Mark Wallinger

Chigwell UK 1959, lives and works in London, UK

The work of Mark Wallinger is very diverse. Though trained as a painter, he also employs the media of photography, video, performance, sculpture and installations. In addition to this, language plays a significant role. In his work Wallinger raises social, political and religious issues, often with remarkable lightness. With the much-discussed State Britain, he won the Turner Prize in 2007. 

In State Britain hundreds of banners, war photographs, protest signs, bloodstained articles clothing, stuffed bears and flags are strung across the exhibition space. The work is a meticulous reconstruction of the 'wailing wall' with which peace activist Brian William Haw (1949-2011) gave power to his protest on Parliament Square in London for many years. When Wallinger photographed his sprawling protest in early 2006, Haw had already been camping out across from the Palace of Westminster for five consecutive years, in order to draw attention to the humanitarian disaster brought about by the sanctions against and war in Iraq.

Wallinger had great admiration for Haw's tenacity; the visual impact of his wall of protest must certainly have contributed to the fact that he documented it carefully. An urgent need to turn this into a work of art only came later, however, when police dismantled the entire camp on the morning of 23 May 2006. For this specific purpose, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act had been passed: a law prohibiting unauthorized demonstrations within a one-kilometer radius of the government buildings.

About six months later Wallinger exhibited State Britain in the Duveen Gallery of Tate Britain. The meticulously copied version of the protest wall had been transformed, from an indictment of the war in Iraq, into an artwork which then raised and, even today, still raises many questions concerning function and meaning. In what respect does this copy, carried out in detail and in the same materials, differ from the original? Does it still act as an indictment against war, or has it become a monumentin favor of freedom of expression? Can an artwork concur with a social expression of protest, or should it serve another purpose? And if so, what purpose would that be? Those questions became all the more poignant due to the fact that Tate Britain itself lies partially within the prohibited one-kilometer zone, as Wallinger was pleased to discover during the development of the project. With his special talent for incorporating such 'coincidences' for the benefit of his work, he introduced a dividing line straight through the building, which distinguished between the permitted and non-permitted areas and thereby emphasized the legitimacy of the issues raised by the installation.

Wallinger's work is characteristically grounded in reality and in the social matters that it questions. Yet his art never becomes overtly political. Due to their hidden connotations and absurdities, the works elude unambiguous interpretation. Also where his own name is concerned, Wallinger manages to make optimal use of its ambiguity, as in the nearly two-hour-long video Mark and in the intriguing installation According to Mark. Depending on how we look at the title, our interpretation of the hundred chairs can shift. Set up in rows and marked with the letters MARK, they are visually connected by a bundle of white cords, which reach their vanishing point—or have their origins perhaps—at a higher point on the wall.

Read Adrian Searle's article on State Britain in The Guardian of 16 January 2007