Fiona Banner

Fiona Banner: The Bastard Word


A major exhibition of new and recent work by Fiona Banner, a leading mid-career British artist and a former Turner Prize nominee.

Curated by Gregory Burke

The Bastard Word is a major exhibition of new and recent work by Fiona Banner, a leading mid-career British artist and a former Turner Prize nominee. This exhibition offers our audiences the opportunity to view a range of sculptures, installations, films, and drawings, including some of the most ambitious works produced by this significant artist in recent years.
 
Works include Parade, an installation that has been presented in a number of versions, most recently in a warehouse in 2006 for The Armory Show in New York. Parade consists of a hanging cluster of models of all the world’s fighter planes that are currently in service. They are rendered in a uniform tone and stripped of any national association. These diminutive models are highly evocative, particularly in their clustering, and suggest a sense of menace, childlike wonderment and obsession. With Parade, Banner maintains an interest in the concept of war, particularly in terms of its representation, and its subtle and implicit significance within popular culture.
 
Over a decade ago, she made a series of works related to the 1986 Hollywood film Top Gun. This series included paintings of the fighter planes shown in the film, and a work based on her account of the entire film made manifest as visual text. This visual text piece belongs to a series of related works she describes as "wordscapes" or "still films." In 1997, she self-published the artist’s book THE NAM, an overwhelming, 1000-page volume of pure text that amasses Banner’s own accounts of the Vietnam films Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Born on the Fourth of July, Hamburger Hill, and Platoon. According to the Art Metropole website: “The films seem never to begin or end. Banner describes the films as though she is there, not influencing the plot, but always on set running alongside the action.” In bringing together six accounts, Banner shifts attention away from the plots of the films and the history they purport to represent, to the subtle and covert operation of language itself. This concern lies at the core of much of her work.
 
Her interest in the spaces between words and sentences is seen both in the pieces that narrate cinematic scenarios of war and her sculptural work. Following the publication of THE NAM, Banner produced works based around the textual sign that indicates the closure of a sentence: the full stop. Works in various typefaces were produced as drawings and as body-scale polystyrene sculptures that in their massive enlargement heighten the visual nuances of the typeface itself. These objects are polyvalent in their associations. They can be encountered purely as sculptural abstraction or discussed in relation to cosmological concepts of time or considered in terms of the relationship of semantics to material. More simply, they retain their signification as full stops. Banner invites a speculation of the metaphorical equivalent of punctuation in the narration of military or pornographic scenarios where the conclusion of a scene is often times a dramatic one. But the strength of her work exists between the slippages that exist in language itself and hence does not enforce one defined interpretation.
 
For her 2002 Turner Prize exhibition Banner exhibited a selection of the full stop works alongside the "wordscape" or "still film" work. Arsewoman in Wonderland (2001), a printed description of a pornographic film, was made on large sheets layered onto the wall to approximate a cinema screen, a format she had explored previously with war-related films. While the film genres of war and pornography are distinct, they can be compared in relation to the treatment of bodies as objects or collateral, predominantly male in the case of war and female in the case of pornography. Arsewoman in Wonderland also introduced the motif of the female nude, a subject and territory like that of war, which has classical significance in the history of western art. Recently, Banner’s interest in the nude has manifest itself in a series of "nude" works that involve Banner observing a life model and describing the form as text with a voyeuristic treatment reminiscent of her transcription of scenes from films. Yet the mood of these nude works is more personal and quietly contemplative than the film-related works. It is a mood that Banner upsets with a subset of nude works that are produced directly onto used wings of fighter planes after they have been stripped of their external markings save abrasions resulting from hours in the air and in combat.
 
The Bastard Word brings together new and recent works that relate to the full range of Banner’s concerns. For some years now, Banner has wanted to produce a neon alphabet. She has recently handmade neon pieces based on the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet, plus additional pieces that represent punctuation. The resultant forms are wonky and primitive, as if they are grappling not only with the medium of "neon," but also with the very bones of language. The work Every Word Unmade will be shown for the first time at The Power Plant. A companion piece, The Bastard Word (2006–7), consists of twenty-eight graphite drawings, with the letters of the alphabet indicated by details of fighter planes. Also in the exhibition is the monumental sculpture Tornado Nude (2006), a text work layered onto the surface of the wing of a Tornado fighter jet that, up-ended, stands at close to six metres high. The exhibition includes a range of works from the nude series, video projections and book works, as well as additional neon works. On rare occasions Banner has included performance works into her repertoire. These performances have included reading the texts in THE NAM and, on one occasion, transcribing a nude model as a life drawing. On Saturday 3 March, Banner will undertake a similar performance related to the nude series involving the production of a drawing.
 
Self-published artist's books also form an important part of Banner’s repertoire, published under the name of The Vanity Press. The Power Plant is collaborating with Banner and The Vanity Press on an illustrated newspaper documenting the exhibition, with essays by exhibition curator and director of The Power Plant, Gregory Burke, and New York–based critic Cay-Sophie Rabinowitz. The publication will be launched during the course of the exhibition.
 

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