The third and final workshop in the first a-n Writer Development Programme took us to Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery on Thursday 19 November for a session led by The Arts Desk‘s visual arts editor, Fisun Guner.
All five programme participants braved train delays and stormy weather for an afternoon workshop that focused on profile writing, while also revisiting areas previously touched on, such as self-editing and pitching ideas to editors. Also present were programme organiser and a-n News editor Chris Sharratt and Stephen Palmer, a-n online content manager.
With live writing exercises and plenty of discussion, it was a fast moving and productive afternoon that, like previous workshops in London and Manchester, included a look round the gallery’s exhibition – in this case a fantastic survey show of Fiona Banner’s work which continues to 17 January 2016.
The show was the hook for writers’ post-workshop task – to write a 1000-word newspaper-style profile of Banner using multiple sources for quotes, information and opinion.
The writers had a deadline of Monday 30 November, which they all met – including Sunny Cheung, who filed from China where he was installing a show. Fisun then gave feedback to each writer before a final edit by Chris.
All the profiles will be posted below.
Fiona Banner profile
The Fiona Banner exhibition, Scroll Down and Keep Scrolling, continues at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, until 17 January 2016
By Lydia Ashman
Fiona Banner has a special relationship with books and language. “I struggled away with making pictures for years and years and I found it incredibly complicated. The writing just started to come to the fore as a way through it,” she says. As a sign of her long-term commitment, she has her own ISBN (International Standard Book Number), which was tattooed onto her lower back in 2009.
In Banner’s art “language is stretched and pushed in surprising and often highly emotive directions,” says critic and writer Louisa Buck. Words are Banner’s malleable plaything: she blows them up, turns them upside down, writes them on fighter jets, nicks other people’s, and bathes them in disorientating light and soundscapes. You are even invited to sit on a full stop in her world. The results of these experiments are works that span installation, performance, sculpture, publication, film and drawing.
Banner’s obsession with the problems and possibilities of language has served her well. Since graduating from Goldsmiths in 1993, she’s enjoyed plenty of successes: she was a Turner Prize nominee in 2002, partially on the strength of her blow-by-blow description of a porn film, Arsewoman in Wonderland. As part of her commission for Tate Britain’s Duveen Hall in 2010, she boldly hung a Harrier jump jet from the ceiling. In 2013, she appeared at the Venice Biennale as part of group show Glasstress, where artists including Cornelia Parker and Tracey Emin responded to the theme of light and heat. Now, she has her first survey show – which typically she describes as ‘an anti-survey’ – Scroll Down and Scroll Again, at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham.
Unlike some of her fellow yBas, Banner hasn’t developed a tabloid-friendly celebrity persona; details of her personal life remain under wraps. Her own high-profile connections, including actors Brian Cox and Samantha Morton, are driven more by ideas than column inches. In the film Mirror, from 2007, Morton performs a poetic, sensual and funny ‘word portrait’ that Banner wrote as the actor posed nude in her studio the night before. Unseen by Morton until that moment, the actor appears amused, disconcerted and vulnerable all at once as she reads out intimate and explicit details of her own anatomy – “wide hips stretching her baby fucked stomach”, “knees that have been knelt on” – in the jerkily filmed, low-res recording.
Though you won’t glean much about Banner’s private life through her art, you might get a sense of the internal struggles that fuel her work. She admits, “I am very conscious of the brilliance and power of language, but I also find it very frustrating.” This is embodied by her flickering neon installation spelling The Bastard Word, complete with wobbles and flaws that reflect how Banner grappled with a material she is unskilled in handling.
Her work is riddled with such contradictions. Of the military helicopters that appear again and again in her art, she says, “my relationship to the Chinook is both celebratory and critical: I love it, I loathe it”. In her film Chinook, the heavy-duty aircrafts perform a choreographed, delicate ballet routine. By her own admission, her work is “very quiet”. But what about the deafening roar of the pair of Chinook propellers she installed side by side as part of her commission at Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year? From the ceiling of YSP’s Longfield Gallery, the powerful helicopter blades overlapped while narrowly avoiding collision as they sped up and slowed down in tandem.
The Vanity Press she set up to publish her work suggests a degree of self-indulgence, but she’s not afraid to poke fun at herself. She tells us that THE NAM – the weighty 1000 page wordscape describing famous films about the Vietnam War, for which she came to prominence in 1997 – is “unreadable” and “available at all major boobshops”.
