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X Marks the Bökship

Neons by Fiona Banner

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X marks the Bökship is showing two neon works by artist Fiona Banner

'Bones' by Fiona Banner

In the window is a selection of neon punctuation from a series called ‘Bones’.

Extract from ‘The Bastard Word’ Interview with Greg Burke, 2007.

Fiona Banner: ‘Neon has mainly commercial applications, but actually I always thought of it as being kind of an urban nature—you know, instead of trees you have neon, or something. It’s too simple to say it is commercial, because actually, it’s romantic and alluring. Neon’s relationship to advertising is interesting because advertising speaks to us on quite a primitive level.

I like your idea of it relating neon to early forms of language. The first neon pieces I made were from found bits of broken neon signs. I found a load of letters in a skip near my house and then because I walk a lot, I started finding more here and there. I welded together the bits of broken glass and remade them into abstract shapes, filled them with gas and fired them up to get them working again. They became symbols without an index—I thought they were kind of pre-language or post-language. I called them ‘un-broken signs,’ though thinking about it now they were kind of ‘un-signs,’ because they had no signifier.

I wanted to work directly with neon and just get into the stuff of it: I never really understood what it was. When you see art neon, it is so professionally produced, the material becomes invisible. I wanted to get behind the language of the material: sometimes by doing things badly, or unprofessionally, you reveal things. It takes years and years to learn how to bend neon professionally, and when I started this, I had zero experience. So I was working with neon, but instead of making words—the words one expects neon to make, or the words it actually predicts—I ended up feeling like I was un-making this thing called ‘neon’ in that it is sort of all-wrong. So it is an alphabet—not words—words fallen apart or yet to be made, but not words themselves. The neon forms themselves are reaching as far as they can technically to form the letters. It feels like the form of the letter is just within its (my) grasp. The letters are like when you just learn to speak, or when you can’t speak when you want to; it’s a bid for language, trying to get your mouth or head round it. In an odd way, it is like being really drunk.

Greg Burke: The sense of the tentative in the ‘Nude’ series and the sense of your own struggle can be seen to carry through to Every Word Unmade (2007), the neon alphabet piece you have recently finished for the exhibition at The Power Plant. Is it crucial that you handmade the neon letters yourself and that you are not a seasoned practitioner?

Yea … Because I have no experience working in glass, the neon is kind of crappily made. The piece reflects a continuing struggle to control the medium—the language if you like—and that in turn reflects the struggle to control the meaning. I did not practice bending glass, and there was no trial, but then bending the “A,” bending the “B,” bending the “C” … is the practice if you see what I mean. “O” was the very first letter I made, and then “R.” “OR.” Then I filled in the gaps. Making this work was like regressing, and getting back to some kind of very simple battle with language. I mean here we are now, impossibly moving around this work in words, trying to fix something that can’t be fixed, you can’t fix meaning …

I called the neon alphabet Every Word Unmade (2007); I was thinking about a kind of un-making of language, like you could make every word and every story imaginable from the alphabet. All the potential is there but none of the words, the fragile, wobbly letters—a byproduct of incrementally, inexpertly bending hot glass—with the electrical circuit and gas, makes it like one big constant stutter … words about to be made or words un-made. Personally, I am very conscious of the brilliance of language and communication—I mean it is the blood to our thoughts—but also I find it very frustrating and I have a lot of fear about language and communication. So the physicality of this piece addresses that too.

After making the alphabet, I then made punctuation in neon. These pieces, I thought, looked like ancient weaponry or like something that had been dug up and excavated—skeletal—like the very bones of language, so I called the neon punctuation Bones (2007).

On the run up to Christmas Fiona installed ‘Star’ a piece made from reassembled found pieces of neon.


Written by bökship

January 19, 2009 at 7:58 pm

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