Fiona Banner show The Vanity Press at 2013 Edinburgh Festival
Turner nominee's latest show explores ideas of publication
This article is from 2013.
Fiona Banner has worked with Samantha Morton and explored war, pornography and failure. The Turner nominee tells David Pollock that words are her muse
Although this exhibition by Fiona Banner is subtitled The Vanity Press, its content will be a departure from the most familiar work she’s made through this self-published imprint. Among other artefacts, Banner has produced The Nam (a 1000-page plot summary of six Vietnam war movies), All the World’s Fighter Planes (a series of images displaying exactly that) and avant-garde newspaper The Bastard Word.
At the point of our email interview, she’s still figuring out the exact dynamics of her new show, but she does think her text works will be represented in some way. ‘All the works are portraits of a sort,’ says one of the original YBA crew. ‘There is an element of self-presentation that made me think The Vanity Press is a good foil for the idea of publication, not just as a process of production and dissemination but also as a mirror. From the very start, I saw the films as publications too.’
These films will form the exhibition’s core. ‘I’m showing Intermission, a film I began when I was at college and have just completed,’ she says. ‘Chinook is a meditation on that helicopter, tracing a Chinook performing an aerial ballet, a choreography of contradiction. Jane’s is a film built around the legacy of Fred T Jane, who in 1909 started the global Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft manual, still a key publication for the aeronautical industry. It’s about trophyism, the passions and perversions of collecting. And with the actress Samantha Morton, I made Mirror, a kind of striptease in words.’
Although Banner works in a variety of media, words are key; in Performance Nude, she sets up a life drawing scenario and then writes a description of the subject instead of sketching them. Her 2002 Turner Prize nomination piece was called Arsewoman in Wonderland, a controversial billboard-sized text description of a porn film. ‘The first performance nude was a sort of joke, but also deadly serious,’ she says. ‘I’m interested in life drawing and, by extension, film as a form of life drawing. Each nude performance has triggered a different voyeuristic circuit: they are always really tense. For instance, when Samantha posed for me she performed the description I read of her without seeing the text; it was hard for her to act it, and that’s what made it interesting. The piece is really a reflection on the struggle for control over language and image.’
Popular cinema is also intertwined with her work. This gives her a chance to comment on ‘the skewed politics of the films … without subscribing to the image’, such as her engagement of actor Brian Cox to dictate the entire unproduced script of Orson Welles’ Heart of Darkness. ‘At the time, Welles’ script wasn’t made because it was too close to the rise of fascism in Europe, and today it parodies trade and greed in our society. The entire thing is a study of failure: our failure as a society, Welles’ failure, the failure of Hollywood. And yet, like Conrad’s text – which is more like a painting than a book – it’s a kind of celebration of that. I asked Brian because he has a very deep sense of justice and he is a very political guy; but he’s complex, there’s an internal struggle there. As in the Morton work, there’s an unwieldy struggle with the ego.’
Fiona Banner: The Vanity Press, Summerhall, 0131 560 1590, 2 Aug–27 Sep, Mon–Sun, 11am–9pm, free.