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Disappearance at Sea II

A work made of 16mm anamorphic color film, optical sound; 4 min. loop.

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  • A work made of 16mm anamorphic color film, optical sound; 4 min. loop.




Tacita Dean
English, born 1965

About this artwork

Since the mid-1990s, Tacita Dean has produced numerous drawings and photographs, extensive writings about her work, and, most impressively, over thirty films. These works can appear low-tech and employ a seemingly simple means of shooting such as the use of a fixed camera angle. Although some of her films can be based loosely on a fictional or historical tale, the artist’s real power lies not in storytelling but in her adeptness with the medium of film itself.  Her narratives are deeply rooted in film’s relationship to light and time, and to the reflexive and circuitous nature of both these elements.

Disappearance at Sea II is the title of a short film made after Disappearance at Sea (1996).  Both works take as their point of departure the story of Donald Crowhurst, an amateur yachtsman from England who joined the solo, round-the-world Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968. The inexperienced (and, some might say, deceptive) Crowhurst quickly ran into difficulties, and eventually his craft, Teignmouth Electron, was found several hundred miles from the coast of Britain, abandoned.  Filmed in anamorphic format at St. Abb’s Head on the east coast of Scotland, Disappearance at Sea uses the light and lenses of a lighthouse and its surrounding landscape to suggestive narrative ends.

The title Disappearance at Sea II—and especially the subtitle, Voyage de Guérison, which Dean added in her accompanying text—refer to the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde’s misguided, love-potion-induced affair. Tristan, unlike Crowhurst, embraced the ocean’s power: after being mortally wounded, he allowed himself to drift in a voyage de guérison, or journey of healing, to a magical island where he hoped to be cured once again by the powers of Isolde and her mother, the queen. Dean set the film at the Longstone Lighthouse in the Farne Islands, mounting the camera on the building’s lighting apparatus.  Using an anamorphic lens, she limited her exploration to a single continuous shot, with the camera’s eye moving in the same trajectory as the lighthouse beam, seeing what it would normally iluminate. The uninterrupted rotation captures the reflections in the lighthouse’s curved windows, and through them, the surrounding sea and sky. During exhibition, the rhythmic clicking of the projector and film reel within the gallery echoes the sound of the rotating lighthouse within the film. This relationship is further complicated by the fact that the audio was not captured on location, but rather composed from the sound of a ventilator in a fish and chip shop, which was mixed with that of a short-wave radio transmission.

Reflecting on Dean’s oeuvre, the novelist Jeannete Winterson wrote: “The vividness of her images and the vibrancy of her soundscapes are a challenge to the desensitized, coarse world of normal experience, where bright lights, movement and noise cheat us into believing that something is happening. Tacita Dean’s slow nothingness is far more rich and strange.” Indeed, in this artist’s work, real and cinematic space become analogous, forming an elegant symmetry between medium and subject.  Disappearance at Sea II, like its companion, is ultimately about the phenomenon of projection, of a beam of light being transmitted through a lens—in actuality, the essence of film.


Currently Off View


Contemporary Art


Tacita Dean


Disappearance at Sea II






16mm anamorphic color film, optical sound; 4 min. loop

Credit Line

Gift of Society for Contemporary Art

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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