More London Sculpture: Full Stops
By Andrea Schlieker
More London Sculpture, Catalogue, 2004
Appearing at first like abstract forms, reminiscent perhaps of the classic work of Brancusi or Hepworth, Fiona Banner’s five sculptures are scattered around the big public plaza on the riverfront by Tower Bridge. Mysteriously titled Slipstream, Optical, Courier, Klang and Nuptial, the precarious balance and glistening black of these leaning ellipses, imposing spheres and strange cross shapes intrigue and invite closer inspection.
Each form is an accurate three-dimensional albeit vastly enlarged version of a full stop from a variety of commonly used typefaces which lend their names as titles for the sculptures. Though each is proportionate to the others, their expanded scale reveals anomalies latent within an apparently universal and uniform symbol. Like the complexity and beauty of form which unfold only when observed through a microscope, what appears as a miniscule black dot on paper here reveals its intricate and unexpected shape.
If these sculptures are full stops, then we, walking amongst them and the buildings that frame them, become like the missing letters and words of a sentence. Banner gives us in solid form the pause, the silence, the moment we draw breath and reflect. The full stop is both a beginning as well as an end.
Banner’s fascination with the full stop as sign and symbol started in 1997 with a small blue neon work. The following year she created a series of ephemeral white polystyrene full stops (which were shown at the Tate) before she experimented with monumental sizes in bronze for the More London site. The entire body of work is a logical expansion of Banner’s enduring preoccupation with notions of language and text, whether in sound works, drawings or sculptures: ‘…a lot of my earlier work is about how things are expressed or can become manifest through words – how you can visualise passages of time through language.’1
Banner first came to national and international attention with her ‘wordscapes’, vast wall-mounted accounts, handwritten, typeset or stencilled on canvas or sheets of paper pasted directly onto a wall?, of iconic films retold obsessively, scene by scene in Banner’s own words. Using a panoramic format that seems to mimic the cinema screen Banner translates actions into words, attempting to find an equivalent in language for the absent image. Deliberately hindering easy legibility her relentlessly long lines, unbroken by paragraphs or chapters, turn into an almost impenetrably solid abstract block. Taking classic films like Lawrence of Arabia, French Connection or Apocalypse Now, as well as, more recently, porno-movies as her source material, Banner’s transcriptions are always dead-pan and seemingly objective. In each case, whether action movie or porno flick, the language she deploys is of the kind spoken in the film, avoiding any personal viewpoint or commentary. Banner described her approach: ‘It’s an attempt at a very fair account of exceedingly biased subject matter. The whole notion of how things purport to be objective, or how one chooses to interpret fictive things as fact, was a starting point for that project.’2 At the same time, the wordscapes seem to be an experiment about the limits of language, about what is beyond the text and ultimately cannot be said.
Perhaps it was on the basis of this understanding that following the wordscapes, Banner started to make large-scale graphite drawings of full stops, which in turn led to her three-dimensional sculptures. In the drawings, the densely drawn punctuation marks function as both abstract image and black hole.
For the plaza by City Hall, Fiona Banner chose five different type-fonts from her large repertoire that seemed to work particularly well with the surrounding architecture and landscaping. Varying in scale from ….m (Courier) to 3m (Optical) they shift from the intimate to the monumental. The final placing of the Full Stops was only decided after much deliberation, and following a test installation on site with full scale polystyrene models.
All five Full Stops share a particularly tactile surface texture which reveals the process by which they were made. The artist first shaped their form in plaster before they were cast in bronze. Each displays the uneven marks of plaster worked by the artist’s hand. After casting the forms were coated in shiny black paint (the same appropriately, as that of London taxis), giving a highly reflective surface to mirror surrounding buildings and reflect light and water.
Whether nestling amongst trees, by a bench, or fountains, these apparently random works are instantly recognisable as part of the same series. Like a sentence from which the words have been removed, the Full Stops are playful in character, and yet full of pathos. When long shadows double their form on sunny days, their monolithic and almost totemic quality is even further enhanced.
1 In: Making it Real, Fiona Banner in conversation with Matthew Higgs …
2 ibid, p.82