"Only the Lonely"
Andrew Wilson. From catalog to ‘Only the Lonely’

Frith Street Gallery, 1997.

 

...Fiona Banner’s book THE NAM, 1997, and its accompanying installation THE NAM – Non-Fiction, 1997, and audio-book Trance, 1997, all operate in a similar way. They work through the sublime crisis of representation in which books can be ‘described as unreadable’ images as unframeable and experiences as unpresentable. The book brings together shot-by-shot descriptions of six Vietnam war films – Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Hamburger Hill, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Born on the Fourth of July – to form one single block of text that lasts for over 1000 pages or, in the audiobook version, just over 20 hours (significantly more than the cumulative running time of the six films). The tone of the text is urgent and immediate as we are taken from the spectacle of the films to the reality of our imagination. Although the structure of each film is replicated on the page, the result is not a ‘book of the film’ but something else that acknowledges both the manufactured emotion inherent in the framed seductive vastness of the wide screen epic and the unframeable horror, excitement and boredom of war. The large scale of these films might be replicated here, but the form of the book makes of these plot lines something that, even more removed from the actual event of the war, is yet more personalized so we each make our own film in the reading; a reading that is offered is a concentrated form in the floor to ceiling shelving of the book in THE NAM – Non Fiction and in the breathless, tumbling, spoken-words of Trance.

In the various works around THE NAM, which have also included large drawings of a Chinook helicopter and Brando as Colonel Kurtz, Banner not only manipulates scale and the displacement of experience (whether artificial or actual) but also questions the act of representation itself when confronted by the textual excesses of her subject-matter. It is in the nature of Banner’s subjects that they wield a transgressive power over the construction of meaning that puts the attainment of a transformative act of representation into jeopardy. How can the result, any result, measure up to something so unframeable without resorting to the mechanics of sheer spectacle? One way is to discard the frame and embrace illegibility. The boundary, the edge and the frame is normally sought as an aid to definition of subject, but such a closure is resisted in Banner’s work which ultimately has as its subject not so much the representation of something but the presentation of a something that happens as an event.

The works, 1997, continues this narrative of unframeable event. A box contains a number of fireworks (some custom-built; some of military origin and some that are generally available) and a print provides a timed sequence of the display that would last four minutes and 25 seconds. To a degree this arose from the Vietnam works, the fireworks display being both special effect and firefight; one aspect of the narrative, isolated or stand for the whole. Furthermore, once the fuse has been lit, the displays’ composition would be without edge and without space and exist as a timed event punctuated by darkness, and then gone. The unused box of fireworks represents only the idea and potential of the work whereas the event of the display echoes Derrida’s understanding of the sublime as being found ‘in an “object without form” and the “without-limit” is “represented” in it or on the occasion of it, and yet gives the totality of the without-limit to be thought. Representation here becomes a cognitive event of making meaning as a means of imposing a frame that does not actually exist except as time (a ‘this happens’ rather than ‘that’). Banner’s neon Full Stop, 1997, marks not just an end (or the end) but is also a frame that lacks its own frame as a point of linkage whereby a constant rewriting of the event can take place.