Tate Britain has unveiled its new Duveens Commission, Harrier and Jaguar, by Fiona Banner. Banner’s largest work to date, Harrier and Jaguar brings the highly-charged physicality of two real fighter jets, both previously in active military service, into the unexpected setting of the neoclassical Duveen Galleries. Harrier and Jaguar has been specially devised for the Tate Britain Duveens Commission 2010, supported by Sotheby’s.
In the South Duveens, a Sea Harrier jet is suspended vertically, its bulk spanning floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Mimicking its namesake the harrier hawk, the aircraft’s surface has been reworked with handpainted graphic feather markings – the cockpit, the eyes, the nose cone, the beak – and hung nose pointing towards the floor, bringing to mind a trussed bird.
In the North Duveens, a Sepecat Jaguar lies belly-up on the floor, its elegant, elongated body traces the length the gallery. Stripped of paint and polished to reveal a metallic surface, the aircraft becomes a mirror that reflects back its surroundings and exposes the audience to its own reactions. Harrier and Jaguar achieves a powerful presence loaded with the seductive and yet troubling qualities of these objects of war.
Fiona Banner said: “It’s hard to believe that these planes are designed for function, because they are beautiful. But they are absolutely designed for function, as a bird or prey is, and that function is to kill. That we find them beautiful brings into question the very notion of beauty, but also our own intellectual and moral position. I am interested in that clash between what we feel and what we think.”
Penelope Curtis, Director of Tate Britain, said: “The power of Banner’s project lies in its simple but unlikely juxtaposition: two fighter jets in a suite of neo-classical galleries.”
A fascination with language and signs is central to Fiona Banner’s practice. The emblem of the fighter jet recurs throughout her work, part of an ongoing enquiry into how signs translate experience. They appeared in pencil drawings she made at art college and then later in her first ‘wordscape’ in 1994 which transcribed the film Top Gun into a frame-by-frame written account. Aircraft are also present in more recent work where the artist has created Airfix models of all the war planes currently in service throughout the world and a taxonomy of fighter-plane nicknames. Harrier and Jaguar extends the artist’s exploration of these themes whilst constituting a dramatic new departure in terms of its monumental scale and the use of actual fighter jets.
Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Europe, Lord Poltimore, commented: “Tate Britain’s Duveens Commission is among the art scene’s most celebrated events and Sotheby’s is extremely proud to once again be supporting it, and Tate, one of the world’s leading public art institutions.”
Banner’s Harrier and Jaguar is the latest in a series of sculpture displays in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain. The contemporary sculpture commissions have been an annual event for three years since 2008, through the generous support of Sotheby’s. Artists who have previously undertaken the Commission include Eva Rothschild (2009), Martin Creed (2008), Mark Wallinger (2007), Michael Landy (2004), Anya Gallaccio (2002) and Mona Hatoum (2000). The series builds on a long tradition of exhibitions in the Duveen Galleries, which has included memorable installations by Richard Long, Richard Serra and Luciano Fabro.