Fiona Banner is to collaborate with the London-based Archive of Modern Conflict in a new project for PEER. Rather than delving into the archive to draw out, spotlight or re-contextualise specific material for special scrutiny, Banner has elected to commission a new body of work by award winning Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin who she briefed to explore the City of London and to reflect its activities, behaviours, customs and costume through the lens of conflict photography. In a subversion of roles, Banner will then present a selection of these images to be accessioned into the archive, to be filed under the heading Heart of Darkness, 2014.
Banner has taken Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (1899) as her starting point for a number of projects in recent years. At PEER she has created a rich and complex installation that combines drawing, photography, projection, sound and artefacts and continues her long-held fascination with Conrad’s disturbing narrative into the moral and psychological depths of man’s inhumanity to man. Conrad’s story begins on the Thames with Marlow giving an account of his steamboat journey into the Congo on board the Roi de Belges. He was in pursuit of a renegade ivory trader, Mr Kurtz, whose management of his enslaved workers had seriously disintegrated. At the end of this doomed journey, the seemingly self-appointed demigod Kurtz has died and Marlow bears the scars of having witnessed both extreme savagery and the horrific effects of unsuppressed greed. The title of the exhibition is misappropriated from a key line in the text that reads, ‘Mistah Kurtz – he dead.’
Since the 1990s much of Banner’s work has taken the theme of conflict as its subject. This was seen to its most dramatic effect at Tate Britain with her installation Harrier and Jaguar 2010. Like many artists of her generation Banner has lived just outside the boundaries of London’s financial district since the early 90s and she has long been fascinated with the area’s close proximity to the square mile and yet its apparent separation from it. PEER too is approximately half a mile from the City of London – its densely developed, sky-scraping billion-pound megaliths are clearly visible from Hoxton Street and create a somewhat uncanny backdrop to the shops and low-rise council housing that characterise this busy local neighbourhood. This juxtaposition is not lost on Banner. These massive financial institutions, trading floors, men and women in suits, art collections, drinking culture, luxury goods and edge-of-the-City strip clubs provide Banner with a landscape that parodies Conrad’s narrative. Hundreds of Pellegrin’s photographs are projected in a tightly choreographed sequence; massive floor to ceiling graphite drawings depict close-ups of pinstripe suits enlarged to become huge swathes of dark drapery. This iconic cloth of ceremonial City dress is then metamorphosed again, this time in microcosm as a design for the manicurists’ nail art.
In 1997 Fiona Banner wrote THE NAM, a 1000 page all text flick book recounting her descriptions of five well-known Vietnam movies, including Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which uses Heart of Darkness as its narrative template. More recently, Banner worked with David Kohn architects to realise the Roi des Belges, a one-bedroom building based on the boat that Conrad captained up the Congo in 1890, the journey echoed in Heart of Darkness. It was here that Banner staged the world premiere performance of Orson Welles’ unrealised film script Heart of Darkness, with actor Brian Cox. Banner works in East London where she founded her imprint The Vanity Press in 1997. Fiona Banner is represented by Frith Street Gallery and Galerie Barbara Thumm .
Multi award winning conflict photographer Paolo Pellegrin joined Magnum Photos in 2001. He was a contract photographer for Newsweek for ten years. Pellegrin is winner of many awards, including ten World Press Photo awards and numerous Photographer of the Year awards, a Leica Medal of Excellence, an Olivier Rebbot Award, the Hansel-Meith Preis, and the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award. In 2006, he was assigned the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography. He lives in London, and is currently working on a long- term project in the Congo.
FIONA BANNER Mistah Kurtz – He Not Dead 5 June to 26 July 2014