Her humorous, intelligent and visceral foregrounding of holes and slippages in meaning are celebrated by many. “Banner’s art is full of ambivalences and complications. I’m all for them and they make art richer,” says Adrian Searle. Judith Nesbitt, curator at the Tate, claims her works “arrest the eye and the mind; they are both seductive and unsettling.” Even The Observer’s Laura Cumming, who once described Banner’s work as “outstandingly boring”, grudgingly acknowledges the artist’s popularity among critics, scholars and curators.
In spite of the praise and her success, making doesn’t come easily to Banner. Aligning herself with the great playwright, she says, “I find art incredibly difficult. I’m with Beckett: ‘Fail again. Fail better’.”
Perhaps this attitude, and her embracing of disappointment as “rich” and “underrated” is why her work continues to develop and surprise. Her current show displays her spirit of adventure. You see a recurrence of themes and ideas, but not in a rehashed or recycled manner. Rather, her revisiting adds nuances and layers to her work.
Banner has long used Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness to explore the most disturbing elements of human nature. This fascination has most recently manifested in a collaboration with Paolo Pellegrin, the award-winning Magnum war photographer. In 2014, she commissioned Pellegrin to capture the City of London as a conflict zone to create a body of work for the Archive of Modern Conflict.
In installation, Mistah Kurtz – He Not Dead, Pellegrin’s black and white photographs are shown as a staccato digital projection, accompanied by a soundtrack of primal roars and ominous drumbeats. London’s financial district seethes with underlying violence, sexual tension and animal behaviour. Its protagonists lose their status as a powerful elite, becoming figures of mirth. In the graphite drawing, Pinstripe Face Bum, the motif of the city worker uniform is subverted, as Banner chooses to zoom in on a suit’s backside.
Despite her ISBN, it seems Banner resists easy categorisation and evades a simple reading. Amidst her subtle and brash, funny and serious explorations of the unreliability of language, however, there’s a very clear message: don’t judge a book by its cover.
By Anneka French
Fiona Banner did very little work at art college. “Next to no work,” she admits. “I struggled away with making pictures for years and years and I found it incredibly complicated,” she says.
Making art has come a little easier in the intervening 25 years – she was nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2002. Recently, Banner completed an artwork that she almost made at Goldsmiths College – a video aptly titled Intermission. The artist’s largest ever solo exhibition opened at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery in October and her output is these days rather prolific. Timing is everything.
Language has been integral to Banner’s work since the 1990s. “The writing just started to come to the fore as a way through,” she explains. Indeed, one of her best known artworks is THE NAM (1997), a 1000-page book in which Banner transcribes filmic interpretations of the Vietnam War, including Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. Every action is recorded in her words. A tongue-in-cheek press release written by the artist describes the enormous book as ‘unreadable’. Writer David Barrett said The Nam has the “impact of a comic, and yet does so without relying on pictures. You don’t read the text, the text comes out at you.” The same can be said for many of the artist’s provocative works. Interpretations of violence and military technologies through language are consistent themes.
THE NAM was the first in a long line of works produced by the artist’s publishing company, The Vanity Press, set up after her first solo exhibition, Pushing Back the Edge of the Envelope, in 1994 at City Racing, an artist-run space in Kennington, South London. Often, Banner’s editions are actual books but sometimes the objects produced with ISBNs are books without pages that cannot physically be read. “I’m as interested in the object of a book as much as the content,” she notes. THE NAM can be found in various iterations within the Birmingham exhibition. The book’s pages are pasted across the gallery walls, copies are stacked up as a kind of cardboard cut-out and the book also appears as a large sculptural block. The latter is something that the critic Adrian Searle takes credit for, having apparently once written that THE NAM is “not so much a coffee-table book as a coffee-table.”
The book as an object in its own right has been reworked and rethought by Banner. She also makes life-drawing books without any pages that she describes as ‘dummy’ books. At Ikon there are works on paper printed with individual ISBNs, as well as large wall-mounted ISBNs made with eye-watering, hand-bent neon lettering. Banner has even assigned a unique ISBN to herself in a work titled Fiona Banner.
