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Where are they now? - Issue 46

Where are they now? - Issue 46

A Look into our Past, Present and Future

For the first time in our many looks back at our alumni, we head off to the Netherlands this month. Fiona Tan has been at home in Amsterdam for many years now, where she is a successful artist and filmmaker. But it all started back in the 80's at Melbourne’s MLC, where Fiona attended together with Nicola Roxon. Both girls successfully applied for a SAGSE scholarship back in 1983, and off Fiona went to beautiful Lübeck on the Baltic Sea for her exchange experience. Soon after her exchange, Fiona was back in Germany and then it was off to Amsterdam.

Damals - back then...

Year of exchange: 1983 / 84

Group Leader: John Hammond

School: MLC, Kew

Sponsor: BASF

Town / city of exchange in Germany: Lübeck

Some lasting memories from your Exchange

Lübeck, the town of the Buddenbrooks and the famous literary (Thomas) Mann family, and, of course, of marzipan. I felt like I was walking around in a history lesson. Snow turned to ice on the cobbled streets and pavements. The dark winter months I found terribly cold, and I ate – like most of the Aussie exchange students – too much chocolate, Kaffee und Kuchen.

I was placed with a very nice family with four children. I remember being moved to tears by the generosity of my host family at Christmas time. The traditions – the tree, the candles, the carols – made sense for the first time. The Maetzels lived in a lovely house in the centre of the old part of Lübeck. The house was centuries old, 13th or 14th century if I remember correctly. In the middle of winter it was mostly candle-lit and there was always someone playing the piano or another instrument. I still played oboe at the time and so did my best to join in with classical quartets and trios, not very well I fear.

Studies on Return from your Exchange

Upon my return to Melbourne I took a gap year as planned, jobbing in the café of St Vincent’s Hospital. I wanted to study in Germany and took the first place which accepted me – Hamburg. I moved there some nine months later. Completing first one year at the mandatory Übersee College in order to have the same Abitur qualifications as German students and then starting my fine art studies in Hamburg. Two years later I moved to Amsterdam, initially for just one year but ended up staying, completing my studies at the Rietveld Academy and then postgraduate at the Rijksakademie voor beeldende kunsten, both in Amsterdam.

Career Path

Since then I have been working as an artist and filmmaker. My work is lens-based: film and video installations, photographs. I have exhibited in museums and galleries in various countries.

Und jetzt - and now...

What are you doing now?

I still live in Amsterdam which is very much home, but also spent a year in Berlin and a year with my family in Los Angeles on artist residencies. Currently I am working towards a large-scale solo exhibition scheduled to take place at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam next year.

How SAGSE influenced your life's journey

I am so grateful to my German teacher at high school; somehow four years of basic German were enough to get me started. And it’s fair to say that my life would have turned out quite differently if I hadn’t applied for and been granted the SAGSE scholarship immediately after finishing secondary schooling. I doubt that I would have ended up living in Europe, having made Amsterdam my home and founded a family here. I feel very lucky and I am grateful to my teacher at high school, Miss Sue Finnie.