Tuesday, 11 October 2016


Fiona Tan ascends into the depths of grief in Ascent, an experimental work of its own remarkable depth of meaning and intelligence, and thus perhaps a needlessly difficult sit. Images frozen in time given new motion by supple editing and soundtrack, this 'photo-film' is a fascinating collage of contradictions, though this fascination too rarely develops into full comprehension - Tan is content for Ascent to leave only an impression, and indeed it is an artful one with considerable emotional import. The one constant among the contradictions is Mount Fuji, and Tan's dense explorations of the cultural, physical, historical character of her subject yields a array of artistic and intellectual content. Uniting much of her inquiry is the notion, itself fittingly contradictory, of the mountain as a void, and then of the void as an object with the potential to be filled. Tan finds some sort of solace in Fuji, its constancy a reassuring quality amid a melancholic world of death and loss. 'Falling is the essence of a flower,' giving a peculiar, but thoroughly persuasive identity to this ascent. Tan's style is rigorous yet meandering, and her techniques are resolutely laudable, even as some are more effective than others. Her intentions too are commendable, and the reach of her exploratory mind is utterly gargantuan - so much so that Ascent lacks focus and clarity. But that may be the point - in the thin, cold air of the peak, along the dangerous precipice, that grief-stricken loneliness that defines this film both refines and rebuts clarity. The film is a contradiction in itself.