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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 II (Tate P78317). Soliloquy I 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. In the large upper image a man, apparently sleeping, lies on his back on a shabby sofa, with his head and one of his arms dropping off the edge. The scene below is set in what appears to be a stately home. Figures, dressed variously in jeans or plush ball-gowns, stand and sit in the space. A woman, whose image is repeated, clings onto two pillars and appears to scream.
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 nude in Soliloquy III reproduces The Rokeby Venus, 1647-51, by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), owned by the National Gallery, London. In Soliloquy I the recumbent figure recreates Chatterton, 1856 (Tate N01685) by Henry Wallis (1830-1916). Unlike the dead Chatterton, however, Taylor-Wood’s figure seems to be merely asleep and the artist has described the rather gothic scenes being played out below as similar to a dream sequence. Taylor-Wood employed digital technology to introduce an element from the upper image into the scenes below, in this case part of the sleeping figure’s hand, 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 Leighton House, contributes to the atmosphere of decadence that characterises this work.
Sam Taylor-Wood, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2002, reproduced p.15 in colour.
James Roberts, ‘Making a Drama out of a Crisis’, Frieze, issue 44, January.-February 1999, pp.50-5, reproduced pp.50-1 in colour.
Sam Taylor-Wood, exhibition catalogue, Centrum Sztuki Wspólczesnej, Warsaw 2001, reproduced in colour (no page numbers).