concept archive object exhibition -- from curators for curators


Fiona Banner Wp Wp Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Fiona Banner Wp Wp Wp Yorkshire Sculpture ParkFiona Banner Chinook 2014 Longside GalleryFiona Banner Chinook 2014Fiona Banner Chinook 2014 (the blades)Fiona Banner Ha-ha 2014 Longside Gallery Yorkshire Sculpture ParkFiona Banner Wp Wp Wp 2014 (wallscape)Fiona Banner Wp Wp Wp 2014 (wallscape)Fiona Bnnner Mirror 2007 (Samantha Morton) installation view Longside GalleryFiona Banner Tete a Tete 2014Fiona Banner Tete a Tete 2014

Fiona Banner: Wp Wp Wp

"a language of contradiction"

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

review by Rozemin Keshvani (25th  November)

Painted in black, graffiti-like on a wall outside the Longside Gallery  are the letters 'Wp Wp Wp'- onomatopoeia for the sound made by helicopter blades as they whoop-whoop through the air.  It is playful, mischievous, yet ominously suggestive of a sound we equate with danger, apprehension, even fear.

This sound makes me uneasy.  Two sets of helicopter blades swoop in from above dislocating the air in a methodical continuous rhythm. These are the propellers of the monstrosity that is the Chinook helicopter, the tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter designed and produced by Boeing Vertol in the early 1960s.  First introduced to combat during the Vietnam War, the Chinook helicopter is today synonymous with burning battlefields, unnavigable terrain and militarised engagement.  Its unmistakable wpwpwp summons a complex of troubling images: surveillance, warfare, disaster, collision. 

Mounted on ceiling rotors, it is connected by a single drive shaft and suspended in the 480 metre square exhibition space.  The heavy dual propellers are enormous and primitive-looking.  They droop overhead, yet are surprisingly graceful. Designed to spin against each other, these propellers utilise blade pitch and tandem rotation to permit vertical lift and precision hovering.  In Banner’s words, they spell out “a language of contradiction in a very bare sense.”[1] So accurately timed are the counterrevolutions of the blades, they only just avoid collision.  To be near Chinook is disturbing, edgy, foreboding.

Disconnected from their body, deprived of their functionality, the blades are both imposing and deceptive.  They merge with the architecture, adopting the idiom of lumbering ceiling fans; captivating with their insistently mesmerising rhythm.  Chinook possesses an otherworldly quality.  Its continuous sound measuring out the space -- “wp - wp – wp” -- as a slow death march marks out time, a warning pointing toward the unknown, appearing as might the dreaded wings of angels. 

Initially cautious, I skirt the margins of the gallery to avoid the blades.  Others too maintain this respectful distance.  There is a noticeable restraint in the room, marked by a conflict between reticence and desire to venture beyond the margins.  The atmosphere is heavy with anticipation.  Will the speed of the blades increase?  How fast might they turn?  What might happen to me? 

The urge to further navigate the space and walk directly under the blades mounts with each revolution.  I am drawn toward their centre; their sweep enormous and dangerously close.  Their speed having begun at an unnoticeable five revolutions per minute gradually increases with my every step, creating an escalating circulation of wind that shoots adrena
lin through my body.  The effect is sublime, a wall of sound that brings about a near transcendent moment of understanding.  Uncertainty melts into insight; anticipation stillness.  The blades are now wp-wp-wping faster and faster.  A frenzied whirlwind of kinetic energy activates Book 2014, an oversized volume of pages from the exhibition catalogue resting like a sacred text on a plinth near the gallery entrance.  Its pages begin to flutter like the wings of a bird taking flight in the upsurge of the mounting storm.  Just as suddenly the winds from Chinook diminish.  Its climax passed, the room now assumes a disarming quiet.

What does this work say about the evolution and outcome of conflict -- is the movement toward conflict inevitable, unavoidable; perhaps even enticing?  The Chinook winds, from which the helicopter derives its name, is a downsloping wind formed through a clash of cold Artic winds and warm air, whose wind flows create a horizontal vortex and can gust in excess of hurricane force.   We are drawn into the vortex of Chinook as we are drawn into battle, as the senses are heightened in erotic encounter, activated and animated by its gripping force, and suddenly made to feel alive.  Is this how contradiction works?  Oppositions which give rise to a vortex whose energy drags everything toward its epicentre forming a mass so dense that it must, like a black hole, eventually transform or risk exploding?  And do we who sit on the margins of this torrent miss this opportunity for transformation?

