Jet fighters become art at British sculpture show

Isabel Coles, Reuters Life!

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

The jet fighter plane becomes installation art in the latest edition of the British showcase for contemporary sculpture in London.

Artist Fiona Banner's "Harrier and Jaguar" show mixes the menace and beauty of two British fighter planes that have seen action in Bosnia and the Gulf for the 10th anniversary edition of the Tate Britain's Duveens Commission.

The majestic neoclassical Duveen galleries of the Tate Britain may be a daunting venue, but Banner has risen to the challenge with her largest work to date, comprised of a Sea Harrier jet hung from the ceiling by its tail and a Jaguar fighter plane lying upturned on its back.

"The Duveen space isn't suitable for every artist," exhibition curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas told Reuters. "The architecture is quite dominant."

The Harrier's nose cone hangs no more than a foot from the gallery floor and feathers painted on its tail and wings help to remind viewers of its namesake in the wild.

The delicate paintwork on the plane's body recalls traditional nose art on fighter planes and is meant to draw out the tension between the beauty of these objects and their function as instruments of war, Carey-Thomas said.

"On the one hand they're very compelling and seductive," said Carey-Thomas. "But at the same time their purpose is one we might take quite a moral position against."

The Jaguar lies belly-up, has been stripped of paint and polished to a sheen.

Like the predator after which it is named, the Sepecat Jaguar XZ118 is sleek and lethal. It saw action in the first Gulf war as part of Operation Desert Storm, but within the walls of Tate Britain it resembles an upturned carcass.

Banner's fascination with fighter planes was first sparked by an encounter with low-flying airplanes in the Welsh mountains.

"I remember long sublime walks in the Welsh mountains with my father, when suddenly a fighter plane would rip through the sky, and shatter everything," Banner said on the Tate website. "It was so exciting, loud and overwhelming; it would literally take our breath away. The sound would arrive from nowhere, all you would see was a shadow and then the plane was gone."

She has also compiled a book of all the aircraft models currently in service across the world and in 2007, she worked on the Tate Britain Christmas tree project, for which she hung 123 Airfix models from the tree's branches.

Nudity and sex are other central themes in Banner's art and her transcript of a pornographic film was nominated for a Turner prize in 2002.

"Harrier and Jaguar" is on at the Tate Britain until January 2, 2011.


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