A long series of ongoing works, Legal Deposit, chart some of the difficulties Banner has had with ISBNs. As the Observer critic Laura Cumming notes, “The Legal Deposit Office requires a copy of each work” yet for many of Banner’s pieces “there is only ever one original”. For Cumming, “the futility of this conundrum, and particularly of publishing a complete catalogue of the ISBN artworks with its own ISBN … is as depressing as the works themselves.” Cumming, though, misses the playful riddling at which Banner is so adept. As Guardian critic Jonathan Jones more positively points out, “Banner turns … apparently dry philosophical musings into exciting, intense, funny art.”
The seating that accompanies Banner’s videos of Chinook helicopters, wind socks and the encyclopaedic military aircraft books, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, are, for instance, artworks too. Large black beanbags take their form from the full stops of different typefaces. Previously shown as cast bronze sculptures, they now offer a series of inviting pauses within the exhibition – objects through which to think about how language is a squashy, unbalanced, physical, keenly felt thing as much as a spoken phenomenon. Another series of chairs include textual inscriptions that derive from her ‘nude portrait’ of the actress Samantha Morton – an uncomfortably intimate portrayal of the actress’ body told through words rather than images.
A further unlikely figure crops up in Banner’s work. Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts gave the world Snoopy. Snoopy was all the rage when the artist was a child in Merseyside, says Banner. The 1966 hit single Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen has provided a rich source of inspiration for the artist over the years. Her works of the same title bring together a fascination with historical conflict, military aircraft, humour and language. The mute character of Snoopy is for Banner “a mouthpiece” within her work, yet he speaks only through thought bubbles. Banner neatly explains, too, that the drawing of the character is “so minimal that he is like a glyph or a sign.”
The visualisation of language is vital to Banner – typefaces or fonts reoccur throughout her work. Her recent Frith Street Gallery exhibition was titled Font. A marble sculpture, Font (2015), opens the exhibition in Birmingham. The baptismal sculpture is inscribed with the word ‘font’ in a new typeface designed by Banner and also titled ‘Font’, setting out her approach to making as one that engages repeatedly with the subtleties of language. Banner’s typeface is an amalgamation of many she has “deployed” before, as a nod to the survey nature of the Birmingham exhibition, she says. She describes its lineage as “a family tree arrangement where the child of Avant Garde and Courier mates with Peanuts and Didot’s child. Bookman and Onyx mate; their child mates with Capitalist and Klang’s offspring – the final font is an unpredictable bastardisation of styles and behaviours.” As Searle remarks, “She’s a tease, that Banner.”
Banner has had, as the writer Lily le Brun summarises, “a career that has been spent considering the peculiarities, possibilities and limitations of language.” So what comes next? “The world would have us busily productive all the time. But that’s not always a good thing,” Banner says. “I’m going to try and not make any work for a bit. I’ve just made a load and now I’m going to play with it.”
By James Steventon
What do Full Metal Jacket’s Private Joker and the artist Fiona Banner have in common? In the midst of a war zone, Private Joker’s thoughts drift back to “erect-nipple wet dreams of Mary Jane Rottencrotch and the Great Homecoming Fuck Fantasy”. Banner’s current exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery treads the same ground, with works ranging from 1000-page book THE NAM, a scene-by-scene description of well-known Vietnam War films (as well as Full Metal Jacket it includes The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now), to the more tabloid-friendly Arsewoman in Wonderland, a written transcription of a pornographic film. Like Guardian critic Adrian Searle, I can’t help thinking, “she must like all this stuff: words, engines of war, testosterone-laden war movies and porn flicks”.
In Channel 4’s short interview with Banner when she was nominated for the 2002 Turner Prize, the artist lists her favourite words as “ricochet, spunk, daffodil”. Of all the great words to choose from, these three perhaps stand as a lexical Venn diagram, with Banner existing in the areas of overlap.
“I’m very conscious of the brilliance of language and its power – I mean, it is the blood to our thoughts – but also I find it very frustrating and I have a lot of fear about language and communication.” If etymology is the study of the history of words, Banner’s 2007 phrase in neon, The Bastard Word, is a statement of intent. The art rather than the science of language; words of questionable origin.
Language’s eternal struggle to describe experience is Banner’s ‘spunk’, where the discrepancy between real life and its description generates a rich, but often crude, vocabulary. Pornography cannot accurately describe a sexual encounter, and certainly not love. But for Banner that is the attraction. Indeed, when reflecting on her own intimate moments, Banner names fonts as the “things that I’ve spent many, many hours in a one to one relationship with”.
