Fernsehturm was created during Dean’s year-long DAAD fellowship with the Berlin Artist-in-Residence programme in anticipation of her solo exhibition, in early 2001, at Tate Britain. She has lived and worked in Berlin since 2000. Dean initially visited Berlin in 1987 as a student, when a trip up the iconic television tower that dominates the east of the city, known as the Fernsehturm, had left her with colourful impressions, so it was natural that it was the first monument in that city that she filmed. Conceived by the Berlin architect Hermann Henselmann (1905–95) following the model of the Stuttgart Fernsehturm (the world’s first concrete television tower, constructed in the mid 1950s), the Berlin Fernsehturm was built between 1965 and 1969 in Alexanderplatz. From here it overlooks the city skyline – a steel-clad sphere encircled by a double row of windows and containing a revolving restaurant, mounted on a concrete needle that extends above the sphere in a tall red and white striped television aerial. When it was erected in the 1960s the tower was intended by the city’s Socialist Unity Party to be a monument to the future of the German Democratic Republic.
Dean’s film comprises a forty-four minute static shot looking across the restaurant interior towards the curved wall of windows that allows diners to observe the city from above while they eat. As in many of her films, the artist used an anamorphic lens, resulting in a long rectangular view that constitutes a radial crop of the spherical restaurant space. The single shot was filmed late in the afternoon of the 12 October 2000, during the period when day turns to night, thus recording the slowly changing light at the same time as the thirty-minute rotation of the restaurant. As colours in the sky fade before deepening and blackening, the restaurant interior fluctuates between visibility and obscurity until the fluorescent lights are switched on, transforming the window surfaces from transparent glass to reflecting screens. With the onset of evening, diners appear and music is played for them on an electrical organ. One of the tunes played is the popular On The Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz composed in 1866 by Johann Strauss II (1825–99) which featured prominently in the famous 1968 American film, 2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick. The television tower’s perpetual rotation parallels that of the spacecraft in Kubrick’s film; shown as a continual loop, Dean’s film also mirrors this rotation, which in its turn records the rotation of the planet around the sun, creating the passage from day to night. The architectural features of the restaurant space – in particular the vertical bars between the extended line of windows – mimic the structure of film itself, which is made up of a series of frames or windows separated by bars. This inter-referentiality of subject and material is a recurring feature of Dean’s work, as in her earlier film A Bag of Air (1995, T12920). She has written:
The Fernsehturm has become the beacon on my Berlin horizon. I look out for it wherever I am, in all weather, with its head so often lost in the low cloud or standing high above the city brilliantly catching the sun. I think it is beautiful; it excites me, yet so many people don’t like it ... It was visionary in its concept and a symbol of the future, and yet it is out of date. The Fernsehturm embodies the perfect anachronism. The revolving sphere in Space still remains our best image of the future, and yet it is firmly locked in the past: in a period of division and dissatisfaction on Earth that led to the belief that Space was an attainable and better place.
(Quoted in Tacita Dean 2001, p.30.)
Fernsehturm shares many formal qualities with Dean’s earlier film Disappearance at Sea 1996 (T07455) which charts nightfall seen from the St Abb’s Head Lighthouse in Berwickshire, England. Similarly shot using an anamorphic lens, the film cuts between an inward look at the lighthouse bulbs orbiting each other and a view of spectacular colours in the sky over the open sea before being enveloped by the darkness of night. As in the later film, indeed arguably in all Dean’s films, light is a central subject of the work, refracted through glass and framed by the metal rods that separate the glass panes. The lighthouse or beacon features in several of Dean’s early films, providing a rural precursor to the larger, urban television tower, the ideal vantage point for watching light fade from the sky. Nightfall – or the loss of daylight – recurs again in Dean’s later Berlin film, Palast (T12212). She has said: ‘for me, making a film is connected to the idea of loss and disappearance’ (quoted in Tacita Dean 2006, p.17).
As is standard for Dean’s films, Fernsehturm was produced in an edition of four of which Tate’s copy is the second. It is exhibited projected onto an anamorphic screen set into walls painted grey. A set of colour photogravures, also titled Fernsehturm, was created from the imagery of the film and printed by Niels Borch Jensen Verlag, Berlin and Copenhagen in 2001.
Jean-Christophe Royoux, Marina Warner, Germaine Greer, Tacita Dean, London 2006, pp.33, 53 and 78, reproduced p.32.
Tacita Dean: Berlin Works, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2005, pp.30–3, reproduced pp.32–3.
Tacita Dean, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2001, pp.50–61, reproduced front and back cover and pp.56–7.Elizabeth Manchester