Mark Wallinger: the Modern Day Caravaggio?
Have you ever wanted to do the Great North Run? It is something that has never appealed to me (my excuse is that my knees ache too much), but on 13th September I staggered home feeling like I had done it. And in world record time as well. How so?
Last Thursday saw the premiere of Mark Wallinger’s film Camera Running, commissioned as part of Great North Run Culture. Being a Wallinger fan, I made sure I booked my ticket in good time for what was trailed as Mark Wallinger being interviewed at the Baltic, where his exhibition Site runs until 14th October. But being somewhat disorganised, I failed to notice that the event lasted two hours.
So I took my seat and was then faced with Camera Running. The film started at the start line of the Great North Run and then it rolled forward at the pace at which elite athletes complete the run, about one hour. After 30 seconds it dawned on me that I would be doing the run or at least sitting it out for the duration of the run. A silent film with nothing to look at but whatever the runners see as they pound their way along the road from Newcastle to South Shields.
I spent the next 10 minutes trying to suppress my laughter at having been hoodwinked by my own ineptitude. (Wallinger later said that this was an acceptable reaction, generously acknowledging the imprisonment of his audience.) But then like all good athletes (so I have been told) I settled into the rhythm of the race and began to appreciate things.
At the runner’s pace, one suddenly becomes much more aware of the gradient of the route. Undulations that are smoothed out by a squeeze of the car’s accelerator are much more apparent for the runner moving at 13 miles per hour. At that pace, the cameos of the everyday come to the fore. The boy running across the road, waving at the camera before reaching the sanctuary of the temporary loo. The man sitting with his back to the runners, reading his paper, waiting for the elite athletes to grab his attention.
The appreciation of the every day is a feature of Wallinger’s work. Or as he put himself at the post run hose down, ‘Duchamp’s gesture is the revolutionary moment we’re still dealing with’. This is a theme that runs throughout Baltic’s excellent exhibition, Site: the importance of humble things.
When does a collection of bricks become a wall? In The Other Wall Wallinger numbered bricks and had them randomly assembled into a wall running the length of the cavernous space. The numbering makes one see each brick as an individual and yet it is part of a collective. Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall comes to mind.
The black and white squares of the extended chessboard and the stones, randomly collected, but carefully placed on the squares. 65,536 in total. The binary nature of the black and white, the significance of the number 65,536 in computing terms. It is out of such simple things, the ones and zeros that computers use to assemble their varied magic from the laptop on which I write this blog to the photograph that was taken and which you see here. The simplicity of the individual is an integral part of the complexity of the whole.
Wallinger’s pebbles lead one’s eye to the vista of his scaffolders engaging in their ‘own kind of ballet’, Construction Site. None of that poncey stuff you see at Covent Garden this is the ballet of the everyday. The assembling and dismantling of the scaffolding is mesmerising. But then as Wallinger said, ‘We live life as an illusion….a three dimensional world viewed in two dimensions.’ Not just a comment on our obsession with screens (television, film, computer, phone), but the way our brains process the information gathered by our eyes.
So Mark Wallinger is like a latter day Caravaggio, the painter of the whore and the carouser, whose subjects revealed an inner depth that they did not know they possessed. Hidden depths and hidden realities. Ecce Homo. It is a big troubling world that we live in and Wallinger guides us to see its beauty and also the enormity of how small a part of it each of us really is.
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