Comprehensive Fiona Banner Exhibition For Ikon Gallery Birmingham

Fiona Banner

SCROLL DOWN AND KEEP SCROLLING is the most comprehensive exhibition of Fiona Banner’s work to date, re-presenting key early projects alongside recent and unseen works that span a period of 25 years. “It is not a survey – more of an anti-survey,” says the artist, “A survey suggests something objective, historical, and fixed. This is subjective; nothing else is possible.” Throughout the exhibition Banner revisits her work with intensity and humour.

Banner came to prominence in the 90s with her wordscapes; written transcriptions of iconic films retold in her own words. THE NAM (1997) is a 1,000 page book that details scene-by-scene six Vietnam War films – including Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now – in such a way that they blur into each other. The outcome is, in the artist’s words, the literary equivalent of a “gutting 11 hour supermovie”. Jovially lambasted as ‘unreadable’ by one critic, Banner responded with the 1997 performance Trance in which she read aloud the book in its entirety, in one sitting. These pivotal works mark the entry point of the exhibition and are a gateway for much of Banner’s later practice, particularly her explorations of the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

In a recent collaboration with the Archive of Modern Conflict, Banner commissioned a Magnum photographer to take pictures of London’s financial district literally through the lens of a conflict photographer. The resulting works use Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as a filter through which to read the tribal behaviour of those in the business of finance, an environment of weary survivalism combining competitive trading floors, corporate art collections, manic drinking cultures, luxury shopping and strip clubs. Included in this exhibition are a related series of large-scale graphite drawings entitled Mistah Kurtz – He Not Dead (2015), depicting magnified details of pinstripe, the iconic costume and contemporary camouflage of trade in the City.

The exhibition also includes several recently completed films by Banner marking a new trajectory in her practice. Chinook (2013) focuses on the absurdist spectacle of military air shows in the UK in which the Chinook helicopter performs an aerial ballet, carefully choreographed to push the craft to its limit for the purpose of display. In Tête à Tête (2014) two mechanically operated windsocks participate in a kind of dialogue based on a scene from a costume drama. Set in the pastoral English countryside, the protagonists’ interactions are played out mutely, their fitful semaphore referencing Banner’s concern with the power and limitations of language and our (her) struggle to communicate.

Punctuating the gallery where the films are shown are various Full Stop sculptures: full stops in different fonts blown up to human proportions. Previously incarnated in bronze, here they are presented as malleable bean bags and within the exhibition provide a moment to sit; to pause for thought. Banner’s tactile approach to material is evident too in Work 3 (2014), a life-sized glass scaffold tower which stands tall in Ikon’s vaulted space, its fragility undermining any possibility of usefulness.

Publishing is central to Banner’s practice and she often produces books through her own imprint The Vanity Press. For the artist the act of publishing is itself performative, and this exhibition at Ikon will display a wide archive of previously unseen publications and ephemera. In addition, the artist will also publish a major new book to accompany the exhibition, for which she will design and typeset her own font for the first time. Instead of formally presenting completed art works, the book will focus on related material from Banner’s personal archive compiled over the last twenty years. Matching THE NAM in scale, it will present a timely sequel to her first publication. The show will consequently tour to Kunsthalle Nürnberg from March 24 – May 29, 2016.

“This is a survey of work by one of the leading lights in the British art scene, at a pivotal moment in her career. We feel privileged to be presenting it.” Jonathan Watkins, Ikon Director.

Fiona Banner: SCROLL DOWN AND KEEP SCROLLING – Ikon Gallery – 10 October 2015 to 17 January 2016