Fiona Banner’s brilliant, brutal art

Arifa Akbar

Just as Tate Britain revealed Fiona Banner’s Duveen Galleries commission this week – to fill the vast neo-classical space at the front of the London gallery – many art critics and correspondents braced themselves for sensationalism. As a true-blue former YBA, Banner caused a ruckus when in 2002 her artwork, ‘Arsewoman in Wonderland’, was nominated for the Turner prize, in which a wall of the gallery was dominated by a giant advertising billboard presenting a written description of a porn film. “Is it art or porn?” raged an over-excited media, and called on porn stars for their pearls of wisdom.

In the end, Banner unveiled what some cynics might view as war porn – a decommissioned Sea Harrier jet used by the navy over Bosnia and an RAF Jaguar that saw active service during Desert Storm – strewn across the immense gallery space, though in all seriousness, the piece is a brilliant, brutal piece of art.

When Banner was asked why she had stayed away from her signature “text” based works (which has in the past consisted of adapting such films as Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and The Deer Hunter into “wordscapes” – detailed accounts written in her own words about the films) she said she was responding to the cultural legacy of the space, that has been filled by sculptures by Mark Wallinger and Martin Creed in the past.

For anyone who might mistake this commision as a pro Iraq war, militarististic statement, Banner clarified her stance unequivocally. “This work is not a direct response to the Iraq war. I marched against the war, we shouldn’t be there and the costs of Afghanistan are too high..”

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