The key feature of the new exhibition by Dutch artist and filmmaker Fiona Tan is an immersive re-imagining of the 1950s fairground attraction ‘Jonah the Giant Whale.’ Depot, also the exhibition’s namesake, replaces the preserved whale in formaldehyde which toured Europe during the mid-20th century, with a cabinet of curiosities which is housed in a replica of the 71-foot long vehicle which once contained the whale.
The viewer is invited to climb on board to explore an archive of photographs, illustrations of beached whales, glass models of small sea invertebrate and a new film installation which incorporates footage filmed in the depots of natural history museums all over the world. Meanwhile, the monumental projection Leviathan (2015) depicts the turn of the tide of the River Tyne which flows outside BALTIC is accompanied by a bass clarinet solo and play outside of the vehicle.
Further film pieces installed on floor three include Inventory (2012) which shows the intimate details of Sir John Soane’s personal collection and Disorient (2009) which sees two films run in continuous loops on opposite walls, depicting the trade route between Venice and Asia with a narration taken entirely from Marco Polo’s 700 year old book, The Travels.
Sited in Gateshead, the exhibition draws upon Newcastle’s forgotten history as a major whaling port, and the complexities of man’s relationship to the natural world in terms of ‘natural history’ whereby the collecting of specimens requires one to kill and destroy to preserve. Depot particularly centres upon Tan’s personal fascination with marine life, having grown up in Australia, and continues her ongoing discussion of collections and archives for several years, questioning how they represent history, and the bias that lies within.
Fiona Tan: Depot, until 1 November, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead Quays, S Shore Rd, Gateshead NE8 3BA.
More information can be found at www.balticmill.com
1. Fiona Tan, Inventory. Courtesy of BALTIC.