Although Vija Celmins has a dedicated following, her work is not particularly well known in this country. She is not a limelight seeker and this small display at Tate Britain (made possible with the support of Anthony D’Offay) is only the third time that her work has been seen in the UK. And as John Berger says in The Shape of a Pocket : ‘You have to see them. Words can’t get round them. And reproduction sends them back to where they came from. (Most of her works originate in photographs.) You have to be within touching distance of them’
Small in scale, her darkly quiescent images, with their surface construction rigorously worked up over long periods of time in graphite & charcoal, draw you inexorably in to their force field. Space, time and memory are condensed in the swelling seas, pulsing stars, and shimmering webs she finds herself drawn to over and over again. They are remarkably self-effacing: there is, in her own words ‘no ego, no expression, no angst, no composition’, and yet beneath their austerity, their apparent blankness and denial of meaning, they pulse with contained emotion. If in a superficial sense they are ‘not about much’, they nevertheless represent the summation - the ‘compression’ to use her own word – ‘of what I know’.