Fiona Banner: Tracy Williams, Ltd

Article excerpt

As if Bouvard and Pecuchet (1881) rewound, Fiona Banner's work of the past twelve years has generally begun with copying and ended with epistemological inquiry. The profusion of words in earlier projects--which have included voluminous transcriptions of films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Don't Look Back (1967), and a "totally unedited" thousand-page book, Nam, 1997, chronicling the on-screen action in six Vietnam movies--recalled Gustave Flaubert's assiduous copyists, who don't discriminate between "the good and the evil" and "the farcical and the sublime" because, as they conclude, "The page must be filled." For her recent dual-venue show at Tracy Williams, Ltd., Banner aimed to master two disparate, if thematically linked, bodies of knowledge. In a rented space in TriBeCa, "Parade" took on the military, specifically all of the world's fighter planes, while the subject under consideration at the gallery's West Village quarters was the nude, specifically the problem of its verbal approximation.

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It's tempting to tag "Parade" as the boy's show and "Nude" as the girl's show, but the gender-politics undercurrents are ultimately less resonant than her taxonomic investigations of them. As in her "still films," she is fascinated with what can and cannot be put into words, with the subjectivity resident in the ostensibly objective formats of the list and the catalogue, with what goes missing in the acts of describing or naming. The TriBeCa show's multimedia installation effected the conceptual distinction between an object, its linguistic signifier, and its representation. Sixty of Banner's Fighter Plane drawings, which she has been working on since 1986, were tacked to two abutting walls; nearby, Parade, 2006, a set of models of all 159 fighter jets currently in commission anywhere in the world hung from the ceiling, bathed in a projected list of their names. This surfeit of information shored up its own lacunae: Several of the accomplished drawings feature representations of newspaper headlines, but the words (AIRSTRIKE, 48 HOURS OF FIGHTING) are fragmented and often reversed, and the models, monochrome miniatures stirring gently in errant drafts, are devoid of any legible text relating their provenance or purpose: Which one of these is the Bronco, the Enforcer, the Super-stallion? …