Number of Disappearances
The Tardis is shaped like a police box, a blue stocky rectangular structure with double doors on all four side that used to be found standing at street corners in cities across Britain. The box was a compact communications center, office and occasional holding cell, large enough for a couple of people to stand in. There was a telephone mounted on the outside so that the public could report emergencies to the local station and when the station needed to speak to the officer on the beat, the blue light on the top of the box would flash. It was designed for a time when radios and telephones were hardly portable and for system of policing that had local officers patrolling their neighbourhood on foot or on bicycle. In the 1950's there were more than 700 of them across London but by the end of the sixties they had become obsolete as ideas of policing had changed with pedestrian patrols replaced by police cars with portable radios. Most of them had gone from the streets by 1970.
The Tardis takes its name from the acronym formed by the phrase 'Time And Relative Dimensions In Space' which describes a particular aspect of its nature and function: It has the unique quality of being able to disappear. One moment the box is solidly installed on the corner of a suburban street (or outside a country house, or inside a Victorian art gallery), the next, it generates a strange heaving and roaring sound, the blue light flashes and it dematerializes. This is how it moves into another dimensions of time and space, to distant planets and epochs. It is part of the BBC television series Doctor Who first broadcast on the same day as John Kennedy's assassination in 1963 and still running today. The box is a home and a vehicle for 'The Doctor', an extra-terrestrial being who has travelled the universe for eons, regenerating his body in a different human form every few years. He is the last survivor of the Time Lords, a race destroyed in the 'war with the Daleks....with the whole of creation at stake....' He polices time and space in a constant (Manichean) struggle against evil and injustice. He has a special fondness for the planet Earth and seeks to protect it. Even before it's seen to disappear the Tardis announces its uncanny nature and its advanced technology through being much larger on the inside than it is outside. A shot repeated throughout the series is the look of shock on the face the Doctor's new sidekick (and there have been many) as they walk through the double blue doors to enter the confines of the police box, only to find a vast chamber unfolding in front of them.
The Tardis is recreated in the artwork Time And Relative Dimensions in Space (2001) by Mark Wallinger, in reflective stainless steel. Unlike the Doctor's sidekicks, we cannot physically enter the door, but as we stand outside we can see ourselves standing inside its volume and notice that it contains everything that surrounds it. By giving the Tardis the qualities of a mirror, Wallinger too makes his Tardis disappear. This object collides narratives from a popular sci-fi television program with the histories and mute languages of minimalism: the glittering rhomboid brings to mind works by Robert Morris and Larry Bell who were making mirrored cubes at the same time the Doctor first appeared - the early sixties. Both their cubes and this Tardis wish to become ghostly and fugitive: indeed when we watch this box de-materialise we are witness to a number of disappearances: that of the Tardis: of the police box, whose form it has taken: of a structure of social and legal relationship that was facilitated by this box, of Robert Morris and the mute playful sternness of sixties art, of the genial Bobby on the beat who knew everybody’s name, knew who was a bad apple and who could keep the kids in check. A world moving irrevocably from the present to the past.
Formally, Mark Wallinger's work is extraordinarily diverse. He works with equal facility across sculpture, photography, film, video installation, painting, installation and text. But in this Tardis - as atypical of his other works as the other works are of each other - we find approaches and ideas and themes that re-occur across his practice. It has a range of references that run from the everyday and the particular to the meta-physical and mythic, linking particulars from sci-fi plots to ideas from religion and myth and which touch on a history of policing, of television, and the social and class structures of a country. It is notable for the easeful overlapping of different registers. Again and again his work presents us with forms which, like the Tardis, at first seem contained, sealed, almost mute, but which are revealed to hold within them doubles: or a multiplicity of presences and a diversity of states, where different things, constructs and, narratives occupy a mundane form, be this a bottle, a box, a bear, a pale man, or footage of people walking into an airport.
