Informed by cinematic and documentary traditions, Taylor-Wood has been working with photography, film and video in London since the early 1990s. She presents characters in situations of isolation and self-absorption, their familiar, even mundane, surroundings and poses belying more or less hidden states of emotional crisis. The actors she uses are often presented in relation to each other using split screens or panoramic viewpoints in order to 'gather a complete series of human feelings to explain the entire range of the emotional or existential world' (Celant, p.270). In an earlier work, Method in Madness 1994 (private collection), the artist filmed a method actor staging a nervous breakdown. This piece explores the difficult distinctions 'between reality and unreality, life and theatre', public and private, by putting the viewer in the uncomfortable position of deciding whether the action is genuine or staged. This discomfort persists with Brontosaurus, which is clearly taking place in a private space.
First I filmed a man who was dancing naked in his bedroom, to the rhythm of very fast techno-jungle music. Then I took away the music and projected the film in slow motion. While I was filming, his movements became almost alien, they made no sense, he went through all these motions and they ended up seeming clumsy. In slow-motion they became very beautiful, but totally ungainly. Then I changed the music and introduced Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, a melancholy excerpt it became a eulogy to living, even if the person seems to be doing a dance of death, because it is so fragile, delicate and vulnerable. (Taylor-Wood quoted in Celant, p.192)
Naked and alone in his bedroom, the dancer is performing an activity which usually takes place in a public space and which mixes acting with self-expression. By projecting the dance in slow-motion, Taylor-Wood has broken it down into a series of poses. The dancer appears to be lost in his own private ritual and oblivious to the camera's eye, and thus becomes an object of voyeurism, exposed in a state of extreme vulnerability. The chasm separating him from the viewer is extended by the poignancy of Barber's Adagio of 1936, which was used by the directors Oliver Stone in Platoon 1986 and David Lynch in Elephant Man 1980, two films which address male heroism and deformity. Moving between almost neo-classical heroic elegance and beauty, awkwardness, pathos and sheer ridiculousness, Brontosaurus covers a range of contradictory but co-existing human states and feelings. The archeological or primal nature of these is suggested by the title, which is the name of a dinosaur. This is comically referred to by a pink stuffed version visible in a corner of the room.
Germano Celant, Sam Taylor-Wood, exhibition catalogue, Fondazione Prada, Milan 1998, p.192, reproduced p.203
Sam Taylor-Wood, exhibition catalogue, Chisenhale Gallery, London 1996
Elisabeth Bronfen, Francesco Bonami, Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Parkett, no.55, June 1999, pp.110-52