The main line of Tacita Dean's work is an exploration of different notions of time. For that reason, film occupies a central place in her output, since, as she herself has said, it enables her to treat time as a very physical issue, like "cutting out pieces of time."
Just as in her other works on film, in Gellert there is no story; the film becomes the product of a narration located outside itself, and which is normally supplied in a text that exists in parallel. The spectator does not need the texts to see the films or listen to the sound works; nevertheless, the texts have the capacity to generate a whole story in his or her imagination. Dean has called these texts "asides". The term, which comes from Shakespearean theatre, refers to a remark the actor makes directly to the audience without it affecting the action taking place on stage.
In the text that accompanies Gellert, Dean speaks of a painting by Lucas Cranach from 1546 entitled Der Jungbrunnen (The fountain of youth), in the centre of which we can see a square pool with a fountain in the middle. On the left of the painting, a group of old, sick women are approaching the water. Once in it, they undergo a kind of transformation and emerge on the right young and cured of all their ills. The text speaks of an eternal desire, the desire to conquer the passage of time, the possibility of eternal youth.
Dean lived for a time in Budapest and while she was there she filmed Gellert in the baths of the same name. This work, from 1998, shot in 16 mm and colour, lasts about six minutes and is shown in a continuous loop. It was produced by editing a number of different fixed shots selected from an hour of filming. The camera observes a group of women, relaxing, concentrating on themselves, walking, laughing, bathing. The film is accompanied by ambient noises, laughter, chat, the sound of the water. At no time do we see the outside of the Gellert baths, which makes it impossible for the spectator to locate them in time. That lack of contact with the physical exterior of the baths, the women's concentration on their activities and the absence of any interaction with the camera are elements which help to create an independent, apparently self-sufficient, reality, alien to and separate from the spectator.
In Gellert priority is given to the shot -a fixed shot- over the montage. It describes a situation in which the optical and acoustic elements are not prolonged in any action, nor is the description the result of any action. There is a chain of shots which all have the same value and relations of subordination disappear, giving way to a juxtaposition, an addition. The type of image produced is one whose main aim is the description of a time and a space.