Facing Forward, 1999 (video still), single screen projection, 11:00 minutes, sound, color
Fiona Tan's video works frequently incorporate archival materials. In Facing Forward, she compiled existing visual material from dated anthropological documentaries and film archives. The artist reedited these materials and supplemented them with a soundtrack that includes background noise, and with a voiceover narrating excerpts from Italo Calvino's book Invisible Cities. This film features footage from early 20th century European explorations in Africa and Asia, in which groups of aborigines, Maoris, Africans and Berbers confront the camera for the first time. It also includes fragments of films shots by tourists, who perceived the natives as exotic. The film ends with an image of two young girls smiling shyly at the camera. The sophisticated and layered use of a voiceover alludes to the journey undertaken by the legendary Venetian explorer Marco Polo. As described in Calvino's fantastic book, this is a journey of self-discovery undertaken in order to "find a past of his that he did not know he had."
Tan's poetic use of this ethnographic footage addresses the ambiguous and charged consequences of cultural encounters. The work explores the conflict between the camera and subject, revealing a complexity that is both political and personal. The film underscores the problematic status of both the photographer and the viewers, and raises questions concerning the relation between present and past and the manner in which memory changes over time in the light of evolving historical interpretations. Tan's concern is related specifically to one person's observation of another - the gaze of the traveler confronting the native inhabitant - and to the tension between the observer and the one being observed. As in her other films, Tan encourages the viewer to critically examine the original footage and the ideologies that shaped it, while allowing him to enjoy moments of beauty, grace and tenderness.
Fiona Tan was born in Pekan Baru, Indonesia (1966). She holds a B.F.A. from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam (1988-1992), and a diploma from the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunst, Amsterdam (1996-1997). She has had numerous solo exhibitions, including at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and at The New Museum for Contemporary Art, New York (2004); and at the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal (2005). She has participated in numerous group exhibitions, including at the Venice Biennale (2001); Documenta in Kassel (2002); the Istanbul Biennial (2003); Tate Modern, London (2004); and the Biennale of Sydney (2006). She lives and works in Amsterdam.