We are delighted to announce that Caitlin Chaisson is the winner of Volume V of the prize with her review of Rosalind Krauss's lecture on Tacita Dean's FILM. This edition of the prize was judged by Marc Valli, Founder of Magma and Editor-in-Chief of Elephant Magazine.


Comments from Marc Valli, founder of Magma, Editor-in-Chief of Elephant Magazine and judge of the Art & Culture Art Criticism Prize Volume V:


I must confess after agreeing to doing in this, I then grew quite apprehensive ('What have I put myself in for!') But I enjoyed reading them. They are, however, very different in style and tone of voice. It made me think of how much difference in tone of voice and styles and approaches there can be in art criticism... More, I think, than in any other critical discipline. Anyway, to come back to the issue of the choice, you will find my comments below. I would vote, without a shadow of a doubt (and against my best judgement and my usual parameters at Elephant) for 'First Word: One Syllable. Second Word: Four Syllables.'


I shouldn't go for it, as I made it a mission to fight against this kind of rather dense art writing: laden with references and lingo (expressions like 'medium specificity') and presenting what is probably a difficult challenge to the more general reader. Yet I can't help finding it a strong piece of criticism. It really has something a bit special about it. It feels, say, in the best sense of that old-fashioned term, inspired. But at the same time it also shows restraint and good control of the medium (haha, medium specificity!). I liked the fact that the rhythm and the tone of the writing went hand in hand with the work it had used as its subject and starting point (Dacita Dean's FILM). I think her last paragraph makes it clear that this was a conscious intention and not just me 'projecting'... The piece also starts with an excellent descriptive opening paragraph. And then it moves in unexpected directions, asking many questions, questioning the questioners (Rosalind Krauss no less), questioning some aspects of art appreciation systems, ultimately questioning (and answering) itself. But all through the piece the questions keep coming in confounding and refreshing ways. I felt that the conclusion was slightly hasty (probably dictated by the word count) and disappointing (seemed to be veering away from the crux of the matter), but again, it was eloquently written.























Winner: Review by Caitlin Chaisson

First Word: One Syllable. Second Word: Four Syllables

Rosalind Krauss on Tacita Dean’s FILM

Tate Modern, Lecture Series

Thursday 8 March 2012


Projected on a monolithic pillar in Tate’s Turbine Hall, Tacita Dean’s FILM reels against the face of the monument, in constant motion, as if to resist it’s own commemorative impulse. Snails, clouds, toes and eggs pass time between the sprockets and the frame stills. They curl up and over the angular pillar, as if slowly re-shaping it into a spool. Dean worked entirely without post-production; instead, labouring physically over the photochemical strips with early traditional techniques of hand cutting, glass matte painting, and masking.


Medium specificity is a topic that has a peculiar mercurial quality. To be specific with regards to demarcating one medium from another has been a contested issue for decades, continuing to retain a certain amount of weight. The questions it attempts to answer can loosely be subsumed together under: What is it? Or, more specifically, what exactly is the defining feature that makes a film a film? Duration? Projection? Frames? Or what happens when footage looses it’s essentially filmic aspectual quality of impressions of light on celluloid? What happens when film becomes digitized? These questions were the main subject of Rosalind Krauss’ discussion of Tacita Dean’s Turbine Hall installation. Krauss mobilizes FILM as an advocate against the obsolescence of the traditional film medium, relaying it heavily towards her own career interest in medium specificity. Krauss focuses on the impossibilities of replicating analog features of FILM, such as the grainy flicker, and the pulse of traditional celluloid, with digital media. And while medium specificity served as the subject of Krauss’ discussion about the work of art, at the end of the lecture, I was left wondering what specificity can be wielded of art criticism, or art historicism.    


During the question period, Krauss made an interesting admission that she had not, in fact, seen the piece until that very day. She had written her lecture in New York, where she resides, and relied on anonymous YouTube segments of the piece in the Turbine Hall, which, she confessed, had served as the clips she had inserted into the lecture’s PowerPoint. This seemed rather perplexing to me. A lecturer, championing the irreplicability of celluloid film, and the irreversibility of the loss of these technologies, but using fractional and digitized Internet material to make these claims.


Krauss proclaimed that upon seeing FILM at Tate, the experience simply reinforced her position, in the sense that the ‘graininess’ and the ‘flicker’ and the ‘pulse’ of the material was able to be more sensitively viewed. And while she uses FILM as a corroborative afterthought, she was still able to write a lecture about how FILM functions as an exemplar piece of medium specificity, without having actually seen the work. Somehow she was able to make out the important filmic quality of the piece, even though it was not viewed in the specific mediumistic form. My unease was not so much a matter of the importance of celluloid, but a result of Krauss’ imperturbability of the fact that she was making claims vis-à-vis what she was claiming against.


This contradiction remains unsettling to me. And while it remains unsettling, I also had to wonder whether it is entirely impossible for Krauss, in New York, to comment on a work that exists in London. Is medium specificity an argument that demands a certain amount of locality? I wonder if art criticism’s tendency to charade, or to make things clear by concealing, is part of it’s own specific aesthetics. But to charade is also to play and to pretend, and perhaps to pretend that one is able to appreciate the delicacies of a medium that is threatening to disappear, one is also only pretending to consider the seriousness of the loss.


I also began to question whether it would be reasonable to assume that Krauss should wait until landing in London, barrel towards the Turbine Hall, and hastily scribble some thoughts down before presenting her claims. That too seems just as absurd. What I am arguing for is that criticism does not need to hide its lack, its uncertainties and its impossibilities. I could not see the pulse. And if I did, then what would the difference be between a digitally recorded pulse, and a filmic pulse? These gaps in understanding are not blemishes on the surface of criticism, but the sprockets that help transport and steady the questions that are raised.


Rosalind Krauss on Tacita Dean’s FILM