The Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart hosts the Swiss début of Antigone (2018), Tacita Dean’s most recent film and her most complex work to date. The hour-long epic bespeaks the British-European artist’s extraordinary ability to interweave mythological figures, personal history, and chance. Her primary medium is analog film, which she cherishes for its technical versatility and grainy brilliance. Yet she is also a master of other genres and practices such as photography, printmaking, drawing, and writing.
The idea for Antigone had been on her mind for decades: Antigone is the name of her older sister, but also of the eponymous tragic heroine of the play by Sophocles. Ever since her first encounter with the myth of King Oedipus, Dean had wondered about what happens in the interval during which the blind exiled ruler, attended by his daughter and sister Antigone, wanders the wilderness.
The central concern in Antigone is blindness: the artist’s own willed blindness—Dean always gives accident a role in the genesis of her work and leaves room for unexpected developments; technical invisibility—her masking and multiple exposure of the negative at different times and in different places meant she would not see her composition until after it was printed in the lab; the unseeingness of King Oedipus, who, confronted with the outrages he had unwittingly committed, pierced his own eyes and banished himself from Thebes; and, finally, the blindness of nature: the mainspring that propels Antigone’s rhythm and structure is a solar eclipse that Dean shot in Wyoming. The double projection intertwines these thematic threads in a dramaturgy whose unities of place, time, and action are prismatically fractured, yielding a panoply of radiant images.