(Mellisa reviews a video installation focusing on the desire to collect and preserve objects d’art and cultural artifacts. — the artblog editors)
Fiona Tan’s “Inventory,” now on view through March 23 at the Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is a meditation on the visual archive as a way of preserving the world. An intriguing look at one man’s collection of objects, “Inventory” also raises issues about collections in general, especially cross-cultural collections, which are the basis for most of the world’s encyclopedic museums.
Showcasing Soane’s collection
The piece is made up of six video screens that play archival film footage and video captured by Tan in the antiquities collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London–a museum that is inside Soane’s house. The visual component of the installation, which runs for approximately 20 minutes, is accompanied with instrumental string music composed by Tan.
When viewing the piece, it is obvious that Tan used a variety of different media. The videos were captured using Super 8, 16, and 35-millimeter film, as well as analog, digital, and high-definition video. (While some of the images are so still they look like photos, Tan told artblog that the images are all from film or video.)
The quiet life of collected objects
Tan is clearly making a comment on the resilience of documentation. Something has provoked human beings to preserve and share their views of the world for decades, and there will always be a format with which to do so. It causes one to wonder why “the archive” is such an integral part of our lives, and why it continues to inspire artists today.
There is something very powerful about documenting and preserving something as fleeting and individualized as a life or an experience, and Tan explores this through her beautifully captured images of the artifacts in Soane’s Museum. She begins to give life to these otherwise inanimate objects, and while viewing them, I began to wonder where they came from and who they belonged to. These questions begin to create somewhat of a narrative through the viewer’s eyes.
There was an especially fascinating video in the montage of a window in the museum; at first, it seems like a still photograph, but upon closer inspection, we see that it is raining outside the window. Seeing the raindrops cascade down the glass in an otherwise still scene could be interpreted as Tan’s suggestion that there is an entire life and history in these quiet objects that we are passively overlooking.
Making other cultures our own
Though it may not have been Tan’s intention, her documentation of Soane’s collection also brings up the question: what causes people to collect? Why do we feel the need to hold onto objects? Soane’s collection is so densely packed with objects that it evokes the colonial practice of taking sacred objects from other cultures to display as one’s own. Viewing this work makes me wonder why there is such a long history of colonizing nations taking significant objects from different cultures in order to distill them into their own “collections”.
I found the videos’ musical accompaniment to be the least interesting part of the piece. Much of the music was composed of single, grating notes on the violin played at about 30-second intervals with long pauses in between. It almost cheapened the message of the work, and made me feel as if I were watching a horror film as opposed to a quiet meditation on the lives of objects. Perhaps something less overwhelming, or even silence, would give the work more space for contemplation.
“Inventory” is on view at the Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Museum of Art through March 23, 2014. Additional information can be found at Tan’s website, http://www.fionatan.nl/.