How can we interpret Sally Tape’s visual language? This text gives insight into her artistic practice, starting with her techniques and inspiration in light of space, movement and time. The second part puts this into context using the philosophies of Paul Virilio, Walter Benjamin, and Charles Baudelaire.
Unravelling Sally Tape’s art
Imagine what you see when looking out of a car window on a highway or when scrolling through a social media feed. The landscape and separate pictures become an abstracted image, consisting of patterns. This principle, related to the tension between architecture and movement, is central to the work of Australian artist Sally Tape. Tape’s drawings and paintings revolve around layering, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. She builds up a piece with different layers over each other, using cutouts to define the figures. The works are a visualisation of structural layers in architecture.
Residency at SEA Foundation
During her residency at SEA Foundation Sally Tape developed her artistic practice in search for a new challenge and new techniques. In the exhibition a transition in her practice becomes apparent. The works Architecture and Movement One and Architecture and Movement Two are highly designed compositions, their technique polished with no visible brushstrokes. The latest Layered Space and Swipe – Spatial Configuration of Architecture show a new way of working; more loose and rough, ad hoc and with visible marks. Showing Wall 1 Study of Architecture and Movement and Wall 2 Study of Architecture and Movement as enlarged prints on the wall is a new way to present the drawings, as is the use of a blue background to a selection from the same series. We can see the opposition with the framed pairs from this series against a white wall. The drawings are part of the same series, but the change in presentation immediately puts the works in a different light and accentuates the colours differently.
Space, movement and time
The relation between space, movement and time is crucial when looking at Tape’s work. These elements come together in the perception of architecture, which is a main motif in Tape’s oeuvre. The idea that architecture “can create slow and fast spaces” inspires her. Aesthetically she relates to modernist architecture, because of its design. The repetition, ease and comfort appeal to her, and these formal aspects are reflected in her compositions and use of colours. Tape portrays, in her own words, “the flow through space.” She does so by playing with perspective within the boundaries of paper or canvas. She challenges the two-dimensionality of drawing and painting, as she shapes the paper around corners and integrates the edges of a canvas. This way, she encourages the viewer to move along the works.
What a moving body sees
This movement occurs on two levels: in the image and in the presence of the body in the gallery space. The images are, as Tape explains, the result of “the body as a vehicle for movement.” She refers to the artist Shaun Gladwell to illustrate this principle. Gladwell’s film Yokohama Linework (2005) shows him riding his skateboard through a city. The camera is directed downwards, merely revealing the front of the skateboard with one foot and the street that moves underneath the board. His body is dictating the movement, making the passing street an abstracted image. This inspired Tape to explore how an image can be a visual interpretation of passing through cityscapes. Crucial is that the works are not a representation of something or someone moving, but a visualisation of what a moving body sees. This leads to a certain suspense for the viewer in the gallery space, who is inclined to slow down and observe the drawing or painting on the one hand, but on the other hand is encouraged to move around in order to investigate it from multiple perspectives.
Grasp and expand a moment
While engaging in these motions in space, Tape also reviews the notion of time. She simultaneously tries to grasp and expand a moment in time. That is to say, her paintings and drawings depict the impression of a momentary experience, but also elongate this impression. Tape elaborates on this by explaining the work of Daniel Crooks. Crooks uses a technique in his films in which he slices and repeats separate frames, so that a shot seems stretched out and time appears extended. This layering causes a delay in the viewing process. The result is a paradoxical oscillation between the depiction of quick motion and standing still to observe it, yet wanting to move around to inspect it from different angles.
Visualisation of modernity
Let us dive deeper into the philosophical framework of Sally Tape’s art. Her visualisation of structural layers in architecture can be illuminated with Paul Virilio’s thoughts on so-called ‘eyeballing’. He explains that eyeballing is the visual assessment of height for parachutists during their free fall, without using any measuring tools, in order to determine when the parachute should be opened. It relates to the principle of the “sudden magnification of vision as a result of an increase in speed”. The eyes adapt to the velocity. This process fragments and abstracts vision – as seen in Gladwell’s use of the skateboard, for instance. The visual perception is defined by the movement of the subject.
Paul Virilio argues that a result of this magnification is the appearance of the ‘transapparent horizon’. He explains that, due to the rapid speed, the environment undergoes a “diminishing of its ‘depth of field’”. The perspective is accelerated and flat at the same time, as opposed to the use of perspective that became dominant since the Italian Renaissance. Paul Virilio expands this line of thought to contemporary screen culture. He compares the fast flow of images transmitted by screens to the accelerated images one sees from a window. This too is a matter of a transapparent horizon. The transapparent horizon can be recognised in Sally Tape’s paintings and drawings. We see that she creates the illusion of depth, but also flattens the space.
The transapparent horizon changes the position of the physical presence of the body when it comes to visual perception. In the case of the parachutist, but also in case of sitting in a fast vehicle, the body is moved at high speed. In the case of looking at the television or scrolling through a news feed, the person is virtually present all at once, but physically passive. This idea can be related to the notion of the flâneur.
Walter Benjamin and Charles Baudelaire
Theorists Walter Benjamin and Charles Baudelaire both discuss the flâneur, who they explain to be a strolling, dwelling spectator in the modern big city. The flâneur feels comfortable in the crowd and yet is isolated in indifference. He or she is looking for what Baudelaire calls ‘modernity’: “the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent”. For Baudelaire this meant the acceleration of modern life due to urban and technological developments, making people mobile due to new forms of transportation. In the twentieth century this mobility has extended to the use of technology, intensifying the ephemeral, fugitive and contingent character of Baudelaire’s modernity.
New kind of flâneur
Sally Tape materialises this contemporary relation to the environment and the new representation of landscapes – both urban and virtual – that goes with it. Her work represents, perhaps, a new kind of flâneur: Someone who observes the contemporary stream of images that is passing by in such rapid succession that it becomes abstract, and someone who wants to grasp these images in the moment even though they go too fast. Instead, he or she is forever caught in the compressed impression of space, time and movement.
Check out Sally Tape’s website here.
This text accompanied the exhibition A Dialogue between Art and Architecture: Active Modernism by Australian artist Sally Tape at SEA Foundation Tilburg, curated by Marieke Folkers.
Baudelaire, C. (1964) ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, in: Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. J. Mayne (ed.) (trans.). New York: Da Capo Press: pp. 1-41.
Benjamin, W. ‘The Flâneur’, in: Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. H. Zohn (trans.). London: Verso: pp. 35-66.
Virilio, P. (1997 ) J. Rose (trans.) Open Sky. London & New York: Verso.