Mark Wallinger - No Mans Land
16 November 2001 - 13 January 2002
Mark Wallinger is one of Britain's foremost contemporary artists. He is perhaps best known for Ecce Homo, a life-size sculpture of Christ that occupied the 'Fourth Plinth' in London's Trafalgar Square in 1999. Following his acclaimed presentation at this years' Venice Biennale, No Man's Land marks an increasing interest in metaphysics and in systems of belief.
If earlier work is noted for its incisive and witty deconstruction of social and institutional structures through such subjects as sport and royalty, No Man's Land tackles the fundamentals of life, death and belief through a sequence of challenging situations.
The monumental Prometheus (1999) is a visually powerful and disturbing installation that includes sculpture, photography and video. The work alludes to the purgatory of the Titan in Greek myth who dared give fire to mankind and risk the wrath of the gods. On four monitors, Blind Faith, the artist's alter-ego, undergoes a never-ending, cyclical execution while singing a doleful rendering of Ariel's song from Shakespeare's The Tempest: 'Full fathom five thy father lies/ Of his bones are coral made' Through automatic doors, a huge space has been flipped through 90º to give a God's eye view of an execution chamber, the electric chair bolted to the opposite wall.
On an Operating Table (1998) projects the image of the light in an operating theatre onto the wall, again shifting the viewer through 90º. As the light moves in and out of focus, suggesting a drift in and out of consciousness, different voices, alternately hesitant and confident, read aloud the letters 'I. N .T .H. E. B. E. G. I. N. N. I. N. G. W. A. S. T. H. E. W. O. R. D' Beneath an all-seeing divine eye, the opening words of the Gospel of St. John are heard, read as if from an optician's chart.
The Word in the Desert I (2000) is an upside down photograph of the poet Shelley's grave in Rome. The figure of Blind Faith is seen again, hanging like a bat from the tomb, caught somewhere between life and death, between reality and the imagination. The words from Ariel's song reappear engraved in the tombstone: 'Nothing of him that doth fade/ But doth suffer a sea-change/ Into something rich and strange'
Ghost (2001) is a life-size negative photographic image of George Stubbs' famous Whistlejacket (1762). Like an x-ray of the original painting, an apparition of a unicorn - the mythological animal that has symbolised among other things, spirituality and sexuality - is revealed beneath the realistic equestrian portrait.
When Parallel Lines Meet at Infinity (1998) projects an underground Tube journey as viewed from the front of the train. It is like a ghost-ride to infinity, travelling the endless loop of London's Circle Line.
Time and Relative Dimensions in Space (2001) is a mirrored version of the 'Tardis' which featured in the British TV series Dr Who. A 'police box' on the outside, once typical of London streets, the Tardis not only travelled through time and space but its internal dimension dramatically exceeded its exterior. Wallinger's version in polished stainless steel contains four firmly closed doors and offers only a conceptual excursion. The extra dimension is extended through the mirror's surface and into its artificial space, while the object seeks to shrug off its physicality by replicating its surroundings.
In Threshold to the Kingdom (2000) passengers walk through reflective double doors and into the arrivals lounge of an airport. The film is projected in slow motion and accompanied by the choral music of Allegri's Miserere, which presents a plea for redemption through the words of Psalm 51. The moment of 'arrival' is instilled with spiritual resonance as if experienced by souls passing through the gates of heaven.
This theatrical and sometimes uncomfortable exhibition ultimately offers an optimistic journey that manifests Wallinger's long-standing examination of systems of belief. Like a personal anthology, the artist has woven together diverse sources of inspiration in order to map out the series of enigmatic and evocative works that form No Man's Land.
We are grateful to the British Council and the Anthony Reynolds Gallery for their support. The exhibition is also supported by Abstract Select Ltd, Sam Forster, Omni Colour Presentations, Nick Digance, William Palmer and Michael Ringier. The artist wishes to thank Anna Barriball.