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clarity of the subject to ask questions about time and make statements about life and death. Rooted deeply in its historical elements (the audiocassette and the historical cyanotype process), Unwound Cassette Tape evokes the melancholic note of loss, yet the hourglass imagery suggests life and hope for the future. Roland Barthes notes simply in Camera Lucida, “Time is not sad.”6 Within this understanding, the death of the cassette is here resurrected as an hourglass, which results in a sense of hope in the possibility of new life. Unwound Cassette Tape offers a fascinating example of the tango between past and present. The spools of tape in the upper portion of the work appear as eyes staring into the depths of the viewer. The unraveled fiche that collects at the bottom of the work offers a sense of memento mori, reminding the viewer of the past in a series of traces and forebodes a sense that all to come will meet this watery fate. The life of the object is measured out in tape reel. If the subject of Marclay’s work has not yet been killed, the falling fiche makes clear that its death is inevitable; at the same time, there is very little sense of how much fiche has fallen and how much has yet to fall.

NotEs 1

John A. tennant, ed. “the ‘Blue Print’ and its variations,” Photo-Miniature: A Magazine of Photographic information 1, no. 10 (January 1900): 481.


Christian Marclay, interview by Kim gordon, in Pressplay: Contemporary Artists in Conversation (New york: Phaidon, 2005), 441–48.


Emily lambert, Fraenkel gallery, interview by author, october 9, 2015.


Noam M. Elcott, “Ultimately Detritus: Christian Marclay’s Cyanotypes,” in Christian Marclay: Cyanotypes (tampa, Fl: graphicstudio, 2011), 2.


Carol squiers, ed., What is a Photograph? (Munich: Prestel, 2014), 31.


roland Barthes, Camera lucida: reflections on Photography, trans. richard Howard (New york: Hill and Wang, 1981), 15.


Anne Havinga, Blue: Cobalt to Cerulean in Art and Culture (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2015), 148.

Marclay’s decision to use the cyanotype medium was not merely accidental. The deep Prussian blue lends a sense of nostalgia to the already memorialized audiocassette tape. As art historian Anne Havinga notes, “As it had been for Atkins . . . the cyanotype, with its arbitrary, decorative and intense hue, was a perfect tool for combining accurate representation and poetic metaphor.”7 For many true visionaries, the cyanotype process offers something no other medium can. For Marclay the blue is not merely an inescapable side effect of the method but rather an opportunity to explore the expanses of a color as protean as the questions the work asks. Blue can be seen as the sensuous blue of an eye or the mysterious depths of an ocean to the melancholy associated with the “blues.” This haunting ambiguity is, for Marclay, an opportunity for the viewer to focus on the object represented and remove herself from the clamor and noise that lies just beyond the frame. Marclay believes the cyanotype to be a bridge to the past: it acknowledges the death of the audiocassette through allusions to an hourglass, but it also resurrects the work of artists like Anna Atkins. While the work is permeated by a sense of mortality and melancholy, the body-like form of the tape renews a sense of life; thus, Unwound Cassette Tape, like the deep blue sea, finds resolution. Referencing the past, listening to the future, the cyanotype is present.

Fig. 39: Marco Breuer, german, born 1966, Untitled (E-33), 2005, cyanotype on Fabriano paper, loan courtesy of yossi Milo gallery, New york © Marco Breuer 79

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period  

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period Edited by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Kristina Wilson...

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period  

Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period Edited by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Kristina Wilson...