Notes: Girl Stowaway/Tacita Dean

October 23, 2009

Girl Stowaway invented a new principle of accumulation which, retrospectively, also reads as a manifesto. Girl Stowaway weaves together two different journeys and two different travelers: the real, illegal journey from Port Lincoln in Australia to Falmouth in England undertaken in the 1920s by a young woman by the name of Jean Jeinnie, and the very different journey taken by the artist herself in her attempt to reconstruct the details of Jeinnie’s voyage. In fact, the gallery installation consists of the simple juxtaposition of various elements: a retroprojected film, set into the wall, that could be an evocation of the Australian girl’s journey; newspaper articles relating the event; a sleeve of the David Bowie record “Jean Genie,” a tribute to Jean Genet, its title a strange homophone of the stowaway’s name; the cover of Death Watch, a play by Jean Genet, whose name is the French word for a shrub found on the beaches in the part of England where the boat was wrecked; a postcard of the ship, Herzogin Cecilie; and so on. None of this has much to do with an investigative report. And while each element is related to one of the two journeys, the links between them are a series of coincidences that tell us a lot more about the way a subject’s imagination is structured, by echoes and correspondences, than they do about the passenger herself.

Coincidence is an active form of encounter that exists beyond the manifest will of the subjects. Dean refers to André Breton on this: “André Breton once explained ‘objective chance’ as external circumstances acting in response to unspoken desires and demands of the human psyche. I want to be in a position to allow the unforeseeable to happen.” (Jean-Christophe Royoux, Tacita Dean)

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