“You say it like ‘wop wop wop wop wop’. It’s like the sound of a helicopter, you know?” So Fiona Banner explains her curious title of her latest exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It does become clear; both the onomatopoeic title of the exhibition that mimics the sound of spinning helicopter blades, and its relevance to the works exhibited.
Upon entering the foreboding industrial space of YSP’s Longside Gallery, you may feel a sense of imminent danger. I suppose, in many ways, it is very much a part of the human condition, the kneejerk survival instict when confronted with a large-than-life pair of suspended helicopter blades, turning in syncopation not too far overhead. This ambitious project, ‘Chinook’, is Banner’s standout work. Though, to the exhibitions merit, it would indeed be impossible to miss it – it demands attention.
Logic when paired with our first-world overzealousness with health and safety practices would allow us to surmise that of course, we, museum-goers, flaneurs, aesthetes, humans, and the like are not in danger by Turner Prize nominee and YBA Fiona Banner’s art. However, even so, there is an ominous sense of impending doom and approaching danger that I, and indeed other visitors, cannot seem to shake. In part due to the bunker-like surroundings, in part due to the accelerating and decelerating speeds which prophesise collision, and in part due to the way the shadows of the blades dance on the floor adding to the dizziness of the wind ‘Chinook’ creates – its merits lie highly in its immersive quality which allows me to relate to Banner’s hypnotic fascination with military aircrafts.
“I put this book there on purpose. I love how it reacts to the gusts of wind from the blades” Banner taps me on the shoulder to confide. Elevated on a plinth is an oversized copy of Banner’s 1997 work, THE NAM - a thousand pages of continuous text that fully and meticulously (Banner is ever-meticulous) describes six Hollywood Vietnam movies. “I’ve highlighted all the instances where ‘wp’ appears”. The effect is glorious – as the blades accelerate, the wind creates a ghostly flicking of the pages, as highlighted ‘wp’s fly by from page to page.
If you can manage to break away from the trance-like spinning ‘Chinook’, you will soon discover just how meticulous Fiona Banner is. On the adjacent wall, Banner has scrawled ‘wp wp wp wp wp wp wp wp wp wp’ repetitively across one wall. Like a wallpaper of words, the letters swell and contract and grow larger and smaller in size to create a wave of onomatopoeia. Actually, the ripple of words is very wave-like – soundwaves, airwaves… it all revolves around the Chinook spinning behind. With the preciseness and obsessive repetitiveness reminiscent of Art Brut, the sense of hypnosis is reinforced. To paint just one word, thousand-fold, and to repaint sections in order to create a comic book like pentimenti, is to prove that craft, graft and skill is still very much a part of contemporary art, despite what cynics might preach.
And then to the video room. I thought I had had enough of video art as 2014 comes to a close, but Banner has tempted me thus. Of the four videos, ‘Tete a Tete, 2014’ captivates most, perhaps due to my adolescent preoccupation with sit-coms and romantic dramas. Such is the internal conflict of a twenty-something. The film stars two mechanically operated windsocks set in the grounds nearby. One might think me odd to assert that these two windsocks are quite obviously very into each other. They flirt, they tease and they court each other. One seems to be coquettishly giggling as the other metaphorically delivers a not-so-witty one-liner. But there is no speech or language, but an invented narrative every viewer instinctively recognises and follows.
I never thought I would get so sucked into the goings on of military aircrafts and their accessories. Banner has made helicopters sexy.