Survey of Tate’s Collection of Slide-based Artworks

In 2007 Tate began to rapidly increase the number of slide-based works in its collection. Until 2000 it had held just four slide-based artworks, which had grown to 22 by the end of 2010. These constitute a wide spectrum of works including multi-channel installations consisting of more than 160 slides each, and projections using a single slide. Newly acquired works included recent projects as well as older works that had come onto the market or others produced over many years.

The earliest work to enter the collection was David Tremlett’s Green 1972, bought in 1973; and the latest is Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me 1997, acquired in 2010.

Slide stocks and media

When looking at different slide stocks on which the collection works are held, the majority are shot on 35 mm colour Ektachrome stock. Exceptions are Robert Smithson’s Ithaca Mirror Trail, Ithaca, New York 1969, the only work on Kodakchrome, and Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s Partial Eclipse 1980–2006 and Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me 1997 – both on black and white stock. Another exception involves the use of orthochromatic lith stock, a very high contrast film, which gives pure blacks and whites, without shades of grey. This is used in the works of Giovanni Anselmo Particolare 1972–2008, and Pavel Buchler’s Les Ombres (Idea for a Project) 2007 which is also the only work on 70 mm stock.

The only work which was digitally produced and is shown analogue as 35 mm slide projection is Mario Garcia Torres What Happens in Halifax Stays in Halifax 2004–6.

There is a variety of configurations and media in which these works differ from one and another. The majority of the works in the collection are single-channel slide projections which consist either of one slide only or up to 80 slides, using the maximum number of slides which fit in one carousel. The scale of the artworks when installed also varies considerably: the smallest is Ceal Floyer’s Untitled Installation (Dotted Line) consisting of a single slide showing a pair of scissors inside a slide viewer which is no larger than 50 x 50 mm, and the largest is Hilary Lloyd’s Car Wash, a 5-channel video projection with a minimum projection size of 2,000 x 3,000 mm per projection, that easily fills a 15 x 8 m gallery.

Whenever works comprise multiple projections or sound to accompany the projected images, playback is controlled by external synchronisation devices such as AVL, Dataton or Stumpfl. At the height of the popularity of slides there were also many custom-made solutions which were only compatible with certain devices that no longer exist. It is often unclear on which synchronisation system the file was written, and whether there remains any existing playback device with which it will be compatible.

Some works evolve over several decades. Sometimes a slide projection is incorporated within the work. This is often the case for works that originate as a performance which later become an installation, such as Projection Room by Paul McCarthy, 1971–2006, Joan Jonas’s The Juniper Tree 1976–94 and Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s Partial Eclipse 1980–2006.

Display of slide-based works

On average, Tate has shown at least two slide-based artworks per year across the four galleries in the past ten years and it seems that works which exist as one slide only, such as Anna Barriball’s Untitled (III) and Untitled (V) 2006, and Ceal Floyer’s Light Switch 1992–9, are requested the most. The reason for this could simply be down to cost implications as works at Tate are often shown for the period of one year when part of the collection displays. Recently, Tate has acquired the first digital slide work which was transferred from 35 mm transparencies by the artists’ collective KwieKulik: Variants of Red/The Path of Edward Gierek 1971.

Other examples where the artists have started to digitise their 35 mm master slides as a means of preservation and to explore  future display options include Lothar Baumgarten I Prefer it There Better than in Westphalia, Eldorado (Candide, Voltaire) 1968–74, Santu Mofokeng’s The Black Photo Album / Look at Me 1997, and Rodney Graham Aberdeen 2000.

The artists

When looking at the age ranges of artists who are attracted to working with slides as a medium there seems an almost equal division between those now in their 60 or 70s like James Coleman, Giovanni Anselmo and David Lamelas – and a new generation of artists including Hilary Lloyd, Ceal Floyer and Armando Andrade Tudela.