Frith Street Gallery

Golden Square

17-18 Golden Square, London W1F 9JJ
T +44 (0)20 7494 1550 ~ F +44 (0)20 7287 3733

Image of: Austrian Suite
  • Bridget Smith
  • Austrian Suite , 1997
  • C-type photograph on aluminium
  • 119.5 x 162.5 cm
  • Edition of 3
  • Enlarge


1 May 1997 – 20 June 1997

Bridget Smith’s large colour photographs are infused with an illusive sense of fantasy and escapism. In 1995 she made some of her first photographs – a series of cinema interiors in which the lush satin or velvet curtains are closed and the auditorium is empty. Illuminated to electric blue or sugary pink and violet, the curtains do not simply hide the screens, they also allude towards the fantastic. The viewer is seen to be given control over a dreaming experience that is normally constructed for them. The curtains invite escapism only to reflect on the impossibility of doing so.

Smith has recently begun to photograph locations outside Britain. Last year she made a series of works in Las Vegas, a city renowned for its lurid artificiality. The titles of the works – Luxor, Las Vegas; Monte Carlo, Las Vegas and Circus, Circus – speak for themselves and Smith has recently added Stratosphere, an aerial view of the city at dusk as it starts to transform itself.

Like the Las Vegas pictures, her new photographs of the Madonna Inn, California, dissect the surreal artificiality of her environment and comment on its veneer of escapism. Each of the Madonna Inn’s suites is themed – there is an Austrian Suite and a Highway Suite for instance – and each room in furnished in accordance with its theme. The brick walls of the Austrian Suite have been painted a vivid blue and are hung with paintings of magnificent Alpine views. The Highway Suite is furnished with paintings from the Scottish moors and a small stone grotto has been constructed to house the television set.

The scale of the furniture and the rooms is hard to ascertain and is heightened by their placing within the domestically-scaled rooms of the gallery. The more the design of each room attempts to create a ‘homely’ atmosphere, the more alienating they become.

Fiona Banner is known for ‘framing’ various films and events that have somehow played a seminal role in contemporary culture. In recent works she has turned to actual events – such as the First Man on the Moon or the Vietnam war encompassing in her work the sense of ecstasy and horror which the events somehow represent. It is the sense of the climactic (and yet somehow anti-climactic) narrative which interests Banner.

The works is a firework display composed of home-made, hybridised and bought fireworks that Fiona Banner has designed in consultation with a pyrotechnics expert. It also contains some military flares and strobes. The works has been carefully conceived so that a single fuse can set off a series of timed monochromatic explosions – all of which are detailed in an accompanying print. The print outlines the ecstatic potential of The works, but to enjoy the moment to the full, the owner has to sacrifice the sculpture by igniting the fuse and triggering its gradual destruction….

The works constitutes a short, abstract narrative. The running time of the display is 4.25 minutes – the length of the average track on a record and a length of time which has been proven to hold and suspend one’s belief. Lighting the fuse on the firework is like putting the needle onto the record – from then on the timing is totally intricate.

The works has a narrative which is influenced by the visual pyrotechnics of films and an optically hypnotic nature which is not part of a normal fire work display. It is not climactic in the traditional sense and has an almost consistent strobing beat. It deals with the reality of stretching and pulling time.

Following the recent launch of THE NAM, her 1000-page flick book of the 6 Vietnam films, Banner has produced a special talking book of it for the show at Frith Street Gallery. Read by Banner herself and entitled Trance, the complete, unabridged super-narrative lasts for 20 hours and encompasses 22 audio tapes. The talking book is juxtaposed to THE NAM – Non Fiction, an installation of the books presented as a library, a kind of on-going self-replicating series of the same, like an endless (fictive) directory or map.

Banner also shows a small blue neon full stop. Not only is it probably the smallest neon sign in the world, but it is also the end.