Don’t Look Back is a text work, consisting of three large panels of dense black capitalised text on silver paper pasted directly on the wall. It is based on D.A. Pennebaker’s celebrated rockumentary film Don’t Look Back, 1967, about American singer Bob Dylan’s first British tour in 1965. Banner decided to make the work when she discovered the film was not available on video. She wrote three narrative accounts of the film from memory, placing each on a separate panel. Although all three panels look identical from a distance, each has a different content. The first sentence of each account describes the film’s opening scene in which Dylan stands in a street holding up placards that refer to the lyrics of his song ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, 1965, while it plays on the soundtrack. One panel emphasises the lyrics, another focuses on the placards which he discards after the lyric has been sung and the last concentrates on the run-down street scene. As the narrative progress the panels recount different aspects of the film, as though it is a story being told from three different points of view. Each panel is written in the first person present tense giving the impression of an eye witness account of events which the narrator experienced.
Banner has made a number of works that translate narratives from popular culture to fine art. Typically she uses text to describe scenes or entire plots from such genres as war films, action films and pornography in exact detail. In each instance her descriptions are factual accounts of the dialogue and narrative with subtle personal inflections. The large scale text works are presented on paper and the same text is often rendered in different ways including marker pen, acrylic paint, pencil or screenprints, written by hand or printed in upper or lower case fonts and in different colour combinations of paper and ink. Don’t Look Back is presented exclusively in capitalised black Helvetica typeface on silver paper. The scale of the works makes it difficult to read them as linear narratives. In reference to Arsewoman in Wonderland, 2001, which Banner presented at Tate Britain for Turner Prize 2002, Michael Archer explained:
As with Banner’s other text pieces, the small point size of the font relative to the vast area of the overall work together with the closeness of the lines makes it all but impossible simply to read the text ... from beginning to end. The eye jumps from one point to the next within the work’s field, each time falling on another description. ... But before the shape of any incident can be fully understood by reading the description to its conclusion, a blink, a line break or some other factor has disturbed and fractured the visual experience, sending the eye off elsewhere. (Archer in Banner, p.59.)
This method is particularly appropriate to Don’t Look Back, the first work in which Banner recounted a film from memory. The lines at the top and bottom of the page are legible, but in-between the sequence of events get confused as the viewer is unable to read the text line by line. The impossibility of reading the narrative in a linear way emulates the way memories may be recalled - crucial elements of the narrative being at times omitted while other incidental details stand out.
As part of her 1998 Art Now exhibition at Tate Britain Banner exhibited You Gota Lota Nerve, 1998 (private collection), a four panel canvas with lyrics from Dylan’s song ‘Positively 4th Street’, 1965, cut out of the canvas. As in Don’t Look Back, these lyrics were written from memory. The opening words are correct but subsequent lines are missed out or included in the wrong order. In both instances the relationship between the artist, the artwork and the object it refers to is personalised by the mistakes which signify her own personal recollection rather than the reality of the film or song.
Don’t Look Back was created as a portfolio containing three versions of the work, an ‘exhibition’ version, a ‘cabinet’ version and a ‘compressed’ version, presented in a box. All versions of the work are printed on Febigon Splendorlux metal argento paper. Because it is pasted to the wall, the exhibition version may only be used once. Each time the piece is installed a new set of sheets must be ordered from the publishers. It is printed on 80gsm paper while the cabinet and compressed versions are both printed on 250gsm. In the exhibition and cabinet versions each of the three panels is made up of sixteen overlapping sheets. Consequently, each of these versions comprises forty eight sheets. The third compressed version contains each panel on a single sheet and may be framed. It is printed on three separate sheets, bringing the total number of sheets in the portfolio to ninety-nine. All ninety-nine sheets are the same size. Each version may only be exhibited separately from the other versions. The portfolio box may be included in the exhibition on a plinth near the panels. The portfolio is published by Frith Street Gallery, London, and Visual Research Centre, Dundee, in an edition of twenty-five of which Tate’s copy is the eighth. There are an additional six sets of numbered artist’s proofs.
Nancy Princethal, ‘Prolix: Fiona Banner’s Word Works’, Art on Paper, May-June 2000, pp.40-5, reproduced p.42
Banner, exhibition catalogue, Dundee Contemporary Arts and Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen 2002, reproduced p.104
Remix: Contemporary Art and Pop, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 2002, reproduced in colour p.43