The Gallery

Sensing Obscurity: I,II,III

Erika Tan

Erika Tan - Still 1
Sensing Obscurity, Erika Tan (2012)

What happens to symbols of cultural dominance when the world order shifts?

The project seeks a post-colonial reclamation to the possibility of telling stories through the use of a multiplicity of narrative devices. The premise is that it is in the way that histories/stories are told that produces and re-produces untold stories, narratives and events. Set in Saltram House, an English Manor House (now National Trust property), the film takes place ‘some point in the not so distant future’, at a moment in time when Chinas ascendance as a global power has given rise to an opportunity to re-visit history differently. Using a mixture of documentary and narrative film tropes, the cut and paste aesthetics of hip-hop and chinoiserie; Saltram House, history as we know it under-goes a slippery transition in an attempt to remain relevant and shore-up its status as cultural capital. References to past events, unfolding archaeologies, recurring cinematic specters (Ang Lee’s Sense & Sensibility was filmed here in 1995) and the re-enactments and enactment of relational positionings.

Sensing Obscurity (I, II, III) is a work in three parts. A 2-channel installation, which is located entirely within the hermetically ‘sealed’ interior of Saltram house. The second, a spatio-temporally deferred work disseminated through a form of digital bootlegging; and the final work which explores the format of citation, reproduction, mimicry, piracy and uses the motif of spinning encountered within each work to contemplate the continuities of history and the impossibilities of dis-entanglement.

Erika tan saloon
Sensing Obscurity, Erika Tan (2012)

Sensing Obscurity I: The Manor House; English Literature; artefacts and the performativity of objects; contrapuntal readings; and looking inwards backwards.
Duration: 28.31min
Medium: 2-channel HDV projection, 4 track audio, looped

Sensing Obscurity II: The Chinese Chippendales
Duration: 1.30min
Medium: streamed video with bootleg DVD

Sensing Obscurity III: “After” Chinoiserie
Duration: 5.40min
Medium: single channel HDV
A collaborative work with Neil Rose.

Sensing Obscurity (I, II, III) was produced in partnership with Saltram House, National Trust and Plymouth College of Art. Funded by The Arts Council Lottery, National Trust’s ‘Trust New Art’ programme, Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. It was developed with the support of the B3 TalentLab and commissioned by Eliza Gluckman as part of Sinopticon.

With additional thanks to – Brandon Adams, Louise Ayres, Zoe Baxter, Felicity Blomeley, Marc Boothe (B3 Media), Tom Freshwater, Eliza Gluckman, Kathy Hall, Hannah Jones, Anthony Lam, susan pui san lok, Kumiko Mendl, Lab Ky Mo, Dieneke Oestindier, Paula Orrell, Dan Paolantonio, Neil Rose, Ben Shapcott, David Tse, Jih – Wen Yeh, Lazy Yellow, Eiling Wong.

Catarina Lau, Adam Lau, Jessica Li, Zongyang Li, Loi Xuan Ly, Chris
Ong, Clem So, Wang Weiming, Ming Qiang Xie, Jay Oliver Yip
Harmonica Player: Ming Qiang Xie
Singing: Zongyang Li,
Voices: Kandemir Esmer, Erika Tan, untranslated anonymous voices.
Spinners: Wang Weiming, Loi Xuan Ly, Chris Ong
Capoeira: Jay Oliver Yip, Adam Lau

Directed, produced, edited - Erika Tan
Production Manager - Ashley Cox
Assistant Directors - Kandemir Esmer, Beverley Fulford, Eve Mahoney, Gary Vincent Mead.
Camera - Deirdre Dowley, Kandemir Esmer, Eve Mahoney, Gary Vincent Mead, Andy James.
Post Production effects - Kandemir Esmer
Dance choreography - Catarina Lau
Dance assistant - Jessica Li, Adam Lau
Sound recording, design and mastering - Neil Rose
Creative consultant - Andy James
Technical consultant - Stuart Bailey

After Chinoiserie, written by Neil Rose and Erika Tan, produced by Neil Rose, 2011.


Sensing Obscurity had an entirely student and staff crew who worked together with Erika to create this new commission which was filmed on location at Saltram House with a cast of Plymouth based dancers and actors. The team had to navigate challenging elements of filming at this National Trust property, including priceless artefacts, no natural lighting and floors that couldn't be walked on.

Sensing Obscurity (I, II, III) was commissioned and presented as part of Sinopticon, a multi-sited exhibition located across Plymouth that investigated Chinese influence in contemporary art. Taking chinoiserie as a starting point the exhibition explored our relationship with China both historically and through contemporary eyes.

Sinopticon was part of the National Trust’s ‘Trust New Art’ programme, in partnership with The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth Arts Centre and The Box.