Between the first broadcast of Doctor Who and the present day, the artist travelled from childhood to maturity, the doctor materialised a thousand times and the policemen on the beat disappeared. Over the same period many of the concepts that shaped understanding in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries have slowly shifted tense. It has been a history of disappearance. Between that then and this now, defining narratives such as Nation, the Church, of Class have been eroded and made contingent by what Marx presciently described as the "constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation..." that is inherent in the workings of modern Capital. In addition the world has become newly defined by the electronic signal, a nebulous linkage of impulses and exchanges that denies previous boundaries and contains its own logics and imperatives. When Marx continued his sentence to write "All that is solid melts into air, all that is sacred profaned" it seemed at the time hyperbolic. Now it appears prophetic. Britain has been as a sort of experimental laboratory for these forces since the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, and the country has continued to be a petri dish for market-driven cultures. Thatcher, inspired by American economists, gave the market free reign across all areas of life dismantling organizations and structures that might impede its operations: After Thatcher, Blair continued this agenda and the two main British political parties share the ideology of privatization and minimal State regulation of 'the Market'. There is no real opposition, no articulation of another possibility. The difference between the parties is only a matter of language, of degree. It is no coincidence that the model of deregulated unfettered capital, set in aggressive opposition to the social communal structures of the state that still maintain across much of the European Economic Community, is called the 'Anglo-Saxon' model.
Mark Wallinger's practice maps how these changes shape the society of which he is part. He describes a world where the orders of the past may be decaying, but our profound need for symbolic order and a means of making sense remains; made perhaps greater by this slow retreat, and how this finds expressions in our lived experience, our everyday life, and how this desire can conjure up ghosts.
Upside Down and Back to Front the Spirit Meets the Optic in Illusion (1997), is a sparkling vortex of pun, metaphor and metonym. A bottle filled with clear liquid with the mechanism by which they dole out pub measures –an optic - on top (which indicates that the bottle should be, will be, the other way up with the neck pointing down when it is placed in its natural working state) is set on it base on a mirrored table such as you might find in cocktail bar. In our world, on this side of the mirror, the label is nearly impossible to read, its letters are inverted and reversed and nonsensical. It is only by looking into the world that lies tantalisingly on the other side of the glass barrier, can we see what it says. In this other dimension the bottle hangs down into space, and we can read the words: 'The Spirit' 'original and absolute, 100% proof.' Seeing it pointed down in the reflection reminds us that the label, the description, its nature even, will remain garbled and imperfect even when it is inverted on our side of the glass. Only on the other side that it can achieve its ideal form - a Platonic purity. (Although tantalizingly, there is a hint of imperfection even there, as the purity of alcohol in the UK used to be tested on a scale that runs to 172.5 for pure ethanol). We are to believe that this pure 'Spirit' is - in one way or another- the artist: bottled at source in Chigwell and labeled using his racing colours of violet white and green.
In this work the transformations between the actual and the ideal are largely enacted through the vehicle of language. As the blind striding figure in Angel (1997) jerkily enunciates. 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.' In systems developed from the 'religions of the book' the Talmud, Gemmatria, medieval theology, Fundamentalist Christianity the word has power, which is reflected in Wallinger's approaches and practice. Its combinations and operations, its resemblances, echoes puns and homophones have real significance and they make and define a 'reality' as much as they describe it. A word attached to an object makes it abstract, symbolic and so moves it from a physical into a metaphysical realm.
The Importance of being Earnest in Esperanto (1997) represents an alternative world and an ideal realm. Esperanto was invented in 1887 by a Polish eye specialist Dr Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof, as a universal second language that would further international peace and understanding. Nation was to speak unto nation and encourage a community with a global consciousness to come into being. It was humanist, modernist project for the perfectibility of mankind: The Old Testament after all represents the variety of human language as a curse imposed by God as punishment of mankind's ambition to build a tower 'that would reach into heaven.' Zamenhof sought to lift this curse. It is not a project that has survived the twentieth century: in 1911 there was discussion of replacing Chinese with Esperanto to modernise the country, nowadays only a few speak or understand the language. Wallinger found a footage of Oscar Wilde's sunny Edwardian comedy acted by Esperanto enthusiasts and presents the aging recording of the clumsy, touching, now incomprehensible performance, witnessed by a diverse and motley selection of empty seats.
