BALTIC presented a survey exhibition and a major new commission by the Dutch artist and filmmaker Fiona Tan. Born in 1966 in Pekan Baru, Indonesia, Tan works within the contested territory 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 media; research, classification and the archive, her strategies. Her skilfully crafted and intensely human film and video installations explore history, time and our place within them.
The spectacular new commission DEPOT, made especially for our Level 4 gallery, re-imagined ‘Jonah the Giant Whale’, a preserved whale exhibited inside a lorry which toured across Europe from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. Tan rebuilt the 76-foot-long vehicle; however, it contained a cabinet of curiosities, inviting the viewer to climb aboard. Drawing on Newcastle’s forgotten history as a major whaling port, DEPOT was an exhibition within an exhibition, an immersive presentation that also included a new film installation incorporating footage from the depots of natural history museums internationally.
The exhibition on Level 4 also included Leviathan 2015, a new, monumental projection based on archival footage of the stripping of a whale. The title of the work makes reference to the sea monster Leviathan in the Old Testament. The word has since become synonymous with any large sea creature, in particular the whale.
The exhibition continued on Level 3 with two further significant film installations from Tan’s career. Disorient 2009 juxtaposes fantasy and the reality of the trade route between Venice and Asia, with a voiceover comprised solely of evocative quotes from Marco Polo’s 700-year-old book The Travels. Inventory 2012 was filmed at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London and presents intimate details of the celebrated architect’s personal collection, which is housed in one of the most extraordinary public museums in the world. A contemplative visual essay, Inventory explores Tan’s preoccupation with time, memory and place, and is as much a meditation on the human impulse to collect as a reflection on Tan’s artistic practice to date.
DEPOT was supported by Sfumato Foundation with the assistance of the Art Fund, the Mondriaan Fund and the Embassy of the Netherlands and resulted in a significant commission legacy in the form of a new acquisition of work by Fiona Tan into the collection of the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle