Notes on Sam Taylor-Wood’s Still Life:
Initial response after first viewing:
I think it’s interesting she’s taken a theme or arrangement we’re used to seeing in a painted medium. I think by putting real fruit before us and filming it’s decay you start to reconsider how well painting captures life or death. There’s something in the medium used, film which allows the viewer to go beyond first presentation of an arrangement to see the effect of time.
The title is really in juxtaposition to the piece – it’s not a ‘Still Life’ in the sense that the fruit appears to be moving and harbouring growth (mould) even in its decay. The film itself has a duration, it’s not still.
I also wonder is the pen significant? It seems to be the object least affected by a process of decay, or it certainly takes awhile for any mould or dust to touch it. It seems like the only ‘modern’ or mass produced object in the arrangement, why?
Media & Form of the piece:
The medium here seems an essential part of telling or creating a narrative – the speeding up of the process of decay is made possible by using this technology. We are provide an overview of the process rather than being forced to endure it’s natural length. It’s interesting to think about what this piece would’ve been like as an installation in a real gallery space, the viewer watching as it gradually decayed, it’s not nearly as dramatic.
The composition of the piece – the fruit bowl in a large dominant shape in the centre, draws the eye. But it’s interrupted visually by the ball point pen in the right hand corner of the piece. So your attention feels a little divided between the objects.
Light & Shadow – falling on the objects, gives a sense of time passing, without which it would be less apparent.
Initial thoughts before research into Sam Taylor Wood’s other work or work of a similar theme:
- use of medium of film or photography – interesting in an age where we view so many things on screens or through film/TV. I think we find it easier as a younger generation to engage with this because it’s so familiar.
- The arrangement of a cluster of objects centrally, and the mottled background, and strong shadows underneath objects is a visual reminder of the vanitas paintings of the 1800’s.
- filmed over 9 weeks with a 16mm film camera.
- she referenced Caravaggio’s still life with a basket of fruit – for arranging the composition.
- Pen added as a visual link to it being a modern piece, or a piece of this age rather than being a piece that is too heavily linked to the renaissance.
- Sam Taylor Woods own personal battles with Cancer – these seem to have marked her work with a fascination with mortality.
- Pieta – another work by Taylor-Wood in 2001, again makes use of a renaissance motif or image which she recreates with a modern muse or character (Robert Downy Jr.)
I watched part of an Artist-talk she did at the Tate and it helped to expand on the theme’s she explores.
293 words Describing my personal understanding of the piece:
In Sam Taylor-Wood’s piece Still Life we find ourselves watching a carefully arranged bowl of fruit decaying rapidly, over the course of 3-4 minutes. Initially I was struck by how we can only face the reality of decay by this medium. The use of time lapse filming enables the viewer to engage with a process that actually happened over 9 weeks. Taylor-Wood has confronted us with a visual that could be a metaphor for life, the gradual decay of the human body, over the course of years. Perhaps a process that we are unaware of until a certain stage of life, perhaps it’s somewhat cruel to force us to consider this process whilst its effects are not so severe. Or perhaps it’s a cautionary tale, that life is fleeting, energy is fleeting, live well whilst you can.
I find it hard now to divorce the content of the film from knowledge of Taylor-Wood’s own battle with Cancer, before the making of this piece. Cancer as a thing which like mould spreads throughout the body, if left unchecked or untamed. So you see my problem, I now see the piece as a strange visual projection of the effect of Cancer on the human body.
I think it would be foolish also not to acknowledge some of the clear references the piece makes to other artists work. The arrangement of the bowl of fruit, seems so careful and deliberate, it’s positioning centrally, the light and the shadows which fall across it. All these things seem to point to Caravaggio’s Still Life with a Basket of Fruit. I find it interesting then that she does include a very clear visual to give the work a sense of placement in the modern era, a ball point pen.