Watching the man speaking words in his strange awkward and garbled locution in Angel, we become aware that the tape has been reversed. People on the flanking escalators are walking backwards up the stairs and listening to the strange swallowed surges and clips in the constituent consonants and vowels of the speech it become clear that each syllable must have been enunciated somehow in reverse so that when the video was run from the end back to the beginning the sounds would reconstitute themselves into sense. A vast realm of arcane and popular reference and association is opened up here: the Black Mass is a Christian one performed backwards. When record players allowed one to push the vinyl backwards against the needle, it was popularly believed that backwards satanic messages were hidden in the run-out grooves at the end of records by Led Zeppelin or Judas Priest to brainwash adolescent listeners made susceptible by glandular chemistry and/or drugs. Here however, the text of the creation of the world. At the end of the work, against a rising swell of music from Handel’s Zadok the Priest the messenger is carried away by the moving staircase up to the vanishing point of heaven. Are the realms here, in the Angel Station Islington, the bottom of the longest escalator in Europe themselves infernal? Is our sun-glassed angel echoing or enacting the harrowing of hell, where between the time of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, Jesus descended into Hades to bring salvation to the souls held captive there since the beginning of time? If so they seem remarkably unbothered: there is the occasional bemused stare, a single flash of a camera, as they look at this unexpected, incomprehensible enactment unfolding in the middle their daily commute.
Oxymoron (1998) proposes an ideal state through reversals of colour rather than of space. The Union Jack of the British Isles combines the crosses of St George, representing England, St Andrew, representing Scotland and St Patrick, representing Ireland, into a unitary flag representing the political union of Great Britain. In Ireland this was the banner of colonial oppression and the imposition of a schismatic church - the Church of England – for the majority Catholic population. After the South of Ireland gained independence - as Eire - this role was maintained in the North, where the IRA and other republican forces were locked in a vicious struggle both with the new Protestant majority and the British army. Wallinger substitutes the complementary colours of the Irish tricolour for the red white and blue of the Union Flag to make a banner that is both a contradiction in terms, as the title implies, but which allows an ideal state, an alternative history, a science fiction resolution of opposites, to momentarily flutter into being.
The Underworld (2004) is a ring of twenty-one video monitors, facing inwards with a cacophonous wave of roaring coming from the speakers. Each screen is showing footage from a recording of Verdi's Requiem and each is inverted, so we see the singers and orchestra hanging down into space, their mouths opening and closing. The performance has been cut up into its constituent twenty one movements, rather than being played in their sequential order these are run simultaneously to fill the ring with light and image and to generate this fiendish noise. In the eighth circle of Hell described by Dante, the Simoniacs hang upside down for eternity in baptismal fonts, their feet on fire.
