In 2014 Outset England supported the production of Chinook, and related new work by Fiona Banner for her exhibition Wp Wp Wp at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The onomatopoeic title of the exhibition mimics the sound of helicopter blades in action, as commonly used in movie storyboards and comics.
Highlighting the absence of a helicopter’s body, Chinook is formed from two sets of helicopter blades – suspended from the ceiling of YSP’s Longside Gallery – rotating in opposition to one another at various speeds. Carefully choreographed to overlap, the blades give the sensation that they might collide, an effect that is both mesmerizing and unnerving.
Banner has long been fascinated by military aircraft, finding them at once beautiful and horrifying; almost ‘prehistoric, from a time before words’. This relationship to language underpins Banner’s sculptural work. For her, the ever rotating criss-cross of the blades as they mark out time and space is like a language trying to happen or a text trying to be formulated, “It’s like they are trying to spell out something that can’t be said.”
As Banner explains: “the Chinook helicopter is an engineering phenomenon. It is visually a contradiction; it looks clumsy and prehistoric, and yet is able to perform the most extraordinary aerodynamic function. When in motion the rotor blades at the front and back of the aircraft appear to collide and pull the vast craft in opposite directions. It’s like it’s acting out the dilemma and contradiction of our relationship with the military and its hardware.”
The origins of this work could be traced to Banner’s 1997 work THE NAM, 1,000 pages of continuous text, fully describing six Hollywood Vietnam movies. The Chinook helicopter, though still in constant use today, is iconically linked with the Vietnam war and, like THE NAM, becomes a way of observing the mythology surrounding conflict.
Related works also reveal Banner’s consideration of film and text, including site-specific work, Ha-ha, 2014, which spans the huge windows of the gallery giving an unreal sense of the landscape beyond; Tête à Tête, 2014, a film in which two mechanically operated windsocks become the main protagonists in a bonnet drama, set in the grounds around Longside Gallery; and Mirror, Banner’s 2007 film in which actress Samantha Morton reads, for the first time, the artist’s nude portrait of her, rendered in word not image.
Chinook has been developed with the support of Dr Osvaldo Querin, Associate Professor at The University of Leeds School of Mechanical Engineering, who with colleagues and a group of masters students, worked with Banner to carry out aeronautical research critical to the project.
A special publication, designed by the artist with text by Chrissie Iles, Curator at the Whitney Museum of Art, New York, accompanies the exhibition.
Since graduating from Goldsmiths College of Art, London in 1993, Fiona Banner has continued to evolve an important, considered and interrelated practice, rooted in language. Her work encompasses sculpture, drawing, installation and text, and demonstrates a long-standing fascination with the emblem of fighter aircraft and their role within culture and especially as presented in film. Banner is well known for her early works in the form of ‘wordscapes’, written transcriptions of the frame-by-frame action in Hollywood war films, including Top Gun and Apocalypse Now.
Publishing, in the broadest sense, is central to Banner’s practice. In 1997 she started working under the imprint The Vanity Press, and has since published an extensive archive of books, objects and performances, many questioning the notion of authorship and copyright. For Banner, the act of publishing is itself a performative one. Consequently, her work resists traditional notions of grandeur and exclusivity, instead deploying a pseudo formality that is playful and provocative.
Banner was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2002. Her work has been exhibited in prominent international venues such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York and Hayward Gallery, London. In 2011, her installation Harrier and Jaguar at Tate Britain in London, in which she installed two fighter jets in the museum’s neo-classical Duveen Galleries, was the most visited exhibition in the UK that year. Banner is represented in significant collections around the world, including Tate, Arts Council England, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
In 2012, Banner worked with ArtAngel and David Kohn architects to realise the Roi des Belges, a one-bedroom building based on the boat that Conrad captained up the Congo in 1890, a journey echoed in his most famous work Heart of Darkness. Here, Banner staged the world premiere performance of Orson Welles’ unrealised film script Heart of Darkness. Other recent projects include 2013 solo exhibition The Vanity Press, at Summerhall, Edinburgh and Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art, a group exhibition that has toured to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver and the Power Plant in Toronto.