Countenance presents three film and photographic installations by internationally renowned artist Fiona Tan.
The film and photography-based installations of Fiona Tan are thought provoking explorations of collective memory and the formulation of identity through images. She is particularly interested in “how we use or need images to find and navigate our way in the world”. Her use of anthropological and archival film footage and photographic material is as straightforward as it is subtle, moving easily between simple scenes captured from everyday life and epic narratives that conjure history, place and time. Tense with the relationships between viewer and viewed, and between still and moving image, Tan’s work is also redolent with what Adrian Searle has described as “visual texture, pleasure and human incident”.
Among the new and recent work presented at Modern Art Oxford is Countenance (2002), first presented at Documenta 11 in Kassel in 2002. For this multi-channel film installation, Tan drew inspiration from August Sander’s (1876-1964) vast photographic project, People of the 20th Century, recording on 16mm film the portraits of several hundred people living in Berlin from different professions and social backgrounds. In describing her motivations for the work, Tan has stated: ‘’I am curious to find out how much society has changed since Sander’s time. At the same time, I call into question this very practice of general characterisation the way we form notions of society as a whole.” Presented alongside Countenance is News from the Near Future (2003), a sepia toned meditation on water, time and memory, and Vox Populi (2004), a vast photographic narrative that charts the life stories of more than one hundred families in Norway across several generations.