Absorb And Thrill: Fiona Banner At Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Chinook, Fiona Banner 2014 Yorkshire Sculpture Park

How does one experience whirring helicopter blades in the confined space of a gallery? Katherine Caddy on the simultaneously disturbing and comforting work of Fiona Banner…

This autumn, Yorkshire Sculpture Park presents a series of Fiona Banner’s projects within the Longside Gallery, including a new work entitled Chinook. It is this piece that markedly appears to captivate the minds of all around.

We enter the gallery space to a whirring beat and gaze up to witness the almost-collision of the helicopter blades at the centre of the gallery ceiling. There is a sense of changing speed in the pulsating of the blades and at first I feel as though I’m holding my breath as they dash past one another. I think: ‘In harmony, but for how long?’

I realise that my mind has started to quietly monitor the sound, the motion, at first seemingly stable. I then notice it is in flux — shadows dart across the space as children scream and prance in circles, chasing the blades above. I have never noted viewer responses to an exhibition so intently before. They laugh and squeal, running around and around with the flow of the blades, like dogs chasing tails. Amidst these children are adults lying on the ground, eyes focused above on the ever-present gliding propellers.

“The room quietens as the family lie beneath the whirring blades as though enchanted into slumber”

The piece seems to unite a family to the right of me; the father gathers his darting children and huddles them close, drawing their attention to the visual spectacle above. The room quietens as the family lie beneath the whirring blades as though enchanted into slumber. The blades begin to slow right down now, creating dreamy shadows that flick across the walls and floor harmoniously. These shadows and the sound around us become fainter, slower.

The children notice this change in speed. Two of them reach their hands above their heads as if they believe the blades are now within touching distance. The blades almost appear to stop now, the sound is light and the breeze has paused entirely. The family soon lose interest and shift their focus to the lush scene through the gallery windows beyond, glancing from grey to green, man-made to natural.

Wp Wp Wp, Fiona Banner 2014 Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Where are we safer? Inside with the machine or outdoors, left to the will of whatever may hover above? Is a helicopter disturbing or comforting? Both, and beautiful, too, I think. A power that can be destructive or lifesaving, can bring people together or tear them apart in an instant, is deconstructed by Banner – it is decapitated, transformed into something affective in a new space.

It fascinates me that people naturally choose to lie beneath this piece, as though absorbed or put at ease. The work establishes a following instantaneously – it is as though we are its prey. Perhaps it is because we never usually sit beneath such an object in daily life, while many of us are shielded from the realities of war and danger; its instruments become instigators of wonder. The cold flat ground, which in other situations may go left unnoticed, now becomes desirable and inviting, a blank space to reside, in order to properly interact with the scene above.

The blades begin to accelerate once more – the sound quickly raises – so close to collision, thrusting the surrounding air into our faces. The sound is not oppressive like a real helicopter; it is deadened to a degree that allows for moments of contemplation and solace. Are we tricked into calling this machine a friend? The piece becomes like a cooling fan, distanced from its usual function, trustworthy after a time; a clash appears, for now, unlikely.

“I feel as though the blades are gently following me. Or are they chasing me? I am at once anxious and thrilled”

I walk closer to the blades now – I am directly beneath them. These shadows are hypnotic; walking away from them. I feel as though the blades are gently following me. Or are they chasing me? I am at once anxious and thrilled. The air rushes on. I notice the sound changes distinctly from one place to another in the space as the blades swipe the air.

Around the corner stands a wall full of onomatopoeic Wp Wp Wps. At a distance these are seemingly all drawn in black; step a little closer and you will see the intricacies of this work. The letters appear in black, grey, even pale blue. Sometimes the pen appears to be running out, reminiscent of the changing tone and speed of the blades adjacent. The repetition of these letters is entrancing and numbing, much like the continual circulation of the propellers.

Now you reach the film space. Here we may witness the actual speed capacity of these helicopters; their whirring, fleeting blades when in flight are something quite distanced from what is presented in the other room. Tête à Tête is video piece I found most affecting. Helpless windsocks appear to stumble through their days. Banner gives these lifeless objects souls; the absurd is transformed into a gentle yet biting display of miscommunication, lack, striving, failing… It is as though the windsocks reach out to each other again and again, not giving up.

Banner incorporates the surroundings of Yorkshire Sculpture Park to enhance the atmosphere: crickets cry, dusk sets in and the windsocks become alight. A few final gasps of air – birds sing – they finally touch. Contact is made and a collision occurs. Then gone. Grasses blow. We are presented with two windsocks further apart than before – a desperate scene. Distance is unrelenting. Wp Wp Wp Wp Wp…

Katherine Caddy

Fiona Banner: Wp Wp Wp runs until 4 January 2015. Yorkshire Sculpture Park is open every day, with galleries open from 10am-5 pm. Admission is free but parking charges apply

Images: top to bottom: Chinook (2013), Wp Wp Wp (2014), courtesy Fiona Banner. Photography by the author

Posted on 10/10/2014 by thedoublenegative