The Act of Improvisation within the work of Tacita Dean

Research output: Working paper


This paper sets out to explore the practice of Tacita Dean and in particular the exhibition project, 'An Aside', 2005 in order to fully examine the notion of improvisation within visual art practice. Through this exhibition, Dean draws together a number of other artists that at first seem unrelated and made up of diverse objects in a deceptively provocative exhibition.

By conducting a critical analysis of Dean's practice and considering her welcoming of chance, contingency and chaos, the paper will develop a new understanding and awareness of how sagacity (defined here as sage-like or to have the wisdom to recognise something complex) and improvisation co-habit the creative process. By considering Dean's breadth of practice as a case study, we are provided with a number of projects that have initially 'failed' presenting the artist with an opportunity to improvise.

By bringing together 'Prisoner Pairs' 2008, 'Banewl' 1999 and 'Diamond Ring' 2001, Dean demonstrate(s) the creative impulse and ability to respond to serendipitous discoveries and to allow the unimaginable.

The paper considers the role of sagacity and its ability to be used as a framing device through which the decision making process of the artists is revealed. Serendipity also appears to have a bearing on the artist's ability to improvise. As Dean has said "uninvited disappointments which are unbelievably painful at the time become productive in hindsight." Finally, the paper will consider the relationship between sagacity, improvisation, serendipity and the temporal, which is also a component within the case studies.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUniversity of Guelph, Canada
PublisherCritical Studies in Improvisation/ Etudes critiques en improvisation
Number of pages12
VolumeSpecial Edition
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Failure, sagacity, improvisation, serendipity
  • Tacita Dean


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