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Questionnaire: Fiona Tan

If you could live with only one piece of art what would it be? This is an impossible question

A found photograph of an astronaut taken from Japanese television, from Fiona Tan's book, Vox Populi, Tokyo, 2007. Courtesy: the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London

A found photograph of an astronaut taken from Japanese television, from Fiona Tan's book, Vox Populi, Tokyo, 2007. Courtesy: the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London

What images keep you company in the space where you work?

A photograph of silk cultivation in a Chinese factory, a photocopy of an elephant stepping out of a train, Albrecht Dürer’s etching, Rhinoceros (1515), a snapshot of an astronaut standing on the moon taken from Japanese television, a panoramic photograph from the 1950s of pupils from a high school, an Islamic map of the world from the 12th century, an anonymous photograph of a Hungarian girl in traditional costume standing in a field, arm-in-arm with a man who is wearing a fake sheep’s head, a postcard of the panel, Hell, from Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights (1503–4), a newspaper cutting of two Korean brothers crying and covering their faces with handkerchiefs after being reunited after 50 years, a stereoscopic photograph of a waterfall, a reproduction of an engraving of a meteorite storm over the Niagara Falls in 1833, and a photograph of children on the beach in Java.

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

I can’t actually remember.

What is your favourite title of an art work?

Pictures at an Exhibition (A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann), a suite of ten piano pieces composed by Modest Mussorgsky in 1874.

What do you wish you knew?

How not to get stressed out.

What should change?

Everything.

What should stay the same?

My house, when I come home from being abroad.

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

Mountain climbing, making music, gardening and sleeping.

What music are you listening to?

None right now.

What are you reading?

Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millenium (1988); The Book of Chameleons (2007) by José Eduardo Agualusa; The Histories (c. 1440 BC) by Herodotus; and, to my children, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964).

What do you like the look of?

New buds and leaves unfurling in spring.

What is art for?

To give you new eyes through which to view the world; to provide new paradigms of thought and being for the future; to change what you think.

Fiona Tan was born in Pekan Baru, Indonesia in 1966. She lives and works in Amsterdam, Holland. Tan is representing Holland at the forthcoming Venice Biennale. A major exhibition of the artist’s work is planned for Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Switzerland from May to September 2009; it will travel to the Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada later in the year.

Issue 123

First published in Issue 123

May 2009
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