Facing Forward


 Facing Forward (Works)

colour, stereo, 10 min.,
XGA projector, media player, stereo amplifier and speakers, min. projection size: 4 x 3 m

“I am interested in how images affect and shape the inner perceptions we have of ourselves, others and the world.” For the video Facing Forward, Tan used ethnographic footage of Asia and Africa taken by Europeans during the early 20th century, audiovisual material drawn from the archive of the Film Museum in Amsterdam. In this work, she combines different types of film footage, including groups of children, men and women holding infants, together with scenes of street life in Asian cities. These images of unknown others are twice interrupted by images of a cameraman, who then turns his camera towards the viewer. Through this presumably accidental Brechtian gesture, one becomes aware of oneself looking.

In reframing and re-editing existing ethnographic films, Tan exposes their anthropological underpinnings and questions the conventions of filmmaking. What is the relationship between the observer and the observed? How can one ever know another? The voice-over, a fictional dialogue taken from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, may offer an answer. The explorer Marco Polo and Emperor Kublai Khan are speaking about travel and looking back on the past, when Polo observes, “The traveler recognises the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have.” 


text: excerpt from Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cities'
commentary spoken by Owen Oppenheimer
concept and editing: Fiona Tan
sound design: Hugo Dijkstal
archive material: Filmmuseum Amsterdam