Live Cinema/Fiona Tan: Inventory
December 14, 2013–March 23, 2014 (end date to be confirmed)
Julien Levy Gallery, Perelman Building, Philadelphia Museum of Art
This winter, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present as part of the Live Cinema series the North American premiere of Inventory, the latest work by internationally renowned artist Fiona Tan. Inventory, an installation consisting of six films and videos projected as a large-scale montage on a wall accompanied by an instrumental soundtrack, explores the antiquities collection and unique architectural spaces of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. Jointly commissioned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and MAXXI—the National Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome—Inventory represents another step in Tan’s investigation of time, memory, and place.
For Tan, Sir John Soane’s Museum is a fascinating subject, one that spurs questions about the function of museums and the motivations behind collecting. Inventory portrays the London home of Soane (British, 1753–1837), a neoclassical architect who turned his residence into an architectural masterpiece filled with artifacts from classical antiquity, Adelina Vlas, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, said: “In Inventory, Tan explores the desire to stop time. The images bear testimony to the human impulse to preserve and immortalize the past, and also oneself, through collecting. The work also demonstrates the resilience of film in the lexicon of contemporary art as a medium unrivaled in its engagement with the progression of time.”
The title of the work refers not only to the lists used to keep track of the number and location of objects in collections like Soane’s, but also the artist’s attempt at cataloguing the various formats she has worked in during her career (35 mm, 16 mm, Super 8, 8 mm, DV, Video 8). Each medium has its own resolution, depth, and dimension, capturing the same objects and spaces in different ways.
With its simultaneous projections that make it impossible to focus on all six moving images at once, the installation heightens the sense of disorientation visitors might experience upon entering the strange, compressed spaces of the antiquities galleries in Sir John Soane’s Museum. In the projected images, convex mirrors distort the physical space, and shots of clustered displays of similar artifacts are repeated, underlining the sense of dislocation. Elsewhere, the camera’s slow takes render details of Greek and Roman architectural fragments and sculptures often missed by the casual visitor. Tan herself is seen dimly reflected in a glass door down the hall—barely visible with her camera on one shoulder.
This exhibition is generously supported by Kimberley Gray. Additional support is provided, in part, by public funds from the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York. Realization of Inventory was made possible through the Philadelphia Museum of Art with generous support from the Wyncote Foundation. Additional support for the production provided by the Leo Katz Collection, Bogotá, Colombia.