Countenance (Works)

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