Mark Wallinger 

A little later then originally scheduled Mark Wallinger was the next artist in the Thursday screenings following on from the previous weeks Ruud Van Empel documentary. A British artist, known for his sculptures, videos, and installations, Mark Wallinger was yet again someone I hadn’t previously heard of. Nevertheless after a quick google search, I took a look at his work before the documentary to get a better idea of who he was, and what happened to catch my eye was his sculpture that earned him a place on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth in 1999. Titled “Ecce Homo” the sculpture depicts a life size figure of Christ naked, with his hands bound behind his back, wearing a crown of barbed wire. With strong religious references  (“Ecce Homo” a Latin title which translates as “Behold the man”) from the bible. What I found interesting about “Ecce Homo” is Wallinger was the first artist to get his work displayed on the fourth plinth, which has now become a yearly tradition for artists ever since.

When watching the documentary simply titled “Mark Wallinger” (which I was now suitable prepared for) you quickly begin to notice that Wallinger is in fact inspired and drawn to many subjects and ideas ranging from religion, faith, myths, death, to race horses, and social class. A lot of these ideas quickly become central themes within a lot of his art, videos and installations.

Following an interview process hidden from the viewer the documentary goes through Wallinger’s work to date as he talks and explains key pieces, themes, and ideas. The first work which is shown is “Ghost” (2001) a negative print of Grorge Stubb’s famous painting “Whistlejacket” (Which I was unaware of at the time) transformed into a unicorn. Wallinger explained that he used photoshop to add the horn and turned the painting into a photographic negative as he liked the idea of the image looking like an x-ray. A visual form which connotates a sense of truth? A mythical animal on the fringes of reality maybe? What is apparent I felt was the sense of aura that Wallinger has instilled into the negative. Although I find it morally wrong to take someone else’s work, Wallinger has taken a Grorge Stubb painting and has transformed the image into a mythical being and form, which is really interesting although it pains me to say it.

“Ghost” (2001)

The subject of horses crops up in a lot of Mark Wallinger’s earlier work especially race horses (Truth be told even Stubb’s “Whistlejacket” was a racing horse). “A real work of Art” in 1995 was the actual name of a race horse which Wallinger had brought himself. In the hope that it would win races and be known to all bookmakers over the country. Unfortunately Wallinger’s “art” turned out to be injured after its first race and couldn’t continue. Although “A real work of Art” was a failure it did try to challenge ideas of art not necessary having to appear in a gallery, as well as raise more serious social commentary of class in Great Britain.

After focusing on Wallingers work on racing horses the documentary then moved onto his later work which dealt with the ideas of religion, death and faith. “Angel” (1997) was one of the first pieces that explored these themes in the form of a video installation. The video was of the artist himself dressed up as a blind preacher seamlessly walking backwards at the bottom of a set of central escalators in a London tube station (Angel tube station in fact!). Whilst reciting opening lines from the bible. On either side of him passers by are commuting to and from the station. At first I found the video rather amusing with the commuters trying to shield themselves away from the camera while Wallinger looks and sounds ridiculous. It’s only upon reflection that I understood visually what he was trying to say. Putting to the side how utterly ridiculous Wallinger looked he represented the angel in the video which is evident in the way he almost glides to the top of the escalators at the end of the film. It can be said that the people rising on the escalator are the saved whilst the people descending are the damned. Visual cleaver the location works as a visual metaphor of depicting judgment day or I guess in this biblical sense the rapture.

“Angel” (1997)

Moving on from “Angle” the documentary tapped into Mark Wallinger installations, in this case “Prometheus” (1999) a two part installation that includes both video installation, objects, and image. What I liked about “Prometheus” was the reference to “Night of the Hunter,” depicted by a pair of huge fist with the words LOVE and Hate written on then which happens to dominate the walls in the exhibition space. Obviously drawing parallels from the preacher in the film “Prometheus” plays around with the ideas of god and death. An execution chair is stuck to the wall while a huge write ring buzzes in the foreground framing it. A birds eye view is created giving you God’s perspective.

Honestly I didn’t entirely understand “Prometheus,” but liked it for its quirks such as the “Night of the Hunter” reference for example. What I did found interesting was after the documentary when Leah my tutor was discussing the piece and pointed out how the metal ring that made the buzzing sound related to aura in the sense of energy and wave lengths. Especially in how Mark Wallinger used electricity to create energy and more importantly sound.

“Prometheus” (1999)

Recurring theme of god and death continues in “On an operating table” (1998) a video where the focus shifts and the light brightens as Wallinger films a operation lamp from a perspective as if the viewer is laying down looking up at it (The reverse perspective of Prometheus). Although the connotations aren’t obvious at first the lamp slowly transforms in what can be perceived as an eye, which is looking down upon the viewer in an almost cold stare. Meaning is ambiguous however if you keep to the recurring themes of god and death the eye could easily represent god whilst the shifts in focus and brightness could represent the viewer regaining consciousness. Possibly dead and experiencing the afterlife. If this is the intended meaning then its not clear however I did found the video rather disconcerting. Especially as staring up into operation lamps is my least favorite experience. Maybe in a sense that was Wallinger aim, to make us feel uneasy when experiencing his work based on aura, god and death.

“On an operating table” (1998)

The documentary draws to a close with “Kingdom” (2000) a video installation that I’ve actually seen at the Tate Britain not so long ago. Shown on a big screen accompany by loud classical music the video depicts passengers walking through the International Arrivals swing doors in an airport. Shot all in slow motion I found the video rather comic as I stumbled upon it as it was rather reminiscent of the scene in Reservoir Dogs yet more banal and ordinarily. Unbeknown to me at the time the video looks at spirituality which I feel isn’t necessary clear apart from the religious music. Although I don’t understand the work it was nice to see a piece of art that I actually recognize from a gallery, even if the meaning is still vague and ambiguous.

“Kingdom” (2000)

Once the documentary finished, we had a group discussion on our thoughts of Mark Wallinger. I admitted I wasn’t a massive fan of Wallinger’s work, like Ruud Van Empel, I find Wallinger interesting in the way he visually presents his ideas and meanings. For example how he takes the everyday location or object and turn it into something in which to work to with. Like the escalators in the tube station, race horses, or simply filming people in an airport. I also found it interesting how he was inspired by religion which reminded me of Bill Viola. What I found personally inspiring however was the concept in “A real work of Art” where art doesn’t necessary have to be displayed in a gallery. As this happens to tie in with my ideas of flypostering my images in the public domain then exhibiting them in a photo gallery. In the end I enjoyed watching the documentary as I learnt about another contemporary artist who would otherwise would have passed me by.


~ by stuartmatthewsphotography on November 14, 2012.

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