In Fiona Tan’s work explorations of memory, time, history and the role of visual images are key. She often deals with notions of representation: how we represent ourselves and the mechanisms that determine how we interpret the representation of others. Photography and film – made by herself, by others, or a combination of both – are her mediums; research, classification and the archive, her strategies. Her skilfully crafted, moving and intensely human works, expanded film and video installations, explore both past and present and our place within them.
The works in this exhibition have been prompted by utopian literature such as William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890) and Tommasso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (1623). These novels lead Tan to wonder why our age is so much more inclined to dystopian narratives rather than utopian ones. Made whilst in fellowship as artist-in-residence at the Getty Center in Los Angeles the pieces are very much influenced by a year living in the USA. The installation is also related to the artist’s major ongoing project l’Archive des ombres / Shadow Archive which similarly deals with utopian dreams and plans and which will be exhibited at Musée des arts contemporains, Grand Hornu, Belgium, in spring 2019.
The central and eponymous work Elsewhere takes the form of a HD film installation made using footage shot directly from Tan’s former studio overlooking the city of Los Angeles. A voice-over provides a comprehensive description of a utopia written without irony by the artist herself. Trying to imagine and formulate such a world can be surprisingly difficult and brought Tan to the realisation that she would never want to live in such a detached and insular state. The imagery of a decidedly imperfect urban environment with its pollution and endless streaming traffic combined with the report of a chillingly ideal world seem somehow at odds with each other while at the same time entirely pertinent to our current situation.
Fiona Tan’s feature length film Ascent (2016) will be screened at Whitechapel Gallery on 10 January 2019.
Fiona Tan (b. Indonesia, 1966) studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, and the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunst, Amsterdam. Recent solo exhibitions include, De Pont Museum Tilburg (2017); MMK Frankfurt (2016); Izu Photo Museum, Japan; Mudam, Luxemburg; Nasjonal Museet, Oslo; Baltic Gateshead and Maxxi, Rome (2013 – 14). She has written to date two feature length films. Tan’s work is represented in numerous public and private collections including Tate, Guggenheim, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, National Galerie, Berlin, New Museum, New York and MCA, Chicago.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)