More familiar than most with the actuality of the pornographic film, ‘Britain’s Biggest Porn Star’ Ben Dover suggests a more cynical interpretation of Banner’s Arsewoman in Wonderland text. “Porn attracts publicity, everybody knows that. The media furore that gathers around it, that is the work of art.” When pressed on the subject, Banner complains, ”That was one piece! And they’re still calling me ‘the porn artist’! I just think that sort of kneejerk, oo-er missus reaction is not helpful, really.”
Then what of ‘ricochet’? Although more phonaesthetically pleasing than ‘spunk’, for Banner the word concerns an uglier context. It’s what Head of Learning at Ikon, Simon Taylor, describes as “the contradictory relationship she has with the military and its hardware”. As much as Banner delights in bellicose emblems, such as the decommissioned fighter planes she displayed in Tate Britain for the 2010 Duveen commission, “on another level I’m horrified by them”.
Banner recalls walking in the Welsh mountains with her father when she was younger. “Suddenly a fighter plane would rip through the sky, and shatter everything. It was so exciting, loud and overwhelming; it would literally take our breath away… At the time Harrier jump jets were at the cutting edge of technology but to me they were like dinosaurs, prehistoric, from a time before words.”
For all Banner talks of military paraphernalia as the “opposite of language”, the associated vocabulary is as rich and often analogous to that of the porn world. ‘Arse to Grass’, ‘Begging Dog’, ‘Backwards Take Off’ – all lines from Banner’s RAF Waddington wall text. At Ikon this accompanies her 2013 video Chinook, in a kind of The Art of War meets Karma Sutra-style concrete poem, used to describe the “extraordinary aerodynamic function” the helicopter is able to demonstrate.
Porn films and military flying machines – both are traditionally rooted in the masculine domain. As perhaps is 2007’s slightly crude Mirror, Banner’s descriptive word-portrait of Samantha Morton, which the actor then read aloud – “her tits spill out from behind her massive hands”. Had a male artist written this, the reading would have undoubtedly been different, if no less awkward. So does Banner consider herself a feminist? “No. It’s not that I’m radically unfeminist or anything – it’s because I think feminism belonged to a particular point and time. And I can’t afford to be part of any ‘ism’ as an artist.”
This freshness may not be for everybody. Kim Howells, then minister for culture ,famously described Banner’s 2002’s Turner Prize work as “conceptual bullshit”. The Observer’s Laura Cumming was equally dismissive of Banner, saying “nobody with any love of the visual could spend more than second in this trap”, perhaps falling into it herself. Banner’s work is not about obvious beauty. It’s about the failure of language to articulate it. Yet in the filth, in ‘Nam in the fog of war, or under the shadow of a phallic military machine, that is where Banner’s ‘daffodil’ emerges – in the small observances that language adds to sensory experience.
Banner describes the eccentric compulsive hoarder Edmund Trebus as an inspiration. “The council kept coming over and emptying out his garden, which was full of trash and rats, and they’d come the next year and it would be full up again. There was something very beautiful about the way he was living.” Or as Private Joker would put it: “I’m in a world of shit… yes. But I am alive. And I am not afraid.”
By Manjinder Sidhu
Headlined ‘the porn artist’ by the tabloids after her controversial 2002 Turner Prize entry, Arsewoman in Wonderland, Fiona Banner’s canny take on violence, vulnerability and voyeurism is continually insightful. As female artists are celebrated in major galleries worldwide and as overworked city-dwellers flock to life-drawing classes, Banner continues to re-invent the nude – a genre traditionally associated with the male gaze. The artist’s timely retrospective at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery, Scroll Down and Keep Scrolling, obliquely chronicles our changing politics on sex and war.
In fluoro-pink script on a huge billboard, Arsewoman in Wonderland is the moment-by-moment description of a porn film. In explicit detail, Banner describes who does what to whom and what effect it has on them, such as ‘he cums in her face, she moans and rolls over’. Banner uses words – as opposed to line and colour – to side-step the image. Knowing the historical context of the nude in high art and refreshing the complex artist-model relationship, her work is distinct from the ‘raw’ figure paintings of Jenny Saville and Lucian Freud, and goes beyond John Berger’s juxtaposition of female nudes from old master paintings with porno shots in Ways of Seeing (1972). Berger famously said: “Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.” Banner, though, is not convinced. “I like it [the quote], but I don’t agree with it,” she says.
