BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 01 JAN 99
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Issue 44

Mark Wallinger

BY Neal Brown in Reviews | 01 JAN 99

The Four Corners of the Earth (1998) is an installation of four large circular canvases, each wedged into the corners of the darkened exhibition space. Projected onto these are four different photographic views of a cheaply manufactured globe of the earth. The ports of the four projectors are masked, causing the circular images of the globes to correspond exactly with the edges of the canvases and creating a sort of trompe l'oeil effect. The images are grandly luminous, hint at divine symmetry and create an empowered feeling of euphoric space and clarity.

This benevolent spiritual feeling is transient, though. The serene pleasure of the piece is eroded by the anxious assumption that Four Corners... is not what it seems, and will turn out to be like other Wallinger works, such as Angel (1997), On the Operating Table (a.k.a. Logos) (1998) and Hymn (1997). These are clever, sarcastically chippy boot swings at credulous faith, institutional religion and identity. Responding with misplaced sincerity to Four Corners... prompts a search for a more cynical merit in the work, which could otherwise be enjoyed as simply elegantly meditative and beautiful.

Four Corners... is indeed a boot swing, but an unbalanced one. Apart from restating the already well-established absurdities of map making - the abstract representation of nations in text and colours that have no geographical basis - Wallinger's conceptualisations and observations seem confused. A wall text provides an exhausting jumble sale of references, some of which are useful or stimulating, but many are of strained significance.

We are informed, for example, that the diameter of each canvas is 86 inches, which is the diameter of an outstretched Wallinger in the position of Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man (1511). We are also told that the globe depicted in Holbein's Ambassadors (1533) has at its centre the home of Jean de Dinteville, one of the men portrayed, who also commissioned the painting. The four globe views chosen by Wallinger are apparently of the earth's 'corners' where gravitational pull (as discovered by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in 1965), is measurably greater. Additionally, we are told that the astronaut Buzz Aldrin, when asked if he had any regrets about his mission to the moon, replied 'I wish I had looked out of the window more'. Wallinger also draws our attention to the shadows we cast of ourselves onto the globes, when unavoidably obstructing the projectors as we walk around, which is presumably a point about the making and unmaking of God in our own image.

Wallinger's list takes pleasure in pointing out the prosaic farts and proud misapprehensions we make as we seek the profound in time and space. In so doing, he reminds us of the vanities of our spiritual impulses, our anthrocentrism, transient nationalisms and general arse-scratchings while playing God. Four Corners... is largely about Wallinger's dislike of the lies of perception, whether spiritual, political or visual.

With good humour, though, the artist also includes himself as victim of the comic, universal human gravitation towards self aggrandisement. At the centre of the Vitruvian diagram, Wallinger's testicles, penis and navel coincide with the dead centre of each of the globes - where gravity is most pronounced - thus creating a fresh contemplative space.

The beauty of the installation and its thoughtful wonder is eclipsed by Wallinger's huffings and puffings at credulous spirituality and nationalism. But whereas he has previously taken as his target the institutional texts and dumbo orthodoxies of organised religion, particularly Christianity, Four Corners... seeks to challenge the primary spiritual impulse itself, and in so doing, takes a pop at the ineffable. The ineffable is a separate matter from religious institutionalism though: it takes a punch better and is not quite as deserving of a good beating as the Church might be.

Neal Brown is an artist and writer based in London, UK.