Ikon recently held the exhibition by Fiona Banner between 10 October 2015 – 17 January 2016.
I visited Ikon pre-Christmas after not being to the gallery in a few years. The building itself is always impressive. Housed in a former school, its gothic exterior is nestled amongst modern restaurants and bars; it’s one of the few buildings in Birmingham that nods to a pre-WW2 city.
It’s almost impossible not to visit the café and the gift shop (great independent gifts, prints and books). One of the best things about Ikon is that it is completely free, there’s no hierarchy of ticket payments, and it’s comfortable enough to amble around undisturbed too.
Scroll Down and Keep on Scrolling is a comprehensive show that spans Banner’s work over 25 years. I love a retrospective look at an artist’s career, it’s less stagnant than a single theme and you can see their progression over time. Located on the upper floor within an ecclesiastical white space, you enter the exhibition to a poster collage entitled The Man next to an over-sized coffee table book; Not so Much a Coffee Table Book as a Coffee Table, which is a blown up version of the epic publication The Nam, containing whole scripts of Vietnam films transcribed. The lighting in the room inverts the colours, creating a sensory experience like you’ve accidentally dropped acid and it’s 1979.
In the next room, illuminated and un-missable is The Bastard Word (herein lies your photo opportunity kids). A closer look at the wallpaper sees Arsewoman in Wonderland. With more profanity and neon, it’s a written description of a porn film of the same title, directed and produced by, and starring Tyffany Minx and her friends. Written 15 years ago, the work refers to a genre of porn that was loosely tied to narrative art house cinema. Banner received a nomination for the Turner prize for this piece in 2002.
Banner explores the physical space of the gallery in Work; the glass scaffolding sits precariously in the middle of the gallery floor; much like a chocolate teapot its functionality is removed and so doesn’t work at all. She similarly inverts reality in Breathing Bag, creating an uncanny effect on the viewer. The Banner aesthetic was not only visible in the gallery, it was ingrained in all typography on the gallery’s website and marketing used for the exhibition, supporting the visual ‘wordscapes’ Banner uses throughout the exhibition. You can download the associated, artist designed font here:
Banner’s credentials, starting out as one of the Young British Artists, are strongly evident in this collection. The most powerful themes link to violence, sex, language and feminism. The collection creates nostalgia for art created for sensationalism, to shock and communicate a unique message. We are all a little bit numb to it now, but taking my ‘selfie’ next to a gargantuan, neon bastard sign still had its thrill.
Fiona Banner: Scroll Down and Keep on Scrolling has now finished. The Ikon gallery exhibitions continue with Janet Mendelsohn: Varna Road, Dinh Q. Le: The Colony and Kelly Mark: 108 Leyton Ave. all starting this week.