Fiona Tan: Disorient


GOMA
14th June 2019 – 26th January 2020


On arrival to the Gallery of Modern Art I was greeted with a mysterious voice echoing through the main gallery. The gallery, dark and luring with two large screens facing each other. In the centre on the floor between the screens there are bean bags for the public to lay down and spectate. I felt a sense of grandeur with these opposing screens that produced two films; one with strange antiques, incense and spices and the other screen showing life in the Middle East and Asia, busy, bustling with scenes of terror and cultural and political conflict.

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I was taken back with the amount of people watching the diverse culture of Asia and the Middle East with some disturbing scenes; in todays culture of mass media we tend to shy away from the images of terror and watch the more subtle passive happenings of life. Both films are documentaries of the Middle East and Asia but both juxtapose each other dramatically. The screen which displays the antiques, weird trinkets and spices is like a fairy tale and an unseen world while the opposite screen seems to pluck on my heart strings. How can the Middle East and Asia look so promising yet be subject to extreme destruction and poverty. While watching the installation we get two views of the story being narrated; one calm, inviting and pleasant the other congested and intimidating at points.

The layout of the screens I think is to show the diverse nature of each documentary and to highlight that contrast. Yet, I feel like we miss out on so much by only seeing one screen at a time. From a documentary perspective we would get so much more if the screens were displayed beside each other but from an artistic perspective it works incredibly well.

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There is narration over the documentary of a males voice, quiet and muffled which reads an edited script from The Travels of Marco Polo. Marco Polo travelled through the Middle East and Asia for 24 years and his writings have continued to influence us for almost 800 years. Tan created this insightful installation almost ten years ago and is still a present participle in todays society and cultural transformation. When Tan’s work was originally created we never had as much access to the media as we now do. Disorient is still a contemporary masterpiece with the ever-changing culture we live in today and will continue to do so.

George Price

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