In The Friar’s Doodle (2010), Tacita Dean (Canterbury, United Kingdom, 1965) portrays the doodles and graffiti that surround the colonnade of the Romanesque cloister of the Abbey de Silos and offers an image of what the monks may have drawn along the centuries. For the first time in this 13-minute, 16mm colour film, Dean uses a rostrum camera to produce animated images in which she closely follows the squiggly drawings - a contrast from the static images that characterise her work. The obstinate way in which Dean uncovers the original image underlines the necessary processes of discovery to decipher the scene as a whole, without letting the camera move back to show the composition in its entirety.
A series of black and white photographs of this graffiti also accompany the projection. The carved and engraved motifs in her photographic oeuvre present a frequently indecipherable and fragmented register, where the marks pertain to their own history, like part of a native cultural history that evolves alongside official versions traced by iconic artefacts and architecture.
The Friar's Doodle opens up the consideration of interpretational mechanisms that unfurl to decode the graphic remnants in history. The artist's interest in graphic trails - doodles, graffiti and the like - is revealed in previous works, for instance Lord Byron Died (2003), made up of a series of black and white photos of old signatures discovered while in search of Byron's autograph among the ruins of a Greek temple, or her film Still Life (2009), which features an elaborate black and white doodle drawn by the artist decades previously together with a young friar studying theology.
Historian Miguel Sobrino maintains that the heterogeneous engravings that Dean photographs come from diverse sources: ornamental sketches for the cloister, traces of work created by craftsmen to calculate the price of services, or boards for games, quite possibly made for the labourers as they awaited the moment the pillars that lay on the ground would put up in the building. The monks may also have drawn graffiti and doodled, just as Dean conjectures. Despite the activities being relatively unusual in Silos, there was little concern for the damage done to the walls since the inscriptions, carved during the construction of the monastery, disappeared under the layers of whitewash and pigments that were applied to the sculpted surfaces.
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