Weekly Update — Mark Wallinger’s slow motion ode to life, loss and transience

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This week’s Weekly has my review of Mark Wallinger’s video at Pafa.  Below is my copy with some pictures.  More photos at flickr.

Mark Wallinger‘s video Treshold to the Kingdom is a quiet oasis in the hot, noisy, hurly-burly of summer in the city.

The piece from 2000 by the British artist and 2007 Turner Prize winner is simplicity itself.  A stationary camera placed in front of the closed double doors at the International Arrivals Hall at London City Airport captures passengers arriving after a trip.  There’s a lone employee sitting behind a desk, a sphinx-like guardian of the gates. In this highly theatrical piece without a plot, suspense builds each time the doors open.

Mark Wallinger, Threshold to the Kingdom. One of the odd slow moments brings these two into near collision.
Mark Wallinger, Threshold to the Kingdom. One of the odd slow moments brings these two into near collision.

As the travelers emerge and walk in the mesmerizing rhythmic lock step that slow motion provides, the viewer has ample time to dwell on the face, body and trappings of these anonymous men and women, most of them ordinary looking office worker types with briefcases in hand.  Even though they look so ordinary it’s hard not to make up monumental stories about them as the soundtrack’s mournful chanted Renaissance hymn of atonement washes over the scene coloring it with the emotion of loss and grief.

Stella made up this story about the flight crew: One of the stewardesses is having an affair with a pilot and the other one knows and is mad.
In this “make your own adventure” piece, Stella made up this story about the flight crew: One of the stewardesses is having an affair with a pilot and the other one knows and is mad.

Every passenger looks European except for one man with a mustache who may be from the Middle East or India.  Unlike the others, he has a luggage cart with him.  He’s not a day-tripper on a short business trip.  He’s got luggage.  Is he immigrating?  Coming to be with other members of his family who got to England before him, as is the way with many immigrant families?  Or is he the first…the pioneer?

The last man standing in front of the arrivals door, looking at his paper. Will it help him know where to go and what to do?
The last man standing in front of the arrivals door, looking at his paper. Will it help him know where to go and what to do?

Unlike the other travelers, he stops, unsure of where to go.  As he reads a piece of paper and looks left and right, a woman airline official comes running slowly up behind him.  Is there is an emergency?  Does it have to do with this passenger?   She runs on by and you sigh, relieved that the lost solitary traveler is not affected. He could be you or me coming into a new country not knowing the way.  You have great sympathy for him.

Wallinger’s Treshold, which echoes the slow motion elegance of Bill Viola’s The Greeting (1995), stakes out a different territory from Viola’s.   With his use of ordinary people to convey the extraordinariness of life, Wallinger creates a story of global transience and loneliness that speaks to us now as much as it would have when it was made almost a decade ago.

The British artist is a humanist whose art monumentalizes the ordinariness of human experience.  In 1999 his life-sized statue of a Christ-like male on the oversized empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square caused a stir as it parodied the absurd grandiosity of the other larger-than-life statuary in the square. Here, too, Wallinger creates a big human story from something small.

Mark Wallinger: Threshold to the Kingdom (2000), til Aug. 2. Morris Gallery. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Historic Landmark Building. Free. 118 N. Broad Street 215-972-7600 |

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mark wallinger, pafa, threshold to the kingdom

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