of many Renaissance altarpieces, which consisted of a main panel and a predella panel underneath (the step, or raised secondary part, of an altar), in which were played out scenes from the life of the central saint. In an interview with Germano Celant, Taylor-Wood makes explicit her intention to draw such art historical connections:
My iconic inspiration comes from old-master paintings, [...] in whose work the panels form triptychs or unified wholes, constructed as a large architectural space, where figures are placed as a separation between heaven and earth. Above, in the empyrean, [the surface of the imaginary sphere on which celestial bodies appear to be projected] are the Divinities and Saints, below their terrestrial events. In the Soliloquy series, I wanted to depict the same separation, the different formal sense between above and below, between the sublime and the physical, immaterial and material, and I sought to bring them into line in a whole that would produce a sort of focus on the territory that lies between the conscious and the unconscious. Above is the individual who thinks or reflects and below, his oneric and anguished reflection.
(Stedelijk Museum exhibition catalogue, pp.11-12)
The Soliloquy series references art historical precedents in terms of choice of image as well as the formal elements outlined above. For example, the recumbent figure in Soliloquy I recreates Henry Wallis’s Chatterton (Tate N01685), while the nude in Soliloquy III reproduces The Rokeby Venus, 1647-51, by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), owned by the National Gallery, London. Taylor-Wood employed digital technology to introduce an element from the upper image into the scenes below, in this case the tail from one of the dogs, thus making manifest the relationship between the two apparently separate locations. The predella sections below the large panel were produced with the same camera which the artist used for her Five Revolutionary Seconds series, allowing her to photograph the full 360 degrees of a room in a few seconds. The resulting effect is to open out the space, so that even a comparatively small room appears deceptively large. This, combined with the opulent setting of the Portland Baths, contributes to the atmosphere of decadence that characterises this work.
Sam Taylor-Wood, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002, reproduced p.16 in colour.
James Roberts, ‘Making a Drama out of a Crisis’, Frieze, issue 44, January.-February 1999, pp.50-5, reproduced p.55 in colour.
Sam Taylor-Wood, exhibition catalogue, Centrum Sztuki Wspólczesnej, Warsaw 2001, reproduced in colour (no page numbers).