Arts: VISUAL ART - Beware the Concrete Jumble of the Unconscious Mind. ; Fiona Banner Frith Street Gallery LONDON Anish Kapoor Tate Modern LONDON
Darwent, Charles, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
The first thing you see as you walk into Fiona Banner's show at Frith Street Gallery is the word "LAPPER", gazing up at you in knee- high concrete letters. Closer examination reveals various things about this work, part of a piece called Concrete Poetry: that the word on the floor actually reads "SLAPPER", the initial "S" having been edited out by an inconvenient doorway; that it is one of a series of cuss words - "PONCE", "BOLLOKBRAIN" [sic], "IGNORAMOUS" [sic], etc. - intentionally misspelt a la Tracey; that, appearances and title to the contrary, the word is actually made out of something that isn't concrete: plaster, maybe, with a cement- coloured gesso wash.
And so, on several levels, you've been had. Words are meant to be definite things, carrying absolute definitions. Banner's aren't. They're malleable, their meanings slipping about depending on where you see them from. Concrete Poetry isn't concrete in either the literal or the semantic sense of the word, although it fools you into thinking it is both.
So - what? Well, Banner, shortlisted this year for the Turner Prize, has always been interested in the slipperiness of words, especially when they have to do with violence. For a long time, she made paintings of scripts of war films, jotted down from memory: Apocalypse Now was a favourite source. Here was history made fiction made film made painting: at each translation, the imprecision of language made the story more and more subjective, more and more approximate. Now, the artist has gone back a step, recreating the process by which words are changed from formless neural things to ones imbued with meaning.
So, as you walk through the show, you find yourself moving from a room that you might think of as the conscious mind back to another that looks like the unconscious. In this second space, letters are jumbled in a heap, although the evocative word "EGO" has managed to break itself free. It's from this dark place that Banner's dark words have come, each of them apparently directed at her in life, all carrying violent (and many of them violently sexual) undertones.
Being a long-time Banner fan, it bothers me that these new words don't really work. The history in her paintings was a clever thing, subtle and multi-layered. This latest work, though, relies too heavily on a single pun: the handy double meaning of concrete-ness. …