FIONA TAN at the Art Gallery of York University (Accolade East Building, 4700 Keele St), to March 26. EXPLORATIONS IN TIME TRAVEL: FIONA TAN AND THE ARCHIVAL IMAGE panel discussion at the AGYU with Philip Monk, Corinn Columpar, Vid Ingelevics and Suzie S.F. Young, Wednesday (February 8), 4 pm. 416-736-5169. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Amsterdam-based artist Fiona Tan , an alumna of international art biennales known for her re-appropriation of archival film, deals with the politics of colonialism and plays with the illusions that still and motion pictures impart. Art Gallery of York University curator Philip Monk , however, has other ideas about Tan's work. This show plumbs six pieces for subtle meditations on time, knowledge and archives.
Maybe a little too subtle.
The AGYU's long, tall new space sets up Tan's work nicely, but as for temporal-epistemological speculation, this might be a case of the theory-tail wagging the art-dog.
Of the six works here, the two projections are best. A deceptively simple video shown on the wall turns pedestrians strolling in the late afternoon upside down. Their long shadows become real people, and they become shadows. As they depart, a short poem appears, yearning for the days when the world was flat and heaven and earth touched on the horizon. We easily succumb to beautiful illusions, some of them best left un-burst.
News From The Near Future, a large projection, raises the question of time more directly. As a brooding soundtrack plays, a Victorian-looking man and a woman clutching her umbrella under the sun on a rocky coastline are viewed from inside a cave. For the next nine minutes we float through some gorgeous black-and-white and sepia archival films clips. Tan shows us large bodies of water first as liquid benevolence, with swimmers diving and sailors sailing, then as violence, tossing steamships and flooding European cities. Such sublime imagery behaves as the water it depicts, drowning us in celluloid memories of past disasters.
If you want to learn about the flow of time in Tan's work, be sure to check out the learned panel discussion on Wednesday afternoon (details above).