“Through the use of time-lapse digital video, Sam Taylor-Wood’s Still Life 2001 shows a Caravaggesque display of fruit, which soon transforms before our eyes into a collapsed mass of rotting matter, the food of flies. Presented in a loop, the passage projects an endless repetition, where death and resurrection acquires endless appeal.” — Demos (2007)
Sam Taylor-Wood’s Still Life (2001) is a still life-inspired time lapse video, showing a basket of fruit decaying in front of a camera. The actual process must have taken weeks but the video lasts for just four minutes. The video is a fascinating example of how an artist might use an existing work of art to create something new.
The arrangement of fruit in the basket is strongly reminiscent of early 17th century European paintings, when masters such as Balthasar van der Ast and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, were painting still life collections of natural curiosities (such as fruit and seashells). The still life paintings tended to be presented with low-key lighting and a muted colour palette of browns, yellows, oranges and reds. Taylor-Wood mimics this combination of arrangement, lighting and colour in her fruit basket set-up. The arrangement is not the only way in which Taylor-Wood’s work is influenced by other works of art however.
Taylor-Wood’s concept, is also taken from early 17th century painting, specifically the idea of vanitas, which was particularly popular in the Netherlands at the time. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica (2016) a vanitas painting “contains collections of objects symbolic of the inevitability of death and the transience and vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures; it exhorts the viewer to consider mortality and to repent”. Taylor-Woods modernises this concept by showing the slow but inevitable decay of the fruit in a time-lapse form. This “memento mori” – illustrated through the passing of time – is a particularly clever use of photography, and the moving still.
Interestingly, there is one element of Taylor-Wood’s Still Life that would most certainly not be found in an early 17th century Dutch masterpiece and that is a ball point pen. Found to the front and right of the basket of fruit, the pen remains in place and unchanged throughout the video. At first it appears incongruous, but as the video progresses, it becomes clear that it is there to remind the viewer that whilst some things change, others do not.
Demos, T. J. (2007). A matter of time [online]. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/matter-time. Accessed on 03/04/2016.
Encyclopædia Britannica (2016) Vanitas [online]. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/art/vanitas-art. Accessed on 03/04/2016.