Tim Head



Not on display

Tim Head born 1946
Slide, 4 projectors, chairs, mirrors, bucket, clock, ladder and tape-measure
Unconfirmed: 4877 × 8915 × 8915 mm
Purchased 1976

Catalogue entry


Not inscribed
Installation with slide projectors, chairs, mirrors, bucket, clock, ladder, tape-measure 192 × 351 × 351 (487.7 × 891.5 × 891.5)
Purchased from the Rowan Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1976
Exh: Tim Head, Rowan Gallery, January–February 1975 (no catalogue)
Lit: John Tagg, ‘In Camera, a projected interview on the work of Tim Head’ in Studio International, CXC, 1975, pp.56–59, repr. in colour p.57 [Rowan version]; Fenella Crichton, ‘Space as Conundrum; The work of Tim Head’ in Art International, XIX/8, 1975, p.68, repr.p.55; Fenella Crichton, ‘Tim Head’ in Art Press, 11, October 1977, p.11; Tim Head, ‘Displacements’ in Illusions, edited by Edi Lanners, 1977, p.33, repr.
Repr: Newsletter of Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, November 1975; Catalogue of Arte Inglese Oggi, Milan, February 1976, 11, p.383; Catalogue of Documenta 6, Kassel, June 1977, 1, p.191; Catalogue of 10e Biennale de Paris, September, 1977, p.151 [all reprs. Rowan version].

‘Displacements’ is an installation which was first constructed and exhibited at the Rowan Gallery in January and February 1975. It was set up again for a week in July 1976 and Tim Head then agreed to make a version of the work which would fit a module of the rear extension of the Tate Gallery. The proposal, which was submitted in the form of written text with plans and elevations, was specific to the spaces at the Tate Gallery and differed from the Rowan work in its shape and in the substitution of a different but very similar set of objects.

In his proposal for the Tate Gallery, Tim Head described ‘Displacements’ as ‘an installation of three separate but interconnecting still projections in conjunction with various real objects and also incorporating the actual space of the room itself. The projections consist of two single and one double projection utilizing four Kodak Carousel SAV slide projectors with 35mm colour transparencies (unchanging). The title “Displacements” is used to indicate that in each case the projected images are a displacement of the view originally photographed, i.e. the projected image has been moved in a particular direction away from the original position in which it was photographed.’ As well as the projectors, the work when installed contains four wooden chairs, one electric clock, one metal bucket filled with water, one expandable metal ladder, one locking tape measure and three mirrors. When installed the room is lit by the light of the four projectors and the reflections from mirrors, and the public have free access to walk into the room, crossing through the projected light and around some of the objects. The mirrors and ladder lean against the walls at various fixed points, the bucket and chairs are secured to the floor and the clock and the tape-measure against the wall.

The two versions of ‘Displacements’, that at the Rowan Gallery and the Tate Gallery's T02078, were constructed after Tim Head had made four other installations all using slide projectors and mirrors. The first had been at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, in 1972, followed by Gallery House in 1973, and the Whitechapel Art Gallery and Garage Gallery in 1974. The ideas for these installations originated in sketch drawings and small objects that he had made since 1968. In this year he had visited the United States in order to work as an assistant to Claes Oldenburg, and had at this time met Robert Smithson and been particularly interested in his writings. He spent some weeks living in a hotel in Times Square, New York, and he had imagined an audience being in the Square with mirrors replacing the hoardings. He had drawn this and other ideas incorporating both an architectural sense of surrounding the viewer and the use of mirrors to compound reality. The installation at Oxford was the first where Head had the resources to try in three dimensions what he had imagined in two. He took photographs of various views of the Oxford upper gallery, processed them as slides, and then projected them back on the walls of which they were images. In ‘Displacements’ the same procedure is used but the image (projected colour slide) is displaced from the wall and the objects which were photographed. In the first projection the objects are photographed from a height of sixteen feet, the junction of wall and floor being half-way up the image, and then projected from eye-level straight on to the wall. In the second projection two photographs are taken side by side and then separated out sideways when projected, and in the third projection the photograph is taken from the opposite side of the room but the slide is reversed and projected away from the wall that was photographed. These displacements all serve not to confuse the image and object, because the difference between a real chair and a projected slide of a chair is obvious to the viewer, but to make a clear but intriguing separation between them. In the Rowan Gallery the first two displacements were planned in advance and the third was added as the work was being made. The type of projections used in ‘Displacements’ have also been used in the installation ‘Dislocations’ made for the Biennale des Jeunes, Paris, in 1977. With regard to the planning of installations, the artist wrote: 'Ideas for installations either occur as a direct response to a particular space (a crucial ingredient in most of the work) or as more generalised notions for possible projection pieces as yet unanchored to an individual space. In either case notebook sketches are used both as technical working drawings and also to give ideas a particular form or shape.