Questioning the authority and ambiguities of pre-existing images and art forms is key for Banner. As if trying to master cinema’s power, she got involved in looking at and describing the human form through watching war films and creating ‘wordscapes’. THE NAM (1997) is a 1000-page scene-by-scene description of famous Vietnam war films – including Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and The Deer Hunter – spliced together in a hefty tome that’s Biblical in scale. This epic 11-hour ‘supermovie’, unashamedly deemed unreadable by its creator, was followed by Trance (1997), a live 13-hour unabridged reading of the text. Further blurring ideas around performance, theatre and live art, in 2007 Banner collaborated with actor Samantha Morton who posed for a life-drawing session while Banner wrote a description of what she saw. The following night, under spotlights in front of a live audience at Whitechapel Art Gallery, Morton exposed the fresh text. Reading it out loud, she performed what Banner has described as “a kind of striptease in words”. Lily Le Brun, reporting on the event for Modern Painters, wrote: ‘Morton is visibly uncomfortable, struggling for ownership of the text while negotiating the personal information that reveals itself as she speaks.’
Conflict, ambiguities, power and the fetishized objects of war fascinate Banner. Obsessively archiving all the war planes in service throughout the world – as Airfix models – she toys with war’s absurdities and contradictions. Chinook (2013) is a film of this odd double-bladed helicopter, an engineering phenomenon, performing ballet-like moves in a military display; showing-off its dexterity despite cumbersome looks. Her intelligent play with context and embodied space unanimously stirred critics when, in 2010, she installed a real Harrier and Jaguar fighter plane in the neo-classical Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain. ‘One plane, the Harrier, hangs from the ceiling like a trussed bird while the other is displayed belly-up on the floor like a wounded animal,’ The Guardian’s Mark Brown reported. Patricia Bickers, in Art Monthly, likened the spectacle of the Harrier to ‘an upended version of Leonardo’s drawing of Vitruvian man’, standing arms outstretched in perfect human-scale proportions. The evocative power, however, on coming face-to-face with these monumental, beautiful objects that are designed to kill – but impotent – is unavoidably unsettling. Ingeniously, subtle feather-like drawings on the Harrier’s wings subconsciously invited viewers to come-up-close, to embody emotional and physical intimacy.
Banner’s own imprint, ironically called Vanity Press, gives her the freedom to break publishing’s rules and experiment relentlessly, without compromise. Allying with Beckett’s maxim, ‘Fail again. Fail better’, her output is prolific. Following all the required bureaucratic procedures, she ofﬁcially registered herself as a publication, ‘Fiona Banner’, and defiantly tattooed her own personal ISBN code onto her lower back. Attracted by the formal rather than literary, Banner says: “I’m as interested in the object of a book as much as the content.” Her collection of Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft encyclopedias – a publication begun by Fred T. Jane in 1909 – features in numerous works, including 1909-2015 (2010-2015), a four-metre high stack of the books. It is a sculpture representing history, perhaps, but with the imminent possibility of collapse.
Banner’s dexterity with language is born of an ongoing struggle with words and meaning, as she attempts to fix something that can’t be fixed. “Personally, I am very conscious of the brilliance of language and its power – I mean it is the blood to our thoughts – but I also find it very frustrating,” she says. Hence, The Bastard Word (2007), which glows warmly in neon across the entire wall at the Ikon gallery. Unlike Barbara Kruger’s feminist slogans (‘Your body is a battleground’; ’I shop therefore I am’) or Jenny Holzer’s LED billboard text-works, Banner’s neon has a tender, DIY aesthetic. Deliberately imperfect, she made the piece without any prior training so the letters are wobbly, timid and uncertain, resembling perhaps an early form of language.
Banner’s approach is in contrast to faultless art neons, professionally produced so the material becomes invisible. “Sometimes, by doing things badly or unprofessionally, you reveal things,” she says. Her latest ‘bastard’ is a cross between two typefaces to produce Font (2015), created for the Ikon show and generously available as a free download. In Scroll Down and Keep Scrolling, we see Banner’s forever-inventive approach, a contemporary take on Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’. Revisiting her infamous Arsewoman in Wonderland with a sly twist, she’s physically turned the idea on its head: installing the work upside-down in what the Guardian critic Adrian Searle kinkily describes as a ‘a literary 69’.
By Sunny Cheung
Conflict, sexuality, power – for over two decades Fiona Banner has explored various ways in which language can be manipulated around these recurring themes. By her own admission, she “struggled away with making pictures for years and years… The writing just started to come to the fore as a way through it”.
