25 January 2016

Fiona Banner at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

This exhibition ended in Birmingham on 17 January but will be in Nürnberg, Germany from March to May 2016. 

SCROLL DOWN AND KEEP SCROLLING at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham was, according to Fiona Banner, the artist whose work it featured, “… not a survey – more of an anti-survey. A survey suggests something objective, historical, and fixed. This is subjective; nothing else is possible.” My first encounter with her work back in 2010 was difficult to avoid at Tate Britain, the Duveen Commission that year being Harrier and Jaguar, an installation of two decommissioned fighter aircraft, the former, a Sea Harrier, suspended from the ceiling (below left). Both would later be melted down as Harrier and Jaguar Ingots (2012, below right):

More recently, a 2008 neon of hers, Brackets (An Aside) was one of a couple representing that particular element at Compton Verney’s Periodic Tales. Visiting the Ikon show provided more demonstrations of Banner’s continuing interests in military aircraft and in neons, but the strongest impression it left was of her long-term preoccupation with words and books, and hence printing, which has led to her recent synthesis of a new typeface, Font, an amalgamation of typefaces she has worked with previously:

An explanation probably best not taken at (type)face value (above top) – and it’s a font (above lower) which marks the entry to the show. This starts with one of the artist’s “wordscapes”, NAM (1997), a transcription of her scene-by-scene account of six films based on the Vietnam War. NAM now comes in several forms: a notoriously ‘unreadable 100-page paperback, a screen print billboard (below) and a coffee table (below foreground):

Another screen print billboard transcription follows, her controversial 2002 Turner Prize entry, Arsewoman in Wonderland (below left), in which she describes a pornographic film of that name. Banner states that:
This work was always awkward and uncomfortable, and that has been exaggerated because of the changing nature, context and ubiquity of porn in the internet age. I have installed the work upside down to reflect that and mess with the act of looking, interpreting and reading.

Then come some neons, including The Bastard Word (2007, below top), Paolo Pellegrin’s photographs of the City of London, commissioned by Banner for the Archive of Modern Conflict and a video from 2007 of an uncomfortable-looking Samantha Morton reading out Banner’s description of the actress, observed when posing for a nude life-drawing.

On the floor above was an impressive demonstration of the Murano glassmaker’s craft, Work 3 (2014, above lower), not with much relationship to the other pieces, except that Banner spends a lot of time up towers like it when setting up wall drawings. Then a room full of items - too many to describe here (below left), but I will pick out a bronze, Unboxing (2012, below right), which, like Work 3, could be interpreted as making a comment about the variance between appearance and substance.

Finally, on the military aircraft theme, notable are Chinook (2013, below) a video of the twin-engined helicopter engaged in an aerobatic display at RAF Waddington, projected alongside a list of the manoueuvres it was undertaking:

and 1909-2015 (2010-15, below) a stack, four metres high, of the annual editions of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft: Apparently, Banner has said that
... the stacking of the books tells the story of the history of flight and with its inevitable collapse exposes the fallacy of a linear approach to history.

I was told by one of the gallery attendants that there is a hole drilled through the books - perhaps health and safety considerations required that the inevitability of the collapse was postponed by a concealed pillar.

SCROLL DOWN AND KEEP SCROLLING is, according to Ikon’s Director, Jonathan Watkins, “ … a survey of work by one of the leading lights in the British art scene, at a pivotal moment in her career.” It will be at the Kunsthalle Nürnberg from 24 March to 29 May 2016.

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