Ha-ha 2014, adds another layer to this conundrum.  Spread across the gallery picture windows is a covering of UV reduction vinyl into which Banner has cut small holes.  These holes inverse her iconic Full Stops performing as punctuated apertures into the landscape.   Ha-ha subdues the oncoming outdoor light and asks us to reflect upon the artifice of the ha-ha wall, a recessed garden wall designed to permit a view of the landscape while ensuring that livestock do not encroach the garden.  The UV filter causes the outdoor rural landscape to take on a painterly quality and the picturesque scene, normally a background condition in the Longside Gallery, is transformed into a mimesis of itself -- an idyllic Constable Landscape painting with its cows and post and rail fencing interrupted by fragments of the view it represents and buttressing the contradictions explored in Chinook.  Nature becomes a reflection of culture, engineered and controlled through invisible means.  There is indeed something compelling in the tension created by the use of UV reducing vinyl which reframes the outdoor scene as a Romantic landscape painting while masking Chinook from the outdoor UV light -- a nod to  Romanticism’s revolt against the Age of Enlightenment and its scientific rationalization of nature.

Banner’s subtle treatment of light juxtaposes her penetrating use of sound.  Sound assumes a sculptural dimension.  It is carefully choreographed and continually reflected back throughout the exhibition space as part of the artist’s ongoing investigation of language.  As in her work, Intermission 1993-2014, Banner exposes meaning as occupying a liminal space, which by its equivocal and ambiguous nature, may be reclaimed.  The wallscape, Wp Wp Wp 2014 installed in the hall leading to the rear gallery is literally ‘a wall of sound’, a visual reflection of the wall of sound created by Chinook which gives onomatopoeia pictorial form.  Juxtaposing this is Mirror 2007.  In this work, the actress Samantha Morton, having sat for a nude text-based portrait, cold reads Banner’s portrait of her as though it were a poem.  Wp Wp Wp, 2014 portrays the motion of sound through animated text; while in Mirror the visual text is given voice and brought to life by its subject, in this case creating the possibility for the subject to reclaim or perhaps, re-inform, the artist’s power over her.

Latent throughout the exhibition is a language of alienation combined with a Hegelian subtext of ‘power over’ and Banner's continuing dialogue with the emotional chaos that is Vietnam. The phrase wp wp wp appears  repeatedly in Banner’s prodigious, The NAM 1997, her “stream of consciousness” exploration of the mythology of Vietnam through the iconic war movies – Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter, Hamburger Hill, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket.

In Banner’s film, Tête à Tête 2014, two large motorised windsocks, having been placed in various locations throughout the Park are randomly inflated to engage in a playfully bittersweet dance of intimacy and separation, what the artist describes as a bonnet drama of unrequited love.[2] Originally envisaged as an urban drama, Banner eventually realised the performance within the Park’s Romantic landscape.  Tête à Tête’s light touch contrasts with the staggering Chinook 2013, Banner’s live film pseudo-documentary of a Chinook helicopter performing a ten minute choreographed display at the Waddington Air Show in which the helicopter’s awesome sonic intensity and aerodynamic prowess merge to create a thrilling rollercoaster ride with absolute power.  The restrained, Jane's 2013 shows Banner methodically stacking one on top of the other every volume of Jane's All The World's Aircraft published since 1909.  Banner’s performance mirrors the ever-increasing supply of military hardware and an extending superstructure of power and knowledge whose masters execute a precarious and deadly glass bead game that has resulted in the complete militarisation of contemporary society.

Wp Wp Wp represents a major accomplishment wherein installation and sound form a sculptural landscape against which to reconsider the vast grounds of Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  Its main building, Bretton Hall, was itself requisitioned by the War Office during the Second World War.  The exhibition provides a long-awaited opportunity to experience the culmination of Banner’s investigations into the Chinook helicopter and more deeply appreciate the aspirations of this most significant British artist against the backdrop of a landscape that is quintessentially British.

Currently on show in the Longside Gallery at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 4th January 2015.

Download a pdf of Fiona Banner: Wp Wp Wp - "a language of contradiction", Yorkshire Sculpture Park, review by Rozemin Keshvani (25th  November 2014) here

Images from top:[1] Wp Wp Wp 2014 (detail), photo Jointy Wilde, [2] Wp Wp Wp (wall)  2014;  [3.4, 5]  Chinook 2014; [6] 2014; Ha-ha, [7,8] Wp Wp Wp 2014 (wallscape detail ); [9] MirrorTête à Tête 2014 (all images installation  view at Longside Gallery, unless otherwise stated and photos R Keshvani).  All images courtesy Fiona Banner and Frith Street Gallery. © Fiona Banner
2007; [10,11]

[1]Fiona Banner at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, http://www.ysp.co.uk/channel/397/fiona-banner-at-yorkshire-sculpture-park (accessed on 6 October 2014).

[2]“Chrissy Iles in conversation with Fiona Banner, Whitney Museum of American Art, February 2014” in Fiona Banner Wp Wp Wp , exhibition catalogue: Wp Wp Wp, 20th  September 2014 – 4th  January 2015 (The Vanity Press and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2014)