Monday, 14 March 2016

Id - Mark Wallinger

Id by Mark Wallinger at Hauser and Wirth, Saville Row, London.

In this thought-provoking exhibition Mark Wallinger encourages a contemplation of the self within a society in which behaviour and personal identity come under increasingly closer scrutiny. He utilises Sigmund Freud's terms, id, ego and superego in an interrogation of the psyche, the self and the subject. The work shows how, as human beings, we operate between our instinctual urges, our attachment to our identities and the ways in which we judge ourselves as members of a certain culture.

We started with the North Gallery:

Ego, 2016, (iPhone photographs)

Life-sized photos of Wallinger's hands, a recreation of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel fresco 'Creation of Adam' in which the fingers of God and Adam almost meet.

The rest of this gallery is devoted to the id paintings:

According to Freud, the id, driven by the pleasure principle, is the source of all psychic energy. The paintings are the record of actions that appear to be intuitive and guided by instinct, thus echoing the primal, impulsive and libidinal characteristics of the id.

These paintings are monumental. They are referenced by the artist's own body: double his height, and his arm span in width.

Wallinger used both of his paint-laden hands across the canvas in symmetrical bodily gestures on the two halves of the canvas so that each side mirrored the other, dispensing with 'the paint-loaded brush of expressionism', to quote the artist. He relates his 'instinctive' and 'intuitive' method in these paintings to prehistoric mark-making in a cave: a primal release of energy.

They bear the evidence of their making and of the artist's encounter with the surface.

These are reminiscent of the Rorschach tests, which are all about visual association and our compulsion to find the figurative in the abstract. This was certainly our reaction, trying to discern the familiar in these abstract shapes.

This is what Laura Cumming saw, as explained in her review in the Guardian : 'I saw a hilarious Edwardian face with mutton chops and popping eyes , a figure in mid-plie; a glowering black beetle, a shivering and vulnerable wraith. Cartoon speed marks, complex arabesques, two praying apes coming face to face'.

Or, 'recognition of figures is a reflection of our own desires and predilections, a mapping of the territory. We invite your introspection', according to the artist.

We then moved on to the South Gallery:

Superego, 2016

In contrast with the id, the superego acts to perfect, civilise, control and suppress our behaviour.

The sculpture is an entirely mirrored form inspired by the revolving New Scotland Yard sign whose constant rotation symbolises the ceaseless vigilance of the police - the all-seeing eye omnipresent and omniscient.

Wallinger has produced an enigmatic symbol of dominance.  The sculpture's reflective surface offers the promise of our own self-reflection and recognition: it is however well above the viewer's head  - remote and inaccessible.

Laura Cumming again: 'The political implications are immediately clear; but there is more. In 1986, Wallinger was beaten up during a skirmish between the BNP and Sinn Fein at a London demo. His head (and his glasses) were smashed. The police promised to help but instead paraded the suspect thugs before Wallinger quite uselessly, since he could not see, and they never took him to hospital. For mirrors, read CCTV cameras - seeing everything, and yet so blind'.

Ever-since, 2012

A life-sized projection of a barber's shop front. The only thing that seems to be moving is the barber's pole outside. A silent film of time passed that is forever passing.

Shadow Walker (2011)

Wallinger's shadow captured as he walks along Shaftesbury Avenue. Baudelaire's flaneur came to mind as we were watching this.

Further meditations of identity, and the nature of our shadows, which are caused by us, and in some sense are representations of us, and which are neither self-portraits nor images of us.

Orrery, 2016 (video)

The subject in this video is an oak tree in the centre of Fullwell Cross roundabout in Barkingside. Orrery takes its name from the mechanical model that articulates the positions of the planets and the moon.

Within the gallery the work is presented on four screens mounted on stands representing the four seasons.

The work was created using an iPhone blue-tacked to the driver's side window. In this way the tree is presented in a revolving dance within the constancy of the frame.

The revolution of a municipal roundabout in Essex becomes a contemplation of the orbit of our planet around the sun and our place in the universe.

Laura Cumming: 'The oak tree stands, of course, for our sceptre isle... You see the cast of his thought. The minutes pass, the sun shifts, the day turns, and with it the seasons. We turn on this little island, and in our lives, as our planet turns in time within the universe. But we are at the centre of it all. This is classic Mark Wallinger: the eloquence of his ideas as condensed as a sonnet, and expressed in the humblest of visions, in this case an oak on an Essex roundabout'.


Gallery notes


  1. Such a versatile, interesting artist. My reactions to his work range from admiration to dislike, but am never less than intrigued by what he does.

    1. I agree, Olga. He's very interesting and his work makes you think. We really enjoyed the exhibition.