By taking images for our everyday lived experience and refracting them through the ontological and mythical constructions of the past they speak powerfully of the mechanisms of loss and our desire for syntax and meaningful structure. Threshold to the Kingdom (2000) represents the doors at the airport through which people arriving from overseas pass through into the international arrival lounge as a possible entry to heaven: where immigration perhaps has taken on the role of St Peter. People emerge after their flight and cross this barrier into their new domain. Their movements are in slow-motion to the background of Allegri's Miserere. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (2007) replays footage of men plunging to earth from one of those television shows that focus on accidents and mishaps and broadcasts them as the occasion for impossible mirth. Through the work's title a register is generated that articulates their efforts as a heroic striving to break free of terrestrial bonds, challenging the Gods, an act that has held human meaning for thousands of years; in mythology, in the painting by Breugel and the poetry of W.H. Auden: (who returns this action back to the everyday: "About suffering they were never wrong / The Old Masters; how well, they understood Its human position; how it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along")
Although they are profoundly shaped by loss, these works are not expressions of nostalgia: they are not proposing a return of a cannon, of a unifying grand narrative that runs from the Classical world through the St James Bible and Shakespeare up to the dawn of Modernity. They speak of our distance from this community as well as our proximity, and how, in the contemporary world these returns also conjure up a double, a darkside, of superstition and fear, a universe that is supernatural and shaped by forces beyond our control: where 48% of people questioned in a poll for Fox news in the USA in 2003.believed that they had witnessed a miracle. Certainly Forever and Ever (2002) seems to propose Christian theology as an endless loop of sin, of penitence and delayed salvation. It takes the form of a vast möbius strip of aluminium covered with the red and white stripes that indicate hazard and a gothic text running its endless length which reads "O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us." This is the penultimate line of the liturgy, the final line of which is: "O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world: grant us thy peace." The work suggests an endless repetition of supplication and a repeated sacrifice by the ‘Lamb of God’ - Christ - to expiate our sins, but without the possibility of end, of resolution, of peace, which is endlessly deferred, The End (2006) is a projection of a list 'in order of appearance' of named characters in the Old Testament and the start of the New up to the appearance of Jesus, as if they were rolling credits at the end of a film. This can be read as a reference to the 'Charlton Heston as Moses in the Ten Commandments type Biblical epic and how these figures and texts have provided material for heroic imaginings and representations for the last thousand years, perhaps how the Old Testament might itself be seen itself as a vast fiction, a collection of foundation myths of a tribal people. Alternatively, this list of names has other uses and implications. It recalls the genealogy used by Creationists to give a date for the creation of the universe and the world, not in the billions of years of the geological and astronomical sciences, but in the thousands: adding together the life-spans of Adam, Cain, Noah, Moses and so forth, Bishop Usher arrived at the date of 4004 B.C. for the world's creation. The phrase 'The End' carries another loading. There was a great debate in the18th century as to whether the Jesus of the New Testament was the Messiah as predicted by the Old Testament and therefore the fulfillment of its prophecy, or whether he represented a new settlement between Man and God, which superceded the old. The decision that he was part of this syntax allowed the rather more atavistic and directive directions and beliefs of the Old Testament to become central in the evolution and construction of Christian Fundamentalism. A belief in Old Testament prophecy shapes the support of the Christian right in the USA for Israel, as the Temple in Jerusalem must be re-built if Christ is ever to re-appear so initiating the 'End of Days'.
It is difficult to think of any other major contemporary artist who so consistently references Christian iconography and biblical reference in their practice. His expressions are even more unusual as they are not driven by the iconoclastic imperatives that are the more common default position for the progressive artist of the European avant-garde when dealing with issues of religion and the Church, nor are they the awed eternal expressions of a mystic. His references draw on the British non-conformist Christian tradition rather than the European Catholic one. The country has a complex and nuanced relationship with faith: in common with much of Europe a small - and declining - number of people actually go to church: under six percent worship on a regular basis in the UK as opposed to over fifty percent in the USA. Nor is the political arena much influenced by 'Faith' issues. As an advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair famously said "we don't 'do' God". The Church of England maintains a discrete, albeit agonized, presence in daily life. The Protestant tradition however is also one of dissent. The English Civil War between Royalists and Republicans was fuelled by the imperatives of Puritanism and the history of progressive politics has been inextricably entwined with faith groups who have privileged freedom of conscience, self-sufficiency and a non- mediated relationship with the divine, in what has become a tradition of radical non-conformism. From Diggers to Methodists, form Milton to Wesley, it has been at the forefront of change and reform and, without the burden on original sin, the imagining of perfectibility. It speaks in the work of William Blake, who saw the outlines of a 'New Jerusalem', where Christ might walk again, under the 'dark Satanic Mills' of his newly industrialised country. Conversely, these non-conformist and dissenting sects: the Baptists, the Quakers, the Presbyterians, with their ethos of self reliance, self improvement and duty as moral imperatives, helped shape the creation of the new entrepreneurial class which drove forward the Industrial Revolution. History books used to describe how in the 19th century a combination of Methodism and Chartism uniquely redirected energies that were otherwise expressed as revolution across Europe.
