'As an artist working almost entirely with time-based and lens-based media, time is one of my major tools ... time is both tool with which to shape and chisel and material to fold, distort and configure.'
Fiona Tan (born 1966, Pekanbaru) explores history and time and our place within them, working within the contested territory of representation. Deeply embedded in all of Tan’s works is her fascination with the mutability of identity, the deceptive nature of representation and the play of memory across time and space in a world increasingly shaped by global culture. She investigates how we represent ourselves and the mechanisms that determine how we interpret the representation of others.
Since the mid-1990s, she has made carefully crafted and intensely compassionate works in expanded film and video installations. Photography and film, made by her, or by others, or a combination of both, are her mediums, while classification and the archive are her strategies. Disorient (2009), conceived for the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, points to the strategic geopolitical position held by Venice in the past and raises questions around contemporary globalisation. Filmed on location at the pavilion, its voiceover was composed of quotations from Marco Polo’s contested travelogue Il Milione. A testament to Tan’s passion for archives, her video installation Pickpockets (2020) stems from an album of photographs she came across when in residence at the Getty Research Center, Los Angeles. It contained early examples of mugshots taken of pickpockets apprehended at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889. Fascinated by the subjects of these portraits, their names and countries of origin, and their unknown stories, she invited a group of writers to devise monologues from the point of view of these individuals, which were then performed and recorded by actors.