Rachel Lowe

A Letter to an Unknown Person no.2

1996

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In Tate Liverpool

Artist
Rachel Lowe born 1968
Medium
Film, Super 8 mm, shown as video, projection or monitor, colour
Dimensions
Duration: 1min, 5sec
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 2014
Reference
T14108

Summary

Letter to an Unknown Person no.2 1998 and the related Letter to an Unknown Person no.7 1998 (Tate T14109) are from a series of seven film works by the artist Rachel Lowe. Both films last just over one minute and were originally shot on Super 8 film, then transferred to video. They can be shown either as projections or on monitors. Each of the films in the Tate collection are number one from an edition of five.

The films show the artist’s hand scribbling animatedly with a black marker pen onto the inside of a car window as the English landscape beyond rushes by. The movements are quick and jerky and the lines created are looping and enigmatic, like an unfamiliar or ancient script. As the film goes on it gradually becomes clear that the artist is attempting to capture the passing, fleeting landscape, tracing it onto the transparent glass, before it disappears in a blur. Letter to an Unknown Person no.2 features rural scenery, while Letter to an Unknown Person no.7 shows a more urban landscape; however in both films the artist’s attempts to pin down the scenes hurtling past are thwarted. The tangle of frenzied black lines quickly builds up to a thick indecipherable mesh, before the film loops back to the beginning with a clean slate for the process to begin once again. Shortly after making the works, Lowe gave an interview in which she described them as follows:

I’m in the back of a car and I’m just trying to draw the landscape with a marker pen on the window as it goes past and it’s about the fact that you can’t ... it’s about our desire to capture a moment in time and the fact that you never actually can – it’s just impossible. There is this constant need or desire to do so and you kind of ... it’s about a sense of loss it’s a universal desire to stop time for an instant – and you can’t. It’s the one thing that is always constantly there moving on, and it’s just about that inexorable process.
(Lowe in Lowe and Pope 1998, accessed 18 March 2013.)

In the same interview Lowe used the term ‘unease’ to sum up her relationship to technology at the time. Although Super 8 mm film cameras had ceased to be manufactured in the early 1980s, she opted to use one over a video camera, feeling that its uneven qualities, its imprecise register of motion, had more in common with how the human eye processes movement. The Letter to an Unknown Person series was the first occasion that the artist used film, although image, perception and memory have been recurrent themes throughout her work, much of which since 1998 has continued to use film and video, as well as slide projections, drawing and painting.

Further reading
Rachel Lowe and Nina Pope, ‘Interview with Rachel Lowe, Brixton, 10th of December 1998’, 1998, http://www.safebet.org.uk/intervws/rachel.htm, accessed 18 March 2013.
Rachel Lowe, exhibition catalogue, The Showroom, London 2001.

Helen Delaney
March 2013

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Display caption

In A Letter to an Unknown Person no.2 Lowe’s hand is seen scribbling onto the inside of the window of a moving car. She is attempting to capture a moment in time, tracing a fleeting landscape onto the transparent glass, before it disappears in a blur. The movements are quick and jerky, and the lines created looping and enigmatic, like an unfamiliar or ancient script. Over the course of a minute, the tangle of black lines builds up to an indecipherable mesh, before the film loops back to the beginning, and the process again.

Gallery label, September 2016

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

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