Inventory (Works)

colour, stereo
6 channel
duration: 16 min. 30 sec.
3 HD projectors, 3 video projectors, 6  sync harddisc players, stereo amplifier, stereo speakers

Following on recent works such as Disorient, A Lapse of Memory and Provenance, Tan has become increasingly preoccupied with museal collections and museum/pavilion architecture. This can be seen as a natural progression from earlier works which dealt with the archive and with the fact that as an artist Tan considers herself an exhibition-maker, concerned with all of the architectural and museal considerations which that entails. Subsequently, Tan found herself researching the forerunners of the contemporary museum: early art collections, Wunderkammer and cabinets of curiosity. Such collections have been likened to the so-called ‘memory palace’ - the Ancient Greek method of memorizing knowledge by setting out objects within an imaginary architectural course. The museal maintenance and storage of these objects then allows them to serve as triggers for memory and meaning.

For Inventory Tan gained permission to film a very eccentric and unique collection – that of the 18th century Neoclassical architect Sir John Soane in London. Soane’s eclectic collection consists of hundreds of Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, casts, façade fragments, 7,000 books, paintings, architectural drawings, prints, etc., etc. set in the domestic setting of a house unchanged since 1833. As a young man Soane undertook the Grand Tour and travelled to Rome, living for two years on the continent. Much to his own regret he was never to return. Within the cramped confines of his own home he collected and refurbished his own version of Rome – a collection of ancient ruins and monuments, a database of architectural examples was built up over the years.

Neoclassicism strived for clear, straight lines and proportions, but ironically Soane’s own home feels like its antithesis. His museum is surprisingly small and tight: narrow and crowded like a rabbits’ warren. Its organisation is also very curious and highly debatable. An Egyptian sarcophagus or 18th century life and death masks are tucked in together with Roman sculptures, Etruscan vases, new and old plaster casts. Filming with several different cameras throughout the course of several days, Tan carefully observed the cluttered and crowded collection, showing its scope and breadth. Far removed from contemporary white cube aesthetics, Inventory delves into a few specific objects such as the death mask of a mutineer from the Royal Navy, Richard Parker (executed in 1797), an early Roman funeral urn displaying the Greek theatre masks of Comedy and Tragedy, and a old sculpted marble fragment of a child’s foot bought at an auction of ‘marbles’. As an older man Soanes was a widower, lonely and professionally frustrated; he was preoccupied with death. The basement in his house he called the Catacombs and he filled these tiny spaces with death masks, funeral urns and vases. Why collect? To what end? Why surround oneself with dead, inanimate objects? For Tan, this question keeps resurfacing.

The resulting HD and video installation Inventory is a large scale work encompassing six projections. Whilst taking the location as a conceptual point of departure, Tan was not interested in replicating Soane’s Museum itself; that would be impossible and serve no purpose. Instead Tan contrasts the seeming permanence of this old collection with the transitory nature of current audiovisual media, emphasising both the magnitude and chaos of the collection and also its intimacy and crowdedness. Simultaneously, Inventory comments on the nature of Tan’s chosen medium – the carrier which enables her images to exist. This work is composed of six different projections, each one dedicated to one particular medium of film or video.