Collections> Browse Sam Taylor-Wood

Collections> Browse Sam Taylor-Wood

Sam Taylor-Wood
Holdings (0)

essay Sam Taylor-Wood, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Sam Taylor-Wood is a filmmaker, photographer, videographer, set designer, art director, writer, and producer of what she calls “dysfunctional social situations.”1 Upon completion of the fine arts program at London’s Goldsmiths College in 1990—the launching pad for the careers of other YBAs (young British artists) such as Angus Fairhurst, Damien Hirst, and Sarah Lucas—Taylor-Wood took a short break from the art world to work in the costume department of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Attending the nightly performances, she was swept up in “the theater, the drama, the explosion of emotion.”2 This experience completely reoriented her previously minimalist artistic practice toward a prolonged engagement with narrative and the representation of what she has referred to as “states of being.”3

By 1993 she had garnered critical attention for two photographic self-portraits: Fuck, Suck, Spank, Wank (1993), in which she is both confrontational and vulnerable with her pants down around her ankles; and Slut (1993), an unseemly head shot in which a constel-lation of love bites is dramatically revealed through chiaroscuro. The following year she finished Killing Time (1994), her first major video project. For this installation piece projected onto four screens, Taylor-Wood asked four friends to lip-synch the libretto (in German) from Richard Strauss’ opera Elektra, which they take turns “performing” without feeling or expression. The disjointed effect is one of extreme ennui coupled with a crescendo of tension and passion embodied by the music.

In 1995, Taylor-Wood created Five Revolutionary Seconds, a series of fifteen twenty-five-foot-long panoramic photographs that she would return to for the next five years. The word “revolutionary” in the title had as much to do with the mechanics of production as a self-conscious identification that she was breaking new ground. Through the use of a camera that rotates 360 degrees on the axis of a stationary tripod, the artist was able to capture (in the five seconds it took to come full circle) the mise-en-scène of a highly choreographed, fictional nonevent. Each of the photographs is a study in social alienation and self-absorption as her dramatis personae—friends of the artist, professional actors, and occasionally celebrities—go about their highly ambiguous business in stylish if not decadently affluent domestic spaces. She elaborated on the images with a sound component—ambient noises and conversational fragments taped during the shoot are emitted from speakers installed at both ends of the photograph. Although the viewer is inevitably enticed to construct a coherent narrative or rationalization for the presence and actions of the characters peopling the photographs, Taylor-Wood does not have any one story line in mind. The artist’s job, as she sees it, lies not in providing closure but in “ungluing the setting.”4

The Walker Art Center’s piece, the first in the series, depicts six people in a well-appointed apartment with requisite art collection, library, and grand piano.5 According to the artist, “the idea was to have four different states of being within one room—creativity, boredom, eroticism, and passion.”6 In a discussion of the series in a 2002 interview, she explained that “it’s like encapsulating one person in one room but within … different bodies, each one not communicating with the others. It was also about all those different ways of removing and isolating yourself from other people. And all this takes place in five seconds; it’s a momentary thing, isolated in time. When you look at it you don’t know what happened before or after it, you only have this moment and from that you can invent whatever you want.”7

  1. Taylor-Wood, interview with Bruce Ferguson, in Bomb 65 (Fall 1998): 48.

  2. Taylor-Wood, interview with curator Douglas Fogle, “He Had to Have a Nervous Breakdown and It Had to Last Ten Minutes,” in Richard Flood, ed., “Brilliant!” New Art from London, exh. cat. (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1995), 78–79.

  3. Taylor-Wood, interview with Clare Carolin, in Clare Carolin, ed., Sam Taylor-Wood, exh. cat. (London: Hayward Gallery, 2002), unpaginated.

  4. Taylor-Wood, interview with Germano Celant, in Germano Celant, ed., Sam Taylor-Wood, exh. cat. (Milan: Fondazione Prada, 1999), 210.

  5. The artist has revealed that the work was photographed in the private residence of the London art dealer Richard Salmon.

  6. Artist’s statement, March 2, 1997 (Walker Art Center Archives). She goes on to identify the figures as follows: “The pianist was a friend, the arguers were actors, one a friend, naked man a friend, and the two boys on a sofa I picked up at a party of Damien’s [Damien Hirst].”

  7. Carolin, Sam Taylor-Wood, unpaginated.

Carpenter, Elizabeth. “Sam Taylor-Wood.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center