FIONA BANNER at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery (231 Queens Quay West), to April 22. $5, stu/srs $3, free Wednesday 5-8 pm. 416-973-4949. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Short-listed for Britain's coveted Turner Prize in 2002, Fiona Banner's work centres on the permutations of language. Her shot-by-shot descriptions of six Vietnam War films (The Nam) and the porn flick Arsewoman In Wonderland explore the relationship between word and image in hypnotic, mind-numbing detail, reconfiguring film as either text, sound piece, sculpture or painting.
Her new show, The Bastard Word, goes further into the forms of language and the language of forms, using fighter planes and the classic human nude as starting points to explore themes that have occupied her over the years: the seductive power of the image over the word in pop culture, the gap between language and object, the iconography of the military and the deployment of sexuality.
In the video All The World's Fighter Planes, found footage of all the world's fighter planes currently in use flash on the screen. A list of their catchy, often ludicrously jingoistic names are printed on the wall of the screening room, pitting the visual and verbal iconography of the military against each other.
In her obsessive piece Parade, plane models are suspended from the ceiling. Stripped of all national markings, they still evoke a miniaturized sense of threat. In another work, an alphabet constructed from plane parts offers an elegant study in contradiction: warplanes are deployed when all other attempts at communication have failed.
Banner also addresses the classic nude from both an art historical and textual perspective. Her reproductions of a dozen or so figure drawing books, each cover lovingly hand-drafted and placed on a table, offers a cheeky visual conundrum: depictions of books about the art of depiction.
Banner's "standing nudes" are painted verbal portraits of nude models, described in detail as they pose for her. Her verbal descriptions trigger a series of images for the viewer that engage narrative time, memory and imagination in their rendering of the human figure.
These "nudes" are surrounded by her handcrafted neon alphabet, in which each letter has its own subtly organic bodily shape.
Banner's work is a subtle and engaging reading of the relationship between culture, the body and language, with some accessible humour and wit thrown in.