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Erika Tan

Although not all of Tan's art practice involves the audience in such a clearly defined manner, her tendency is to make installation work that requires the viewer to engage with the artwork - intellectually, visually, aurally and physically. This approach becomes integral to her demand that upon entering a work of art we figure our 'self' out, while we are figured within. For instance, Passing: Slipping between the boundaries unnoticed (1995), Sites of Construction (1996) and Chintz (various versions from 1997-2000) are three works that invite, mandate and implicate the viewer in a consideration of the constructed representation of difference and the other within a western context. In doing so, the works demand that we examine our own place within this racial, ethnic and cultural formation.

Passing is a three-screen video and sound installation that critically engages with the classification of cultural and racial difference through which embodied subjects 'pass': are noticed and unnoticed. Using images from a variety of sources - Hollywood movies, military events, postcards, ethnographic and anthropometric photographs of Chinese people, Chinese sounding music and the patriotic singing of national anthems - the work forcefully represents the relationship between epistemology, ethnography, anthropology, phrenology and the construction of the racialized 'other'. Passing makes clear that 19th and 20th century classificatory regimes used in legitimating the stereotypes of the Chinese 'other' - from classifying hair, eye and skin formation, to personality traits and sexual desire - are bound up with our past, while at the same time are a present-tense concern that not only constitute who we are, but continue to inform our understanding of culture as we confront the ever-expanding arms of global capitalism. Tan's work asks: When have these concerns not been with us?

Still from Passing by Erika Tan, 1995
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