Your Plinth is My Lap
BAN NER, Revolver 2002
Tiffany Mynx is a great name. It's too ostentatious to be anything so polite as an alias. No subterfuge here. Its bearer is not trying to hide away or to escape notice. It is flagrant, a statement of intent, of promised action as much as an identity tag. That it is false is so obviously the case that to ask oneself to distinguish the authentic from the inauthentic in this instance would be an irrelevance. Setting out to fi nd the girl born in October, 1971, in Upland, California behind the extravagant on-screen persona will get us nowhere.(1) She is there alright, but not as a reality veiled by the façade of a stage name. We cannot penetrate the façade to discover that reality however often and in however many ways her body is penetrated and otherwise acted upon. Tiffany Mynx is also known as Tiffany Minx, but this looks like a mistake made by others who still think that events need to play themselves out in the realm of taste - good or bad - and that the outcomes of such events need to be classified as cultural product - high or low. Tiffany Minx is what you call her when you don't really want to think too hard about what's going on up there on the screen. She's the slightly domesticated version, the one to whom you could say, 'You little scamp, you. What naughty things you get up to. But you're a good girl underneath it all and we love you anyway.' Tiffany Minx is what you call her when you want to fool yourself that you're dealing with a fiction that can be conveniently set aside at will.
Tiffany can spell her own name; she knows there's a y in it. That's because it's her name and she is a real porn star. She also knows because SHE ANSWERS ALL HER FAN MAIL HERSELF. She's so good, in fact, that she was awarded Favorite Female in 1994 by the Fans of X-Rated Entertainment. Tiffany Mynx is a solid and genuine porn actor's name, like Jessica Darlin and Jake Steed, two of the others who appear with her in the 1998 film, Asswoman in Wonderland. Mynx, you see, is 'the woman with the hottest ass in all of porn.' She is the one who has 'made the role of the backdoor-obsessed strumpet her own.' What about the arse? What can it tell us? 'It would be a wonder,' says Peter Sloterdijk, 'if this black sheep of the body did not have its own opinion about everything that takes place in higher regions, similar to the declassed who often cast the most sober gaze on people in the upper strata. ... The arse triumphs secretly, conscious that without it nothing works. Being there precedes being such and such; first existence, then qualities; first reality, then good and evil, above and below.'(2)
Having acted in many films during the 1990s, Asswoman was the first occasion on which Mynx went behind the camera to direct. It's her film. It is, as the title suggests, a drugged- and sexed-up version of Alice in Wonderland: eat me, drink me, get bigger, shrink, disappear down holes, etc, etc. There's an online review of Asswoman by Roger T. Pipe - and let's not even begin to wonder who he really is - that, for all its blow by whatever detailing of the film's content, strikes the reader as curiously prim.(3) Pipe is happy to say some things - fuck, pussy, cum - but remains reticent in the face of the male member. All we get is C**K and D**K. Oh! See? Not here, clearly. I see? Apparently not. Not if we rely on Roger T. Pipe anyway. What is there to be looked at? What can be seen and, in being seen, what does it intimate about what remains concealed?
Fiona Banner has used this film for several of her recent works. On the face of it, it seems some way from the mainstream Hollywood product on which she has concentrated in the past - the quartet of Vietnam-related movies featured in The Nam, for example, the suffocatingly intense political confrontation of Hunt for Red October, or the psycho-social jousting between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze in Point Break. Banner, though, doesn't necessarily view it that way. Of the Vietnam films, for instance, she says that for her they were every bit as pornographic as Mynx's film: 'They were seductive and fucked up.' This is not the same as saying that all Hollywood films just are automatically pornographic because we inhabit a pornographic culture, one that repeats the same gestures of production and consumption neurotically and obsessively without ever achieving anything in the way of emotional or intellectual gain. Banner's remark is particular, and concerns the way in which the ties between looking and acting, seeing and doing are unpicked in the passionate excesses of her art. Asswoman in Wonderland features variously in four works. The billboard-size poster work Arsewoman in Wonderland contains the text of Banner's own account of the film's early action printed in day-glo pink. Arsewoman - it is arse, not ass, as in the original, because this is an English rather than an American artwork - is pasted to the wall just as any other multi-sheet poster would be. Like the street hoardings on which several ads get stuck up on top of one another between periodic cleanings, a number of sheets are used to build up a substantial surface. As the paste dries out the edges of this skin begin to peel away from the wall. It stays in place, but only temporarily and a bit precariously. It is a bit more than an image, but only a bit, its multiple layers providing a material correlative to the compulsive repetitiveness of the actions described in the text. As with Banner's other text pieces, the small point size of the font relative to the vast area of the overall work together with the closeness of the lines makes it all but impossible simply to read the text of Arsewoman in Wonderland from beginning to end. The eye jumps from one point to the next within the work's field, each time falling on another description of a sex act. Bodies couple, break apart, only for new combinations to form. It seems that each possibility of participant and act is being worked through with an assiduous attention to completeness worthy of de Sade. But before the shape of any incident can be fully understood by reading the description to its conclusion, a blink, a line break or some other factor has disturbed and fractured the visual experience, sending the eye off elsewhere. All the while, too, there is that small voice whispering in your ear: 'What are you looking at? You shouldn't be looking at this. Not here anyway, with all these other people around who can see what you're looking at.' Arsewoman in Wonderland traps the viewer within the incessant reiterations of its descriptive language, just as one is held by the juxtaposition of Olympia's insolent gaze and the luxurious bouquet of sweet-smelling flowers that her servant holds so provocatively open for our delectation.
