Fiona Banner: The Naked Ear

17 Nov 2010 - 15 Jan 2011 Golden Square

Fiona Banner’s practice centres on the problems and possibilities of language, both written and metaphorical.

From her ‘wordscapes’ to her use of found and transformed military aircraft, Banner juxtaposes the brutal and the sensual, performing a complete cycle of intimacy, attraction and alienation. In this exhibition the artist looks at how we mythologize history, and our willingness to be seduced by those myths.


Tornado is a large suspended bell. For Banner, bells signify the simplest form of communication – an instrument that requires no music; a language without words, yet with multiple and conflicting meanings. The sculpture is cast from the rendered aluminium fuselage of a Tornado jet fighter – one of the most effective military aircraft of the past 30 years and aptly named after a destructive force of nature. Presented un-tuned, the bell invites the viewer to physically engage with it; the resulting sound is a direct reflection of its form.


1909 – 2011 is a four metre stack of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft books, the iconic compendium for the aeronautical industry. Collecting is a recurrent theme in Banner’s work, and she has compiled this collection over a period of twenty years. Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft represents a shared knowledge, beyond political and national boundaries. As a collection it embodies the history of manned flight and the development of an unwieldy military industry. Now as a very grounded, yet slightly implausible tower, the books have been transformed, through the simplest of means, from a library, list and collection into a piece of sculpture.


Her fascination with the English language led her to re-examine how history has represented the Battle of Hastings, an event which had a profound impact on the development of modern English. Tracing the history of Britain’s military investment back to the fear of invasion, her epic wall drawing 1066 describes in words this decisive battle of England’s last invasion. Banner’s source is The Bayeux Tapestry, the primary historical document of the event, in which the brutal engagement between the Normans and the Saxons unfolds like an early film. The tapestry was a propaganda triumph, which influences the way history depicts the invasion to this day. Acknowledging the absence of a major movie depicting the battle, Banner draws out the brutality in a language learnt from the visceral manipulations of a contemporary war film.


In the lower gallery are a series of books and prints selected from Banner’s own publishing imprint, The Vanity Press. For the past few years Banner has been producing one-off publications as part of a series about the way ideas are represented and circulated. These unique prints and sculptures are editions in and only of themselves; editions of one – a book reduced to a reference, a purely imagined space. All publications registered with an ISBN must be deposited in the Legal Deposit Office of The British Library, yet the singularity of Banner’s project makes this impossible. In response to requests from the Legal Deposit Office The Vanity Press produced a comprehensive bound catalogue of the ISBN artworks and the data information forms used to register them. A copy of this book will be lodged with the Legal Deposit providing reference and representation of the overall body of work.


The Vanity Press has also reissued three largely forgotten science fiction novels written by the founder of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, Fred T. Jane. Written in the 1890s, The Violet FlameThe Incubated Girl and To Venus in Five Seconds have been out of print for nearly a century. These absurdist fantasies represent an endlessly deferred future and reveals a complex relationship with the contents of the annual compendium to which Jane later dedicated his life.

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