Fiona Banner blew everyone away with this massive new installation at London's Tate Britain. Harrier and Jaguar bring the highly-charged physicality of two real fighter jets, both previously in active military service, into the unexpected setting of the neoclassical Duveen Galleries.
Banner has long been fascinated by the emblem of the fighter plane. For the artist, these objects represent the “opposite of language,” used when communication fails. Bringing humans and machine into close proximity, she explores the tension between the intellectual perception of the fighter plane and physical experience of the object.
The suspended Sea Harrier transforms machine into captive bird. Suspended vertically, the aircraft's surface has been reworked with hand-painted graphic feather markings, mimicking its namesake, the Harrier Halk. A Jaguar lies belly up on the floor, its posture suggestive of a submissive animal. Stripped and polished, its surface functions as a shifting mirror, exposing the audience to its own reactions. Harrier and Jaguar remain ambiguous objects implying both captured beast and fallen trophy.
“It's hard to believe that these planes are designed for function, because they are beautiful,” says Banner. “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.”