Magazine article Art Monthly

Fiona Banner

Magazine article Art Monthly

Fiona Banner

Article excerpt

Fiona Banner Frith Street Gallery London May 4 to June 24

Description is never neutral. The stakes involved in this mediating process are exposed in Fiona Banner's descriptions of female nudes, mainly handwritten in spidery capitals. While scrutiny of the female body by painters as diverse as Egon Schiele and Lucian Freud borders on the obsessive, distinct boundaries are maintained between the intimacy engendered by their penetrative renditions and the debased intimacy of cultural forms such as pornography. Banner's processual descriptions explode such boundaries, integrating slightly pornographic terminology such as 'crack', 'pubes', and 'arse', with words alluding to nuances of colour and light that flit across perused, posed and posing, female bodies in Nude Standing, 2003-05, Nude Reclining, 2006, and Nude (standing, kind of contrapposto), 2006. What is exposed in Banner's interrogation of language is how the divested interests of the pornographic viewer intersect with the invested interests of the disinterested art viewer. Of course, we now consider art viewers of female nudity to be as overwhelmed by sensation as any consumer of pornography, but this is not Banner's point purely and simply.

Banner's use of language is repetitive, the descriptions swing between the erotic and the banal, with the latter winning out as one loses ones way in the jam-packed striations of text, the words becoming unfocused and disengaging. For example, in Nude (standing, kind of contrapposto), a small screenprint, the text is just large enough to read but so densely compacted that one concentrates instead on the uniform mass of text which wavers ever so slightly at the edges. Punctuation marks also begin to acquire more stature, this piece using a lot of commas and upper and lower case to determine possible beginnings of sentences. One could see this procedure as maintaining the realm of art-informed disinterest where the materiality of the object or image is paramount. However, even here, we are not necessarily immune from the pornographic gaze, which is equally uninterested in narrative. While Banner's compacted texts begin to close the gap between form and meaning, so that the presentation becomes the meaning, the pornographic text also works in a similar way in its literalisation of fantasy.

On the other hand, while much art that reifies the materiality of text excludes the idiosyncratic register of the body, Banner's Nude Standing, which extends from near the ceiling to the floor, incorporates this. The uneven cascade of horizontal lines suggest that the artist's hand not only tired of writing in perfectly straight lines, but that, in having to finish the work near the floor, her own perspective was lost in the task of squashing fragments of text into the frame. …

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