Love, Hate, War
Brian Butler

The Newpaper, Issue 1, 2006

 

We live in a world of lists. Pick up the Sunday newspaper, open any fashion magazine, or even any art magazine for that matter and you will find at least a couple of top ten lists. There are the top 10 best cover songs on C4 TV or the 10 best ways to loose weight. But just wait, why stop there, come the end of the year and you will be deluged with the top 100 favourite songs of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s or the ‘Forbes 400 Richest Americans’. They are linear and neat. They quantify our world, they create the market place of consensus; what we should like and dislike, even if we don’t agree with them we want to know who’s on top or on the bottom. Being from Los Angeles, I always loved the former fashion designer Mr. Blackwell’s list of the ‘Worst Dressed’. (There was also his ‘Fabulous Fashion Independents’, but no one cared about that). His announcement at the beginning of the year is awaited with baited breath. You can imagine the names on his list and his poetic description of the accursed. In the end all these lists are disposable, we think we have learned something that can be regurgitated at our next cocktail party.

The artist Fiona Banner is not interested in the top 10. Her lists relate to a totality, to the idea of ‘all’. Banner’s lists embrace the popular vernacular. In the 2003 book, BANNER, she has included a series of images of a typed list of insulting, name-calling words, “…EGOMANIAC, EGOTIST, FAILURE, FART, FEMENIST, FLIRT, FRAUD, FUCKHEAD, FUCKKER, GIT, GOOGIE GOODIE, GREENEYED MONSTER, IGNORAMOUS, INCOMPETENT, INSECT…” they have been crossed out or ticked off. Other images ultimately reveal a work entitled Concrete Poetry. The words have been made into text sculptures. There are two versions, one with the words scattered while the other is a heap of letters piled in the corner. The supposed source of the work is all the insults that have ever been flung at Banner. In the end it is less about the personal and more about a human understanding of these insults. It’s the total amassing of these words. There is a momentary feeling of sympathy for the recipient. And then the creation of making them real out of concrete and Styrofoam makes it seem all so permanent, so definite. But they look fragile, they look like they could break apart if moved or thrown. You move a letter here or there and the insult is no longer. It is a list of ‘all’, a total collection brought together to be purged or eradicated.

Her most recent work of lists is All the World’s Fighter Planes. Originally formatted as a book it is a double list, an index on the outside of the book and a visual list on the inside. The cover, a list of the contents, reads like a concrete poem of wizards, native Americans, forces of nature, and predatory animals. Many of the names are tagged as if we could control their force, Apache AH-64, Foxbat MIG-25, A-10 Warthog or Black Hawk UH-60. Some of the names are recognizable mostly from war films or news reports Next to the name of each planes is the page number it appears in the book. For the contents list to appear on the cover perhaps indicates the purpose of a book that, for the other 170 pages presents only images.

Inside, Banner has culled together images from newspapers of fighter planes and helicopters from news reports on recent military actions. They have been cut out, identified and indexed in a scrapbook approach. The word ‘All’ in the title constructs a universe of totality, striving towards the control of achieving a complete collection, yet as any train-spotting mind will tell you, it is anything but complete. This is a front line version of Jane’s Aircraft Recognition Guide’ (the standard in aviation reference, providing exhaustive technical detail on over 950 civil and military aircraft). The list and the images add up to a powerful collection of war machines. Banner plays with the scale and format. She includes helicopters and transports. They are in action. They are at home in the book in our hands. This is where Banner’s list goes, to the heart of the matter and our desire to look at military power domesticated, contained. It is safe. It is what war is not.

In a form we can comprehend and be attracted to, the book is simple in this desire and structure; it is when Banner translates this to moving image does All the World’s Fighter Planes take on a new and particularly complex reading. The pages from the book are projected one after the other accompanied by a looping sound track Banner has compiled from war film scores from 1960 to present. The film was originally devised for Banner’s book launch at Cubitt gallery in London. It served as a promotional backdrop. It used all the tactics of promotion to sex up the book, swelling music and action shots. The promotion complicates our reading. There is a blurring between fiction and truth. Depending on when and how you view the work could create a far different reading. Seeing the images coupled with the electric guitar riffs of ‘Top Gun’ you could assume that All the World’s Fighter Planes is a celebration of this machinery; a testosterone thrust to war and a fitting conclusion for such a promotion. The images parade past while the music compounds. There is the soaring overture for “Battle of Britain”, the adagio for “Platoon”, the haunting masmoudi of the final credits in “Black Hawk Down”, the refrain leading into the theme from “Patton”, and so on. The play list is independent of the visual list. We create the connection to the emotional response. We never get to the end of the play list; the images are made new by the ongoing soundtrack. We understand the structure from years of watching movies. Therefore, there are moments the images look to be heroic, macho, bold, powerful, playful, comical, ominous, menacing, poignant, rousing…sorrowful. Banner has created a spectrum of ‘all’ our emotions.

There is no real knowledge of each aircrafts learned here. Banner does not divulge which one is fastest or its manoeuvring capability. Yet, like earlier works she uses the list as structure. Banner understands our familiarity to this language and our desire for it. Not just its use in the visual arts, but how we use the list in our daily life. She exploits our built-in curiosity to know ‘all’, however in each case the list unravels to reveal complex ideas about our human condition: love, hate and war.