The text of the smaller, handwritten Mother begins with a version of the same opening sequences of the Mynx film before shifting in tone and developing into a much more 'intense, personal, psycho-sexual landscape.' One thing that drew Banner to the film was the fact that, in addition to acting in and directing it, Mynx was responsible, along with her co-actors, for making the costumes - bunny outfits, headdresses that turn the women into large-petalled flowers, and so on. The whole thing, says Banner, has a 'home-made' feel to it. Writing Mother on the floor of her bedroom in a space much smaller than the work meant that Banner was never able to see the whole thing at once. As a result of this restriction it was not possible for her to maintain a consistently straight line throughout. Once opened out for display, it became evident that the text undulated. It is written for the most part using a red pen. At the top the lines of writing bow slightly upwards in the centre of the paper. After a few lines it seems as though the pen ran out and the replacement contained a different ink with a bluer tinge to it. Below this, it reverts to the original colour, but with the lines bending slightly downwards towards the middle, so that the purple slash of text appears to be held within a split that has occurred in the red field. Gordon Matta-Clark spoke about his building cuts as attempts to exceed the visual and to get beyond the idea of the surface as a limit.(4) The blood-engorged slit of Mother dispenses with such a literal solution, revealing instead not what the body looks like under objective scrutiny, but how it sees and feels itself, not how we see it, but how it looks with its own eyes. For Your Plinth is My Lap, Banner recorded herself reading the account of the film onto a lacquer. At a pumped-up 14" in diameter, this lacquer is somewhat larger than the standard 12" ones used as templates in the production of LPs. It is played on a specially adapted turntable placed on top of a plinth with mirrored sides. You have to place the needle on the record yourself in order to hear it. Unlike the vinyl end product, the lacquer is fragile and is not designed for repeated playing. It will inevitably degrade as the work is listened to over and over again. As with her 23 hour recording of The Nam, Banner reads in an unrehearsed, unspectacular fashion. Banner says that there is no attempt to dramatise the script or to invest it with any particular emotional qualities. She does, nonetheless, have a distinctive style of delivery in which the absence of pacing, of pauses and silences, and of vocal dynamics results in an intense, unremitting flow of words that builds tension in the listener. The straightforward temporal succession of scenes in the film appears at first to be matched by Banner's detached descriptive account of what can be seen on the screen. If she is talking fast and leaving no gaps, then that's only because there's a lot to say before the next edit and the film won't hang around to let her catch up with the plot. Pretty soon, though, the language stream begins to assume a shape of its own. No longer merely a string of flat descriptions, dependent for their legitimacy upon the structure of the image up on the screen, the narrative develops a rhythm, a pulse that originates somewhere between the words themselves and Banner's body as she reads them. And as this rhythm asserts itself the listener finds it increasingly easy to recognise that the descriptive language is far from being anodyne. Certain features of the lighting, particular actors, specific aspects of body, clothing or background detail are repeatedly singled out as the focus of attention. Banner's response to the film starts to take over from her account of it. Bodily fluids - sweat and saliva as much as semen - are brought to our attention, as is hair, especially when plastered against flesh by those fluids, or when, in that incessantly reiterated gesture in porn films, it is moved 'out of the way' so that the camera can maintain its uninterrupted view of the action. The fourth work that refers to Asswoman in Wonderland is an identical pair of small, square prints. Beginning near one of the paper's edges, the text is arranged in a single line that slowly spirals in towards the centre. Eventually, successive turns gets so close together that the red ink merges to form a hole into which the narrative appears to plunge. The prints are hung side by side with different edges uppermost, so that the text does not start at the same point. Banner calls these her 'Solar Anus' prints in a reference to the essay of the same name by Georges Bataille. In this essay, Bataille proposes that there are two primary forms of movement, the circular movement of the earth's rotation, and the back-and-forth movement of sexual activity. These two are linked like the pistons and wheels of a steam engine: fucking makes the world turn just as the world turning leads to fucking. What Bataille also does is to draw an equivalence between the physical congress of copulation and the various grammatical means by which the parts of sentences are joined together in order to produce meaning:
It is clear that the world is purely parodic, in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a deceptive form.
