Even for artists used to working alone in their studios, the strictures of the past 12 months have taken an isolating toll. Now in his most recent work Mark Wallinger has been addressing this situation by creating a cast of individuals who are currently populating his work space in what he describes as “my own private view.”
At the beginning of the first lockdown Wallinger took to the streets of Central London near his Soho home and made haunting photographic works of once thronging parts of town—Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square—that were now deserted, bar the occasional wraith-like figure using the city’s deserted commercial hub as a place to walk rather than to work or shop. But in recent months when London went into its third lockdown, Wallinger has instead been turning his attention to these pavement-pounding individuals as London’s centre became transformed into what he calls a “glassy opaque recreation area for people doing their daily exercise.”
Suspended from the ceiling beams in Wallinger’s North London studio are a number of life sized cut out photographs of everyday urban folk captured whilst walking purposefully. Some talk into phones, others carry backpacks or have handbags slung over their shoulders. Each separate figure is comprised from a pair of identical cut-out flats, which are then mounted on rigid material and vertically slotted together. As they dangle from invisible strands of transparent fishing line and the ambient air causes them to rotate, the figures loom with an uncanny immediacy and then fragment like mirages. The initial version fabricated from A4 paper, which served to figure out the process, now exists as a version in its own right.
“I think we are all desperate to get back to that situation where you can just sit at a table and randomly people-watch, the need to observe human behaviour is something very basic in us”, Wallinger says, who also admits that the presence of his photographic crowd can be disconcerting when “caught out of the corner of my eye.”
Although they are based on the people he has observed in our shuttered city centre, Wallinger has not taken the photographs himself but selected them from anonymous stock photographic agency figures, preferring their sense of “neutral vitality”.
However, each of these striding figures has also been carefully chosen for the way in which it seems to occupy its own individual, self-possessed world. This he feels enables each of us to have our own personal encounter with his people. “Whatever space they are in it functions a bit like a green screen so that you populate the void between them with any other possibility or context,” he says. “They are hard to tie down.”