'Once a specific space has been chosen and some basic notions worked out on paper I usually test out my ideas as soon as possible with a projector(s) and a blank or test slide to see whether my ‘on paper’ plans actually work in the real. (Considerations here are both practical and aesthetic - I'm not sure if you can separate them.) On the basis of this early test run I am in a clearer position to modify initial ideas in further sketches, often right up to the final hour when the piece is actually set up.

'Up to this point the piece exists as a gravitational centre around which I can revolve all my current thoughts, side-tracks, dead-ends etc, even though I am aware of working towards a deadline (imposed on me).

‘Even at this final stage of photographing and setting up the installation there is still a considerable area for alteration (i.e. placements of objects and in a couple of cases rephotographing a shot).’

The objects used in the installation were chosen by Head because they were anonymous and did not have ‘too many specific connotations’ and because they were reasonably feasible as the ordinary objects to be found in a room. The original ladder used at the Rowan was the gallery ladder which Head himself had frequently used to paint the walls when he was intermittently employed as a gallery assistant after leaving art college. This has been replaced by a new ladder in the Tate's version.

'The artist wrote (17 May 1978) that although it was important (indeed inevitable) to recognise all these objects in terms of their original functions, they are allotted slightly different “functions” within this installation.

'1st Projection. The ladder becomes a measuring device like the tape-measure, measuring both actual distance between wall and floor for the photograph and “pictorial” distance during the projection. The chair and bucket of water define the horizontal plane which in the resulting image is tilted out of true.

'2nd Projection. The mirrors in the image record the spatial displacement by their different reflections as seen by the camera's slight shift in position for the two shots whilst the clocks register the time gap between the taking of the two shots and also the time lag between their readings fixed in a past instant and the actual clock's registering of real time in the present.

‘3rd Projection. The chair has only one axis of symmetry, having a difference between back and front, mirrors reverse what they reflect, whilst a shadow of an object is an ambiguous figure with regard to back and front. (The clock from the other projection, but included in this one, now reversed on the opposite wall does the same job as the “fire exit” sign at the Rowan which is to include a figure which doesn't have left/right symmetry.)’

Head had previously said that he did not see the objects as exclusively functional, and admitted that the chair could be considered as a substitute for a person.

The intentions of the artist in making a complete room were not only to provide a puzzle containing undisguisedly illusionistic devices but also to create an atmosphere that might effect the viewer's imagination. The artist said that the mechanics of the work were in the form of a puzzle, but the puzzle (the set of illusions provided by the objects and their projected images) was intended to be fairly transparent and not to frustrate the viewer. Part of the value of the work was the possibility of stimulating the viewer's own imagination. The artist wrote: ‘The work attempts to deal with both “physical” and “mental” space - the superimposition of the space “out there” (objective, measured, distanced) and one's mental projection of that space inside your head (subjective, oblique). Both these categories are of course inseparable (and no doubt largely fallacious anyway) but can be thought of in terms of the installations as being two basic elements (i.e. although the image and object are seen together through each other they can physically be separated).’ The artist was concerned with the embodiment of time in an object and ‘Displacements’ was the first work in which he included an actual clock. Even without a clock, a projected slide of an object indicates that at an earlier time that object has been photographed and that the work embodies this element of timespan. The work was like a sculpture in that it was moveable from one space to another, but completely defined its own environment and did not exist when not installed with the projected slides.

This catalogue entry is based on a conversation with the artist (15 January 1978) and two letters (14 February and 17 May, 1978), and has been approved by him.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1976-8: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979

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