MAC’s presents a solo exhibition of the Dutch artist Fiona Tan

MAC’s presents the first institutional solo show of Dutch artist Fiona Tan (° 1966 in Pekanbaru, Indonesia – lives and works in Amsterdam, Holland) in Belgium. The internationally renowned visual artist Fiona Tan has been exploring the territories of memory and identity in her installations since the end of the 1990s, mixing photographs, videos and films, as she has also done in her artist books. In 2009, she represented the Netherlands at the Venice Biennial. Specially conceived for the Dutch Pavilion, Disorient’s starting point was The Travels of Marco Polo, written seven hundred years ago by the eponymous Venetian merchant.

At the heart of her work, she questions the role of images, the impact they generate, and the relationship that binds us to them. She is also concerned with movement and immobility and the different possibilities of representing them through photography and film. The exhibition Shadow Archive, articulated in two parts, is integrated in the recent focus of Tan on the impulses that drive people to collect, to archive and keep, and on the power that archives have to “represent and interpret history and the place of man in it”. 

For the first time, Fiona Tan will present an important set of new works, consisting of drawings, photogravures and texts. Along with two imposing large scale installations, the artist has selected a series of drawings, notes and unpublished documents by Paul Otlet, all of which will be presented to the public for the first time. The exhibition became an opportunity for her to explore new techniques with a film made entirely from computer-generated images; and to achieve the realization of a monumental work that is invested within the space of the last room of the museum –recalling, among other evocations, the changing room with rows of clothing suspended on cables from pulleys, common to all coal mines.

The exhibition begins with Depot (2015) and Inventory (2012), works that initiated her reflections on museums, collections and archives. In them, she has filmed, respectively, the treasures in the natural science museum reserves in Leiden and Berlin, as well as the unusual collection of the neoclassical (18th-century) architect Sir John Soane, comprising hundreds of objects from the Greco-Roman period. 

Extending this first part of the exhibition, Fiona Tan then reveals the result of two years of research that she conducted, at the invitation of the MAC’s, at the Mundaneum – sometimes described as the Paper Google – in Mons. Founded by Paul Otlet, the father of documentation, and the jurist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Henri La Fontaine, the Mundaneum holds millions of thematic index cards that have withstood the tests of time and war.

Paul Otlet’s ambition was to catalogue all human knowledge in order to build world peace, and to classify it with the help of the CDU, the universal decimal classification system, of which he was the inventor.

Challenged by Otlet’s visionary yet eccentric personality, Fiona Tan drew inspiration from his manuscript documents, where the circle of the universe of Jorge Luis Borges appears; and more particularly from his short story ‘The Circular Ruins’ – as well as from De Umbris Idearum by Giordano Bruno – to create an ambitious and poetic project centred on memory and narrative, and straddling fiction and reality.

Fiona Tan was born in 1966 in Pekanbaru, Indonesia and grew up in Melbourne, Australia. In 1984, she moved to Amsterdam, where she has lived and worked ever since. Fiona Tan has had solo exhibitions in the most prestigious musea and galleries worldwide. In 2009 she represented The Netherlands at the Venice Biennale with the solo presentation ‘Disorient’. She has participated in Documenta 11, the Yokohama Triennale, the Berlin Biennale, Sao Paulo Biennial and also at the Istanbul Biennial, the Sydney Biennial and Asian Pacific Triennial. Her work is represented in many international public and private collections including the Tate Modern, London, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Schaulager, Basel, the New Museum, New York and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. In 2016-2017, she was granted fellowship as artist in residence at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. This year she is also the recipient of Germany’s Spectrum International Prize for Photography 2019.

“I look at how we look, especially at photographs and moving images”, she writes in a letter she sent to John Berger, author of the must-read Voir le voir. In her film, Kingdom of Shadows (2000), she interviews four people about the relationship they have with photographic images, and confides, in counterpoint, that she considers the act of watching a creative act in itself. Though Fiona Tan persists in tirelessly investigating our gaze and the status of images, her attention has recently expanded to explore new questions. It focuses on the impulses that drive people to collect, to archive and keep, and on the power that archives have to “represent and interpret history and the place of man in it”.

Fiona Tan
Shadow Archive
7 April - 1 September 2019
Press conference: 5 April 2019, 11am

Micha Pycke