Although now only nominally a Christian country, Christian images and languages have long shaped how potential has been imagined. They have been formative in the constructions of culture, class, conscience and the traditions of liberty as well as superstition and oppression. Wallinger's work draws upon these many narratives. We can sense its strange certainties in the lonely figure of Brian Haw, the man who originated the protest that Wallinger recreated as State Britain (2007), we can feel its transformative power in the swelling chords of Allegri's Miserere in Threshold to the Kindom, we can see its darker impulses in the ungainly figure of 'Blind Faith' - part Roy Orbison part Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter - as he strides towards us with his white stick and sunglasses.
In the development of his work and concerns from the early exploration of nation and class to his investigation of (other) belief systems Wallinger has reflected and anticipated profound effects of the fall of Berlin Wall. This event marked an accelerated evaporation of the ideas of class and political ideology which allowed individuals and groups to analyse their position in society and imagine and propose alternatives. Concepts and identities that have been central to how 'opposition' is imagined have become hazy and ethereal since the first crowds, grinning and celebratory, crossed the abandoned borders from the east into the west. Enlightenment values of scientific rationalism, of testability, of individual questioning that have underpinned notions of progress from Montaigne through Voltaire onwards have become increasingly qualified. We find increasingly the atomised certainties of theology occupying territories once inhabited by ideology. Beliefs and positions are relativised: things are seen as true because they are believed in rather than believed in because they are true: Homeopathy has the same credence as medical science, Creationist ideas can be taught in State supported academies at the same time as Evolution. Any position is understood to be one option among others. Ideas of direction, of development, become subsumed in a Brownian motion of equivalence.
Sleeper (2004-5) was shot in Berlin over a continuous two and a half hour section of a ten night long performance, fifteen years after the wall fell and shows a bear moving slowly through the vast empty spaces of a modernist building at night. He/it sits down in away that's comic and a little sad; he shuffles around, gesturing. The building is like a cage. How did he get there? Our bear doesn't really seem to be doing anything much. Our bear is many things and nearly nothing. But it’s not a bear, it's Mark Wallinger in a dusty fusty bear suit. Shot from outside, through the vast glass walls of the Neue Nationalgalerie, Mies van der Rohe's iconic building in Berlin, the work offers us possibilities to narrate our bear in many different ways: he is the Symbolic Bear representing the city of Berlin, he is the Enchanted Bear that the evil dwarf transformed the prince into from the Singing Ringing Tree, a television program made in Communist East Germany in the sixties and broadcast in the UK but never seen in West Germany. He is the Mythic Bear from the dark Germanic forest of a Grimm's fairy tale. Perhaps he is the Russian Bear, or the Bear of Nature trapped in the glass cube of culture, of modernity. But he’s not even real. Ultimately our bear is always returned to a man dressed up as a bear, in a theatrical hire suit shuffling around an empty space. Our bear is all and none of these identities, they are potential not actual. The term 'Sleeper' comes from the Intelligence Services and signifies those in the pay of a government buried deep in a foreign organisation, just doing what should be done day to day, not drawing attention to themselves, unremarkable. In theory they are agents of an opposing power, perhaps an opposing ideology, but whilst they are a sleeper they remain dormant, entirely mute, latent.
