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Fiona Tan: Footsteps

Mar 13 — Jun 16, 2024

Location: Amphitheater Gallery

Footsteps is 97 minutes long and will be shown on Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., on Fridays at 2:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m., and over the weekend at 12:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., and 4:00 p.m. 

This video installation draws exclusively from films made between 1896 and the late 1920s found in the Eye Filmmuseum’s archive in Amsterdam. As was common in pre-color production, black-and-white film has been tinted, toned, and carefully hand colored. Tan collaborated with the sound designer Hugo Dijkstal on the soundscape for this piece, augmenting the originally silent footage. Tan pairs mesmerizing moments of people working over a century ago—sewing fishing nets, harvesting wheat, collecting chicken eggs, sorting oysters—with missives from her Australia-based father, whom we only know as Pap, read aloud by Scottish actor Ian Henderson. He wrote these tender, thoughtful notes between 1988 and 1990, towards the end of his career as a geologist, when Tan was an art student new to the Netherlands. This one-sided, rhythmic correspondence creates a meditative space for the viewer, as time moves forward.  

The colors in Footsteps shift with the progression of time. As Pap writes about the Greenhouse Effect and proposed legislative changes to try to mitigate climate change, greens disappear, and the palette becomes saturated with grays, blues, browns, and yellows. The viewer is encouraged to consider how the industrialization depicted in Tan’s compilation, and the multiplicity of legislative failures, have led to the present-day climate crisis.  

Tan has explored her heritage throughout her work; she was born in Sumatra, Indonesia, to her Indonesian Chinese father and Australian mother. The idyllic scenes in Footsteps underscore the distance between Tan’s own complex history and the communities portrayed. Amongst the people depicted in the film, who shyly gaze at the camera, few are non-white. But their traces, their footsteps, are captured, as Tan brings them into dialogue with her past and our present.   

Organized by Sonia Epstein, Curator of Science & Technology  

This exhibition is supported as part of the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York.


About the artist: Fiona Tan is a visual artist and filmmaker. She is best known for her video and film installations, in which explorations of memory, identity and the role of visual images are key. Her installations and photographic works have been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions in international venues. She has written and directed three feature length films to date. Recent solo exhibitions have taken place at Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (2022); Kunsthalle Krems, Krems an der Donau (2020); Museum der Moderne Salzburg (2020); Sprengel Museum, Hannover (2019); and MAC’s (Grand-Hornu), Belgium (2019). Her work has been shown in international group shows including in the São Paulo Biennial, Venice Architecture Biennale, Documenta IX, Istanbul Biennale. Tan’s work is represented in numerous international public and private collections including the Tate Modern, London, the Guggenheim Museum New York, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Neue National Galerie, Berlin and the MCA, Chicago.