Although the themes expressed in some of her textual works have the potential to be weighty (sometimes literally, as in her seminal work, THE NAM, a 1000-page transcription of Vietnam war films published as a book in 1997), Banner also has a witty streak. Guardian critic Jonathan Jones has said that “Banner turns such apparently dry philosophical musings into exciting, intense and funny art”.
While many of her works explore a love of language and typography, Banner’s ideas never seem deliberately clouded by obscure intellectual references. Her works visually exhibit a strong DIY punk aesthetic, which have the potential to shock or elicit strong emotional responses. “Art? It’s basically shite…” proclaimed the adult movie star Ben Dover upon viewing Banner’s piece Arsewoman in Wonderland (2001), a wall-sized text description of a porn film. “I think it’s clever… porn attracts publicity, everybody knows that. The media furore that gathers around it, that is the work of art.”
Banner is often closely associated with the YBA generation of artists such as Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, many of which graduated from Goldsmiths during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (Banner completed an MA at the college in 1993). In 2002 she was nominated for the Turner Prize (which that year was won by Keith Tyson). The then culture minister Kim Howells wasn’t impressed, writing on a comments card: “If this is the best British artists can produce then British art is lost… It is cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit.”
Banner, now in her late 40s, has changed little since her Turner Prize nomination. She still sports richly black shoulder length hair that frames her handsome features. She talks, according to art critic Matthew Collings “a bit macho in real life”. A photograph of the artist peering from behind a tall stack of copies of THE NAM – a book described as “unreadable” – certainly gives the impression that she’s sincere about its contents. Collings has said of the book: “You can’t tell if it’s rubbish or serious, and that’s always good in art.”
Banner’s intellectual exploration of the British Library and the mechanics of UK publishing led her to register herself as an official copy of a book. It was “a sort of portrait as book” the artist explains. The number 0-9548366-7-7 is the official ISBN of the work Fiona Banner (2009), registered to her at The Vanity Press publishing house (the name is itself a play on the term for self-publishing). Interestingly, the paperwork she filed for the ISBN shows that she is “Not for Sale”, but on the other hand she states that she is also worth £0.00.
It is these incidental splashes of humour that balance her interest in deeper political themes and makes her artwork still very accessible. It’s the same recipe for success that has allowed artists such as Banksy to thrive – who incidentally stencilled ‘Mind the Crap’ outside Tate Britain during the Turner Prize in 2002.
Banner has received praise from both the art world and the public. In the 2010 exhibition 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection, at the renowned Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis, chief curator Darsie Alexander was interested in “taking advantage of the natural impulse people have when encountering art to form an opinion”. Banner’s Break Point (1998), based on the cult movie Point Break (1991), won the public vote.
Banner’s interest in representations of sexuality has meant that she has worked on a few high profile collaborations of “nude” portraits, including with model Lily Cole and Samantha Morton. The Hollywood actress performed what Banner describes as “a kind of striptease in words” live on stage. Banner recounts the tale of how Morton “came to my studio and posed for me, without any clothes. So I made this portrait of her in words, and she left without reading it… it’s odd because she didn’t actually act it…”
By notating portraits rather than drawing, Banner hopes to “stall time long enough to make some kind of reflection, assert some kind of control over our own mortality, in a way that is absurdly literal but also tender”.
Banner is perhaps best known for her 2010 commission for Tate Britain’s Duveen Hall, which involved an unexpectedly grandiose installation of a full-size Harrier jump-jet suspended nose to tail, completely filling the height of the hall, feathers etched onto the wings. Curator Judith Nesbitt described Banner’s work as “seductive and unsettling” and her pieces as “works that arrest the eye and mind”. It is this empathy with the public that led to her being commissioned to design a London 2012 Olympics poster along with a host of other YBAs.
“I’m always surprised when people refer to me as a sculptor,” says Banner. A bell cast from a melted down Tornado plane, Tornado (2010), and Chinook (2014), which consisted of choreographed rotor blades installed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, certainly do little to change that view. According to Banner, the Chinook is “visually a contradiction; it looks clumsy and prehistoric, and yet is able to perform the most extraordinary aerodynamic function”. In many ways it seems a fitting statement to make, for it mirrors her own way of working and her interest in the transformative way of seeing things. She disassembles her subjects from their regular day-to-day forms, sculpting them with notions of recorded time and then finally allowing them to exist in our thoughts as renderings of poetry.