For most of the twentieth century the 'Outsider' figure was a foundation myth of the revolutionary imagination. The individual who operates alone, without the received beliefs of society, who, agnostic, atheist, forges their own credo in an uncaring world. A person who is without illusion and whose forensic glare reveals the emptiness of heaven. This individual is a logical outcome of the interrogative agenda of the Enlightenment. It is Meursault in L'Etranger, opening himself up to the indifference of the Universe.
Given a social sphere that seems increasingly to be without unifying narrative or ontological drive: it is the figure who has belief that stands apart. Revealed Truth provides a basis and impetus for change and action. This may be benign or be possessed of what Yeats described as 'a passionate certainty'. In a deracinated materialist culture it becomes a node for proposition and opposition: It is this complex return that the pale presence of Wallinger's Ecce Homo (1999) conjures up.
Originally conceived for an empty plinth in Trafalgar square as part of a public commission to find a modern work of art to join the bronze figures of lions dignitaries and generals from a previous age that surround it, Ecce Homo is a body-cast of a male figure. It is white, made from resin mixed with marble dust. He is individual, unremarkable, his eyes are closed, his hands are tied behind him and his head girdled by a band of gold-plated barbed wire. When standing on the plinth this slight figure seemed dwarfed by the scale of architecture and sculpture around him, and this vulnerability is maintained when we see the figure in a gallery.It is so restrained, of the world, mundane that it recalls the actors and students and street entertainers who, covered in pigment, stand motionless on boxes in parks and avenues across Europe as living statues for tourists as much as it reminds us of a marble statue in a museum or gallery.
Much of the (overwhelmingly positive) public reaction to Ecce Homo took it to be a Humanist representation of Christ: the title refers to the moment that Pilate presents Christ for judgment saying 'behold the man!' This is a man alone, betrayed, stripped of association and persecuted for his beliefs, trapped in a trial that has as its inevitable outcome his torture and death: events which lead him to ask why he has been forsaken by God. The pale figure, alone on the plinth talks of a shared humanity, of the oppressed and downtrodden, the persecuted, the vulnerable, the scorned. His palpable isolation speaks of the condition of man. This is: 'The Son of Man'.
The figure is also the opposites of these qualities: It is supra-human, the Divine given form on earth. A unique manifestation of the God-head: 'God the Son' which, according to the Nicene Creed is of the same substance as God (and is both fully divine and fully human). This is the miraculous body that, daily in the Catholic masses across the world is 'truly present' in the bread and wine consumed by the faithful in thousands of churches in hundreds of countries. It is his sacrifice on the cross that gives us hope, that redeems the sin that we have been tainted with since the fall and the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden. The different understandings of this figure and its relation to God have given rise to different heresies across history, Arianism, Ebionitism, Monophytism, Docetism and so forth. What you believe this statue to represent fundamentally determines your understanding, of your being and your place, in the world, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe. What we see in front of us here is not a statement as much as it is a question, the response to which defines everything.
Like any good work of art Ecce Homo shifts meaning as contexts change. The statue was conceived and made two years before the attacks on the World Trade Centre. After this event and after the Madrid, Bali, Istanbul and London bombings, the innumerable suicide attacks in Iraq, we cannot help but conceive of the relationship between the human and divine in different ways: Individuals who see themselves as messengers of heaven take on another loading. Cambridge University historian Christopher Andrew has calculated that in the 1960's there was not a single religious or cult-based terrorist group anywhere, and as recently as 1980 only two of the world's 64 known terrorist groups were religious. Since then, however, Shi'a extremists alone have been responsible for more than a quarter of the deaths from terrorism. The fact that the figure in Ecce Homo is so normal, so unremarkable, might now becomes a cause of unease. There seems to be nothing to indicate his elevated state. He is what the security forces would describe as a 'clean-skin'. This puts a particular spin on the fashionable sixties and seventies constructions of Jesus as a 'freedom fighter' promoting love and redistribution analogous to other good looking charismatic long haired leaders like Che Guevara.
