Threshold to the Kingdom–Mark Wallinger at PAFA

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Turner Prize winner (2007) Mark Wallinger has a video on exhibit at the Morris Gallery at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Threshold to the Kingdom, made in 2002, the final video in the series of six videos that have been screening at the Morris Gallery, is moving and beautiful, even though its tactic of using extreme slow motion to elevate an ordinary event is so similar to that in Bill Viola’s The Greeting.

Mark Wallinger, Threshold to the Kingdom, 2000, projected video installation, 11 mins, 20 secs copyright of the artist courtesy anthony reynolds gallery, London; all images in post, same source
Mark Wallinger, Threshold to the Kingdom, 2000, projected video installation, 11 mins, 20 secs copyright of the artist courtesy anthony reynolds gallery, London; all images in post, same source

The narrative is simple–passengers arriving at London’s International Arrivals terminal come through the double doors toward a static camera. Some of the travelers have people waiting for them. One of the travelers looks confused as he checks and rechecks a scrap of paper. Others stride forward with business-like determination.
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Heavenly voices singing Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere Me Deus (text is from Psalm 51), lend a religious Medieval aura to the unfolding 11 minutes of arrivals. The beauty of the music also helps move the video forward in what is essentially a repetitive, predictable scenario of steady arrivals through the portals.

IMG_2293There’s no mistaking the allusion to the transition to heaven. Just to make sure we get the heaven illusion, not only do passengers walk out of the camera range, but some of them dissolve in front of us.

But the heavenly allusion is surely ironic, given the flat industrial affect of the airport. Any national themes are drowned by the functional anonymity of the corridor. We could be in Johannesburg or London or Kennedy International (It’s actually London and the arrivals are unaware they are being filmed)! Either way, the travelers are arriving someplace that is surely nothing like heaven. Even in a good economy, the dreariness of the airport space, potted plants notwithstanding, guarantees that sense of a comedown.

wallinger groupIn Roberta’s last post, she discussed the perfection of repetitive movements as satisfying. But in this video, the repetitive arrivals are a mix of satisfying, joyous, depressing and just ordinary. As I watched, I looked forward to each new face, each new bit of body language, but the bits are teases that evoke speculation on my part–no answers. And the lack of answers is what keeps me hanging on, waiting for the next arrival. This doesn’t quite rise to dance… but almost.

For all the religious overlay, what I found most interesting were the themes of transit–globalism, the traditional metaphor of life as a journey, the anonymity of airports and people in airports, lives in transit, the failure of heaven on earth, and the sad truth of sic transit gloria. I also liked the elevation of the ordinary into something filled with gravitas and dignity.

Wallinger, who represented Great Britain in 2000, was also one of the YBAs in the Sensation exhibition. The video will remain up until August 2.

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