tinted b&w, mono
2 room, 4 channel
4 media players, 4 video projectors, 2 hifi audio speakers,
room 1: screen - 60 x 44 cm,
room 2: 3 rear projection screens – each 1.9 x 1.42 m
For Fiona Tan the concept of the archive holds crucial significance. For her installation Countenance the artist filmed over 200 portraits of Berlin inhabitants at work or at home. The portraits, arranged according to the professions of their subjects, are portrayed in virtually static poses so that the film gains the aesthetics of a series of photographs lined up sequentially. However, someone’s sudden slight movement can bring the image to life and communicate with the observer. This black and white film is a conscious reference to August Sander’s portfolio work ‘People of the 20th Century’. However, Fiona Tan transforms this encyclopaedically arranged investigation into a sociological study of people in a city specifically characterised by the growing together of east and west. By dispensing with plot and contextual description she emphasises the physical presence of those portrayed and allows the film image to breath. As the artist herself says in the voice-over to the first room of this installation: “Type, archetype, stereotype. An irrational desire for order; or at least for the illusion thereof. However I am constantly reminded that all my attempts at systematical order must be arbitrary, idiosyncratic and – quite simply – doomed to fail.”
Commissioned by Documenta 9 and supported by
DAAD, Berlin and Frith Street Gallery, London
April 5th 2001
The transport company has picked up my crates and boxes. I feel lighter, if also set adrift.
Berlin. My first week alone. I’m supposed to be working but spend most of the time staring out of the window.
My hungry eye. In the underground and at the market I observe people’s faces. Do I look better at people’s faces in a foreign city?
A map of Berlin hangs on the kitchen wall. It’s an older map; the highway routes are coloured blue and I repeatedly mistake them for waterways. Some former inhabitant has drawn a dotted line where the wall dividing east and west used to run. Several places have been circled: the zoo, Grünewald, Potsdamer Platz, Alexander Platz, Plötsensee, the Soviet War Memorial in Treptow.
I used to think that I never forget a face. Almost automatically I try to guess someone’s background and origin. I don’t stop to wonder what determines which details I notice and which I let slip by.
Summer has passed too soon.
I gather together impressions and snapshots like an amateur biologist in the nineteenth century would collect butterflies. Type, archetype, stereotype. An irrational desire for order; or at least for the illusion thereof. However I am constantly reminded that all my attempts at systematical order must be arbitrary, idiosyncratic and – quite simply – doomed to fail.
A long walk in the park. Faces. Glances. East German accents. People I glance at in the street return my gaze unabashed and self-assured.
Berlin 2002, January 10th
Hours spent sorting through my cluttered notes and papers: how to chose what to keep and what to discard. As if order outside would take care of the disorder inside. All day I have been sorting through my notes and papers. I am a great one for making long lists, even if they are meaningless in the end.
The cold weather has turned, trees are budding. Looking again at the place and the people. Shedding my Berlin skin.
Could I possibly collect, collate a time in history? Whose history?
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor,
Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.
Martin van Broekhoven
Romy de Haan
Moser & Rosié
DAAD, Berliner Künstlerprogramm
The Netherlands Film Fund
Mondriaan Foundation, The Netherlands
The Netherlands Foundation of Visual Arts, Design and Architecture
Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne
With thanks to:
Ida Lohman, Friedrich Meschede, Renée Padt
Filmed on location in Berlin and environs