The relationships between image, maker and viewer
Central to the exhibition includes the works Gray Glass (2020) and Inventory (2012) and the new work Footsteps (2022) that Fiona Tan made upon the invitation of Eye. These video installations explore the relationship between those on either side of the lens; but also the relationships between image, maker and viewer.
Tan sees time as a medium and a tool. Time is material that she researches, moulds and processes into a work of art – often with combinations of still and moving images. In doing so, she looks at ways of perceiving and representing with a critical but poetic eye. How do you make an authentic portrait of an individual, a community, a place or a time?
In the new work Footsteps, Tan connects personal stories and the world around us. She uses material from Eye's collection: forgotten Dutch documentary film images from the early era of silent film, more than a hundred years old.
The images show children playing, Dutch windmills, and heavy physical work in the countryside and factories. The images are combined with texts from Tan's letters from her father when she had just moved to the Netherlands in the late 1980s. Tan's father knew much about the Netherlands without ever having been there, thanks to his education in Indonesia. In the letters, he effortlessly meanders between personal messages and events on the world stage, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen protests in Beijing.
Tan's oeuvre expresses a fascination for archives, museums, collections, depots and the associated architecture. Where does the human urge to preserve things come from? How is information inventoried, organized and stored – physically and mentally? Who controls this, and what power structures does this lead to? These questions are related to the decolonization of archives, an issue that Eye also focuses on.
In the installation Inventory (2012), Tan focused her cameras on the eccentric house museum of the 18th-century architect and collector Sir John Soane. The title of Gray Glass (2020) refers to an optical instrument with which a landscape can be reduced to an image, popular with eighteenth-century painters. In the same period, large mirrors – too precious and fragile to be transported by donkeys – crossed the Alps on the backs of hikers. In the spatial three-part installation, Tan exposes a new archaeology of moving images.