Seeing the World Through Glass: Time and Extinction in Fiona Tan’s "Depot" (2015)


  • Deborah Schrijvers University College Dublin



cinema, time, extinction, video installation, ocean imaginary, natural history museum, Depot, non-linearity, decolonisation


These times of mass extinctions ask for different temporalities than rationalized, linear time, to become in synch with them. Depot (2015) is a film installation by Indonesian-Australian artist Fiona Tan showcasing endangered and extinct marine animals that are preserved in jars, taxidermied or parts of skeletons in the natural history museums of Leiden and Berlin. I argue that through cinematic techniques such as stilled images, (extreme) close-ups, framing and a poetic voice-over recounting memories of marine animals, these specimens are given duration. Through this, Depot scrutinizes narratives of Western science and imperialism tied to linear time and progress perpetuated by natural history museums. The scientific and objective status of the natural history museum and its extraction histories is not only criticized, but its histories are also acknowledged, lamented and reframed. As such, Depot offers a decolonising extinction temporality as well as a new ocean imaginary that opposes ideas of ocean life as abundant frontier. I argue that Depot questions the mechanisms of science and time that determine how we see ourselves as humans and our place in the nonhuman world.


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Author Biography

Deborah Schrijvers, University College Dublin

Deborah Schrijvers is an Ad Astra PhD student at University College Dublin, in the School of English, Drama and Film as part of the Environmental Humanities strand. She holds a Bachelor in Philosophy (University of Amsterdam) and Literary Studies (Free University of Amsterdam) and a Research Master in Literary Studies (Leiden University). For her PhD project, she researches extinction narratives and temporalities with en emphasis on gender, race and decolonisation through analysis of contemporary and transnational film and art. Her research interests include: critical animal studies, exctinction studies, film studies, gender and sexuality studies, critical race theory and black studies.






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