A similar sea-change has taken place with Passport Control (1988). This is series of photographs of the artist, taken in the photo-booths that take images approved for use in passports. Wallinger has variously altered his appearance with a felt tip pen and some Tippex. On one photograph, he's drawn on glasses, on another he’s blacked up his face. In others he's wearing a beard and a turban, an Arab headdress and moustache. He has the full beard, the ringlets and the black homburg of the Hassidic Jew, or a brimless cap and goatee, pulling up the corners of his eyes with his fingers to become Chinese. Originally these works spoke of ethnicity and identity but now we read them also in terms of disguise, in terms of religion and pace Threshold to the Kingdom, imagining which heaven they believe they will be entering.
In 2001 Brian Haw started his protest against the Iraq war. Over time this developed into a roadside barricade of images, photos, banners and texts that ran for 40 meters on the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament. On the 23rd of May 2006, Police dismantled this under powers granted them by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act of 2005, an act the Government had legislated in part to be able to remove the embarrassment of this display. In 2007 Mark Wallinger presented a detailed simulacrum of the barrier as it had existed at its fullest extent and installed it in a line running the length of the Duveen Galleries of Tate Britain.
The Iraq war had triggered the biggest peacetime protest march ever seen in England. Hundreds of thousands of people walked through London in a demonstration that seemed to have no effect at all on Government policy. Brian Haw's solo protest is the last trace of this mass mobilisation. In contrast to most of the marchers his action has been determined and propelled by a fierce Christian faith. This provides the charge that drives his moral crusade and has allowed him to continue when others have become increasingly disengaged and disillusioned with politics. The supernatural basis of his beliefs serves to set him outside of this mainstream political expression. Instead he is 'bearing witness' to the evils of this world like an early Christian in the desert.
Wallinger started documenting the protest before it was taken down and his re-materialisation of the barricade in the gallery allowed people to wander along its length and focus on its components -Teddy bears, messages of support, Banksy Graphics, B.liar posters, horrifying photographs of a bandaged Iraqi Child with eyes burnt by depleted uranium. Cutting across this display was a black line that had been taped to the gallery floor and this gave the first installation of the work in Tate Britain a particular charge. Owing to its desire to legislate against protest, the government passed an act that created an exclusion zone of "no more than one kilometre in a straight line from the point nearest to it in Parliament Square (Serious Organised Crime Act 2005 138.3)". In this area the Home Secretary and the Police could, if so minded, prevent any protest taking place. State Britain crossed into this zone. On one side of the line Wallinger's right to expression was curtailed, on the other side of the line it wasn't. By crossing the line State Britain raised fundamental questions of representation and being. Did the fact that this was a reproduction of Brian Haw's original protest stop it being a protest: had it become denatured when it was transmogrified into art? Did its representation mean it was exempt from law?
The work also operates as history painting, a mourning of, and exhortation to, ideals and past glories. The fence of cardboard and bears and bottles is a distant echo of the barricade of fallen comrades and soldiers over which Delacroix represents Liberty leading the French people to their freedom. State Britain serves to memorialise the erasure of protest both within popular imagination and the political arena. It is perhaps the most important work that the war has yet produced.
Haw's demonstration - an expression of moral rage, driven by religious
belief and faith rather than ideology - Wallinger also challenges the
elisions of current political expression under the new hegemonies of
capital and poses important questions as to how politics can function
in a post-ideological world. What can they be built on? What is their
ideological basis? Or can they now only be expressed through the darker
irrationalities of belief? Mark Wallinger continues to develop one of
the most necessary and compelling practices in contemporary art. He
has refused to repeat himself or commodify his expression into productions
designed to fulfill the expectations of an audience or marketplace.
His work talks about how we might construct meaning in the world that
is evolving around us, how we relate to the past that is fading behind
us, about loss, about ghosts, and how the future might be imagined.
State Britain, Ecce Homo, Sleeper, all of his works,
refuse the emptiness of easy answers. It is difficult to imagine more