Your Collection: Chinook by Fiona Banner
Fiona Banner, Chinook (2013), 16 mm film transferred to high-definition video, 10:14 minutes. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 2015
Fiona Banner’s 10-minute video Chinook (2013) begins with an eponymous Chinook helicopter taking off at the annual Waddington International Airshow in the U.K. Cheers and claps from the crowd fill the air, as the pilot performs a series of aerobatics that make it hard to turn away from the spinning rotors as they dip and swirl across the sky. The audience in the film appears seduced by the spectacle. The audience watching the film at the National Gallery may be, too — at least until the film changes in colour and sound, inferring a darker view of what the helicopter represents.
“In Chinook we are caught in the trap of understanding what something could represent — a military aircraft being a tool of war — yet the Chinook is also just an incredible feat of human engineering and technology,” says Jonathan Shaughnessy, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada. “Banner wants to draw attention to how we take for granted the military industrial complex that’s around us daily and in the news, and how this speaks to the most extraordinary of human achievements on the one hand, and at the same time the most devastating consequences of those achievements.”
Fiona Banner brings all of these ideas together in a compelling manner. Born in Merseyside, England, in 1966, she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2002. In 2010, she was awarded the Duveen Hall commission at Tate Britain for a project that placed two decommissioned British fighter planes in the public spaces of the gallery. Over the past two decades, she has created works aimed at exploring the links between war and its popular representation, which, especially in the case of Hollywood films, subjects the consequences of violence to a palette of heroism and seduction. Chinook, says Shaughnessy, represents an important culmination of this strong focus within Banner’s oeuvre.
An earlier work titled The Nam (1997), described by the artist as a “1,000-page all-text flick book,” contains exhaustive descriptions of six popular Hollywood Vietnam War films (Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now!, Born on the Fourth of July, Hamburger Hill and Platoon). Blending their narratives together, Banner creates what might be viewed as an “11-hour super-movie” script. In 2004, Banner created another artist book titled All the World’s Fighter Planes, which, as its name suggests, consisted of cut-out illustrations of all military jets in service that year.
The artist explains her fascination with the subject in Fiona Banner: The Bastard Word, the exhibition catalogue for her 2007 mid-career survey at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto, featuring graphite drawings, video projections, sculpture, and book and neon works. Saying her fighter planes are “sensual,” Banner added that, “Through something sensual you can say something about the nature of brutality, our relationship to it. They are intimate; but then, the way we see these images on the news, in the paper, is quite intimate, and domestic, though it often doesn’t seem that way.” She goes on to say, “I was just trying to work out why these images, when seen in the media, are so exciting and often beautiful, though they represent something repulsive . . . the planes [in the pencil drawings] look like birds or something from nature, yet they represent anti-nature.”
Shaughnessy pulls out one moment in Chinook that speaks well to Banner’s thesis. Near the end of the helicopter demonstration, the announcer for the air show asks the helicopter to take a bow, which it does. The image of a helicopter acting like a human stage performer, or a circus animal, says Shaughnessy, is “unsettling” because of the way the war machine has been anthropomorphized — and made both likable and endearing — much to the delight of the watching crowd.
Chinook is on view in the upper contemporary galleries at the National Gallery of Canada.