Ever since sentences started to circulate in brains devoted to reflection, an effort at total identification has been made, because with the aid of a copula each sentence ties one thing to another; all things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne's thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
But the copula of terms is no less irritating than the copulation of bodies. And when I scream I AM THE SUN an integral erection results, because the verb to be is the vehicle of amorous frenzy.(5)
Similarly, Banner's texts force acknowledgement of two related facts. Firstly, that there is an unbreakable link between bodily existence and the language by means of which we vainly and unceasingly attempt to infuse it with significance. In this regard, of course, it is impossible to argue for any split between the works described above that make overt use of pornographic material and those others that seem to use more general aspects of language, such as the full stop drawings and sculptures. These massively enlarged versions of periods in a variety of fonts not only punctuate the walls and floor within, and the landscape outside the gallery, but also inflect that articulation with the design values and technological competences inherent in the form of each separate font: the neat circle of New York, the backward-leaning squashed ovoid of the more traditional Bodoni, the sharp edges of unequal length that make up the polygonal form of Trixie - a typewriter font created for the computer, a digital approximation of the flecks and blobs of a stop made by the briefest pulse of a graffiti writer's spray can, and so on. If, unsettled, we turn away from Arsewoman in Wonderland in the hope of finding solace in the apparent propriety of these full stops, the dull sheen of the drawings' dense graphite surfaces will only mock us by reflecting back the pink glow of the poster's text. Banner also sees the three-dimensional realisations of the full stops as kinds of plinths, the constructed grounds upon which the possibility of representation struggles to erect itself. The second fact that bears in upon us in the face of Banner's work is that the essential differences - life and death, light and dark - will exceed all efforts to contain them within any and all moral or semantic frameworks. Recognition of this is what causes the scandal of which Bataille speaks: 'The erection and the sun scandalise, in the same way as the cadaver and the darkness of cellars.'(6) With Tiffany's arse it is, as Sloterdijk says, always a case of being there before being such and such. And if the arse is the part of the body that is 'closest to the dialectical relation of freedom and necessity,' it is the genitals that are the 'geniuses' below the belt: 'When they have collected enough experience, they can tell fine stories about how things really are in the big and the small world.'(7) Your plinth is my lap.
The large print, Forever n' Ever, developed out of the frustrations attendant upon Banner's earlier effort to write something. However much she worked on it, writing and re-writing its different parts, it failed to convey what she was after. Having tried unsuccessfully to edit it into shape, Banner turned it into a piece of writing about its inability to say what she wanted it to say. What it actually ended up saying, therefore, is now of less significance than the fact that, whatever that happened to be, it was not what was meant. It was a catastrophic text, a text as catastrophe that spoke nothing so much as language's powerlessness to articulate. The expanse of Forever n' Ever presents the viewer with this catastrophe, showing not the words of the text but the text as an absence, a body whose flesh and bones have dissolved away leaving nothing but ligaments, the connective ties that keep the body's parts in their respective places and which enable it to flex itself, to extend and to act in and on the world. Shorn of the words, what we are left with is a field of punctuation marks. The spaces between them, the areas in which they cluster together, reveal a rhythm within and among the constellation of points and it is in this rhythmic play alone that we can hope to find, not the work's message, but the psychosomatic levels on which this and all texts function. In this, Forever n' Ever is closely related to Spell, a neon sign constructed from the fragments of other, old and broken signs that Banner has scavenged from around London. Such fragments are, in fact, toxic and should by law be immediately disposed of. Under no circumstances should they be reused since the mercury and gas residues they contain can be highly dangerous. Risking this, Banner has nonetheless taken these remnants of other letters that once said other things and fashioned them into a simple flower with pink, white, blue and lilac petals.
