Fiona Tan @ GoMA, Glasgow
Fiona Tan returns to the Gallery of Modern Art with her acclaimed video installation on the legacies of historical colonialism in Asia and the Middle East, and the exoticisation of these regions
Set on either side of the room, in the grid system of Glasgow it’s easy to identify the East and West Screens of Fiona Tan’s video work, Disorient in the GoMA building. The placement feels as significant as it does accidental. Both this system and the building are entrenched in Glasgow’s industrial era, which was reliant on colonial lines of trade of cotton and tobacco.
On the East, the footage is of different areas of Asia and the Middle East, mainly poorer populations variously travelling on the road, or suffering traumatic violence, staring out at the viewer, washing outside, at war. There’s a loose relationship with the voiceover of the observations of these areas by the historical colonising explorer Marco Polo.
Facing this video track, the West screen shows a slow panning of a room filled with statuettes, ornaments, fabrics and foodstuffs that all speak to the kinds of trinkets that appeal to Western ideals of exoticised cultures.
The East screen footage is shown slightly slowed down, immediately suggesting the hand of the editor. Three of the people shown in succession look directly at the camera, allowing for the unsettling of the audience, and the violence of war is shown in unflinching and traumatic detail.
While the soundtrack and two video tracks remain distinct, the moments when they glance off one another offer moments of reflective insight. The documentary footage of the East screen might contrast with the Polo’s confabulations, but is recognised as having its own embedded problems of commodifying the people represented, with the detached gaze of the filmmaker mapping onto objectifying colonial power dynamics.