Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fiona Banner’s 1066

Fiona Banner at Postscript's vernissage

MCA Denver invited artist Derek Beaulieu to guest blog during the duration of the exhibition Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, in which excerpts from Beaulieu's 124-painting sequence the Newspaper are featured. Beaulieu is the author of 9 books of poetry and conceptual fiction. He teaches at the Alberta College of Art + Design and can be found online at: This is the first of four blogs for MCA Denver. 

On Friday, October 11, I had a chance to hear Fiona Banner discuss her work in the Postscript exhibition. Banner (aided by several assistants) was still constructing her epic 1066 and took a moment away from the exhausting process on the eve of the exhibition opening. 

1066 builds upon Banner’s previous work Top Gun (1993) and The Nam (London: Frith Street Books, 1997), pieces she considers “still-films.” Top Gun, now in the Tate Modern’s collection, is a handwritten subjective account of the cinematic action in the Tom Cruise film of the same name. The Nam (produced in a now rare edition of 1000 copies, but thankfully excerpted in Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith’s Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing) extends Banner’s textual practice by subjectively describing the action of several Hollywood films about the Vietnam War. Over the course of a thousand pages, Banner writes through Apocalypse NowThe Deer Hunter, Hamburger HillFull Metal JacketBorn on the Fourth of July and Platoon creating an inundation of description:
They haul him up off the bed, hook him up. “C’mon Captain, lets take a shower!” He’s heavy like a corpse. They talk him along, ‘C’mon, Captain, mind how you go,” the merest hint of amusement in their voices. The officer says, “Just stand him underneath this tap.” He turns it on, a jet of water spurts down onto Willard. He screams out, like it really hurts. But it turns into, is nothing compared to, the continuous beat of helicopter blades, wiping like crazy and coming down onto you.
The text continues unabated creating, in Fiona Banner’s description, a “tracing rather than a re-presentation.”

With 1066 Banner shifts her gaze from Hollywood depictions of the Vietnam War to the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry. The Bayeux Tapestry is a 230-ft long embroidered depiction of the Battle of Hastings and thus fits well within Banner’s ongoing engagement with the weapons and depictions of war. 1066, much like Banner’s work Top Gun and The Nam, consists entirely of a textual relating of the action. Much as Cage wrote through other authors’ texts creating new compositions, Banner’s writing though of the Bayeux Tapestry—a veritable “still film” in and of itself—creates a new text by pointing and selecting.

Every letter in 1066 is painted in ink over a projected template—traced by hand by Banner or her assistants—in a rough-hewn, italic typeface that echoes the invading and repelling lean of English and French forces across the Bayeux Tapestry. The overwritten palimpsest text foregrounds the act of writing through, the processual act of constant re-creation that comes with reading and looking.

Fiona Banner's 1066
The Bayeux Tapestry was sniffed at by Charles Dickens as “certainly the work of amateurs; very feeble amateurs at the beginning and very heedless some of them too.” It is widely studied reproduced and is considered by comic book theorist Scott McLeod as one of the earliest European examples of sequential art and as such is a forerunner of the modern comic book. The scroll’s captions in English-inflected Latin provided textual context for contemporary viewers much as comic book caption boxes or motion picture title cards:


[Here Duke William speaks to his knights to prepare themselves manfully and wisely for the battle against the army of the English / Here fell dead Leofwine and Gyrth, brothers of King Harold]

Eschewing the propaganda of the original scroll, Banner’s “tracing rather than a re-presentation” is both intimate and monumental. One of the main tenets of conceptual writing is the act of selection; here Banner asserts transcription and textual tracing as writerly acts. The original tapestry displays similar acts of pointing (“Here Duke William …”, “Here fell dead…”), presented in a highly personalized form—every figure, every piece of text is sewn by hand, lending an importance to every gesture depicted. Banner’s depiction of the Bayeux Tapestry is also an act of pointing; she decides which figures to describe, which actions to relate and what language to use:

The guy’s down on the ground, arrow in the side of his face. Another takes one in the hand, cries like a beast as he pulls it out.

Banner’s description of the images on the tapestry also suggest her 2001 piece Arsewoman in Wonderland in which she screen-printed a billboard-sized description of porn actors’ performances in the film of the same name. Every bead of sweat, every muscle twinge, every time an actor “crie[d] like a beast” was textually represented. Banner’s description engages directly with the action depicted, not as captioning but as a subjective description of events.


Thanks to Jesse Leaneagh for inviting me to be the official blogger for Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art at MCA Denver. Thanks also to Nora Burnett Abrams and Andrea Andersson, the curators of the exhibition.


Skyline Houston said...

Cool post. Thank you for this.

Alia parker said...

Digital Printing can make something really awesome. Like if you make a sign by Digital Printing think how that signs will look like. Awesome right? I was also thinking to make some sign by Digital Printing.

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