Sex and flowers: the maid, again, standing next to Olympia's bed; or, say, Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs; or, perhaps better, Jessica Darlin and Stryc9 wearing their home-made costumes; or ...
Neon and desire: an opportunity for more pornography, this time the pornography of reference. 'What, in the end, makes advertisements so superior to criticism?' asks Walter Benjamin, 'Not what the moving red neon sign says - but the fiery pool reflecting it in the asphalt.'(8) How many times have we read this? Too many for our own good, but we could throw it in again, make a cheap and exploitative gesture, offer a lazy snatch of 'theory' to bolster the act of looking, to make it seem alright to look because the culture says so. And in that way it would bolster nothing at all, but would merely serve to remove the dangers inherent in using one's eyes, absolving the viewer of the need to face up to just what it is that is being seen. In the end, fake erudition is surely no better than a faked orgasm. But, but. Haven't we already noticed the real truth of Benjamin's words in the inescapable pink glow of the full stop drawings? The same warm radiance is also visible on the surface of the large paper works that Banner hangs away from the walls of the gallery. One side is completely covered in graphite while the other remains white but for the smudges and scuffs that unavoidably accrue during their making. Slit into strips running from the bottom almost to the top of the sheet, these resemble blinds. Half drawing and half sculptural presence they suggest that the viewer should not only look at and walk around them, but also interact, touching, parting the strips and walking through to the other side. 'Space confusers', Banner calls these works, and confuse they do, influencing the narrative of the viewer's encounter with the gallery and the work it contains, but not in any way that is definitive. They do not lead anywhere other than back to the body and what it is capable of experiencing. Across the entrance to the gallery containing these porno-related works, Banner stretches another blind, this time a length of canvas painted on both sides cut into the same vertical strips. The regular sequence of colours used in (Coloured Blind) is based on those used in a commercially available plastic curtain of the sort used in the doorways of porn shops. In locations of that sort they perform a number of tasks. They allow the shop to be always 'open' while still keeping its contents hidden from the eyes of passers-by. While display is central to the functioning of the processes of consumption, the 'goods' in this instance are required to be kept hidden. At the same time as it serves to hide, however, the very presence of the blind acts as a sign proclaiming, 'Here you will find that everything is on display.' Talking with Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois about their 1996 exhibition 'L'Informe: Mode d'Emploi', a title and idea they took from a text of Bataille's, Lauren Sedofsky refers to the opening of Bataille's novel, Madame Edwarda: 'She spreads her legs, opens her labia and says: Look ... Is there anything comparable in the visual arts to this suggested lack of mediation?'(9) The question is asked of us again by Banner's work. Here you will find everything on display. Everything? Here are some other names: Skumbag, Stinge, Twotimer, Maniak, Wus, Pseud, Airhead, Moaner, Skidmark, Prat, Wierdo, Feminist, Witch, Cunt, Egotist. These, among several other things, are names that Fiona Banner has been called at one time or another. She has made them real, sort of, by cutting their letters out of polystyrene blocks and covering them with pigmented resin to make them look a bit like roughly cast concrete. In the context of her work as a whole they sit alongside the reified language of the full stop sculptures. It doesn't take long, though, to realise that these names are feather-light and not actually made of concrete at all: names will never hurt me. But then the laughable cack-handedness of the attempt at verisimilitude quickly becomes one with the preposterous claim made for them by their overall title, Concrete Poetry. This heap of language is not any kind of self portrait. It's not about Banner herself so much as the process that occurs when such language is used of any of us. It is descriptive, but it is brutally direct, as if its aggressiveness could destroy the respectful distance demanded by similitude. You are not just like a cunt, you are a cunt. As part of her response to Sedofsky's mention of Madame Edwarda in their interview, Krauss says: 'The idea that works of art exist solely in a world of mediation and are never immediate needs to be examined.' Concrete Poetry, along with Banner's other recent work, is part of that examination.