fiona banner flies in to tate britain

4 August 2010 § Leave a comment

The Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain have in the last few years paid host to some excellent sculptural commissions and they are always well worth a look. Last year the glossy black aluminium tubing of Eva Rothschild’s Cold Corners bounced around floors and walls, lightly but effectively filling the space. This summer, and until January 2011, the galleries are home to the latest works by Fiona Banner. Entitled Harrier and Jaguar they are her largest yet and occupy the gallery in a wholly different way.

The Harrier is suspended nose-down from the ceiling. On close inspection faint hand-painted feathery traces evoke its namesake – the harrier hawk. This particular bird of war clearly has been captured and trussed, ready for plucking and the pot. The Jaguar meanwhile has been stripped and polished. It lies belly-up, helpless and trapped, the reflections acting as a moving mirror of our ourselves and the surrounding space.

It is hard to put in to words the feeling that these giant planes evoke as you walk around the space. One moment they seem imposing, large and frightening before, from a different angle you suddenly realise that they look relatively small, comfortably contained in what is after all just a rather grand hallway.

One soon realises that it is this duality of experience that emanates throughout the display. There is a simultaneous repulsion and attraction in delicate balance, which shifts by degrees as we move around the gallery. After all these are fighter jets, built with one very specific purpose in mind, and yet there are here displayed for us to view – helpless, emasculated, strung up and laid out – as works of art and objects of beauty. The Jaguar reflects our gaze. We are not only looking at the object , but are inseparable from it. Unable to disassociate ourselves we are implicit in its very purpose and meanings. The difficulty in defining the feelings evoked is exactly what Banner had in mind, she says “this work is more about how people react, rather than a big black and white statement.”

It makes for uncomfortable viewing at the moments we observe these amazing objects for what they are – killing machines. At other times you marvel at their sheer aesthetic beauty. It seems appropriate to recall Marcel Duchamp‘s 1912 comment to Constantin Brancusi the sculptor, as he admired an elegant wooden airplane propeller “It’s all over for painting. Who could better that propeller? Tell me, can you do that?”.  Quite.

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Link to Sky News.

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