Fiona Tan: Disorient
- Jessica Ramm
- 1 July 2019
Amsterdam-based artist's two-screen video installation dissects myths and ideas of identity within historical colonialism
In the darkness of Fiona Tan's video installation, Disorient, huge beanbag cushions are scattered across the floor. Lounging visitors are softly lit by the glow of two huge screens. A male voice recounts extracts from Marco Polo's Book of the Marvels of The World, detailing a series of far away places with exotic sounding names, the religious customs or physical attributes of their populations and the remarkable commodities to be found. Pearls, indigo, porcelain, coral; the sonorous voice laps like waves: an entrepreneur's fever dream. The air could easily be thick with opium smoke.
Marco Polo was born into Venice's mercantile class in 1254. Manuscripts detailing his account of traveling for 24 years through the Middle East and East Asia circulated widely through Europe kindling powerful visions of exotic places to be explored and handsome fortunes to be made. An annotated copy of Marco Polo's travels was among the books Christopher Columbus carried on his voyages.
A man sprawled on a beanbag is snoring contentedly while a screen above him shows piles of luxurious goods passing in and out of view: rich textiles, bowls overflowing with spices, statuettes, Chinese lanterns, stuffed animals from a long-gone era. A second screen shows rapid paced snippets of people occupied in activities such as work, prayer or travel, oblivious to Polo's description of their lives.
Commissioned by The Mondriaan Fund for the Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of 2009, Disorient invokes the entrepreneurial spirit upon which many colonial empires were founded. It was acquired for Glasgow Museum's collection and was first displayed at GoMA in 2012. Built by a wealthy merchant in 1778, GoMA's building has also served as the Royal Exchange where merchants and businessmen once congregated to deal in commodities such as coal and sugar. In Glasgow as in Venice, power and wealth derived from spices, tobacco and slavery is no longer conspicuously accumulated. Instead both cities trade on the production of cultural capital.
GoMA, until Sun 26 Jan 2020.