Threshold to the Kingdom 2000 is a single channel colour video projection consisting of slow motion footage of people arriving at London City Airport soundtracked by Miserere, a seventeenth-century setting of the Bible’s fifty-first psalm by the Italian composer Gregorio Allegri (c.1582–1652). Shot in a single take from a fixed position, the video presents a frontal view of the airport’s international arrivals doorway, which is indicated by a sign above the doors and flanked on either side by tall pot plants. Throughout the video’s eleven-minute duration, the opaque electric doors open and close, revealing passengers and flight crew members as they move into the public arrivals lounge. Some of those arriving are greeted with waves and hugs by people in the lounge, while airport officials and other passersby occasionally walk across the camera’s path. At several points in the video, individuals disappear in a ghostly dissolving fashion, and the work finishes with a fade to black. Tate’s copy of Threshold to the Kingdom is number six in an edition of ten plus one artist’s proof.
Threshold to the Kingdom is one of three video works that the London-based British artist Mark Wallinger shot on the same day in 1998. After filming this work in east London in the morning – without permission from the airport’s management – he then shot footage for On an Operating Table 1998, a thirteen-minute video installation depicting a brain surgery theatre at King’s College Hospital in south London. Finally he filmed Fly 2000, an eleven-minute work depicting the sky and a series of planes flying through it, which was shot at the artist’s London home and features a dead fly stuck on a window pane in the centre of the footage.
Wallinger claimed in 2011 that prior to making Threshold to the Kingdom he suffered from a fear of flying, before realising that
it was airports I was frightened of, not the plane. It was that incredible scrutiny, the state examining one, which you don’t feel anywhere else. The powerful relief you feel when you finally reach home, or the state you’re hoping to reach, seems rather like confession and absolution.
(Quoted in Herbert 2011, p.112.)
As Wallinger’s statement suggests, his video combines religious themes with an interest in the symbolism connected to national borders. The title Threshold to the Kingdom makes reference to the function of the airport’s international arrivals doorway as an entry point to the United Kingdom, and the work’s dramatic music and slow motion footage create the impression that these passengers have completed an arduous immigration process. Yet the title also suggests that this journey may be a passage to a heavenly kingdom, a reading that is encouraged by the music’s religious basis and by the spectral disappearance of people via dissolving images. Notably, the fifty-first psalm, set to Allegri’s well-known composition, contains a plea for mercy, which resonates with Wallinger’s reference to ‘confession and absolution’.
According to the critic and curator Ralph Rugoff, Wallinger’s use of slow motion in Threshold to the Kingdom ‘lends the tiniest gestures of each airport pilgrim a heightened significance, and effectively dislocates them from everyday time and space; indeed, they seem to exist outside of our mortal world’ (Ralph Rugoff, ‘Jesus is an Oxymoron’, in British Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2001, p.12). The critic Rachel Withers has also emphasised the religious implications of Wallinger’s video, suggesting that the images and music combine ‘to form an allegory with an overwhelming message: These travelers are dead. They’ve arrived in Heaven; they’ve been forgiven’ (Withers 2001, p.165).
This work can be seen in the context of Wallinger’s career-long interest in notions of British national identity and the procedures, symbols and images that shape it. Passport 1988, for instance, consists of six passport-sized colour photographs of Wallinger upon which the artist drew in pen items of clothing and facial features that changed his appearance into a series of crude ethnic stereotypes. From the mid-1990s onwards Wallinger also began to address religious themes in his work: for example, in his video trilogy Talking in Tongues, which incorporates Angel 1997 (Tate T07394), Hymn 1997 (Tate T07798) and Prometheus 1999 (Tate T07742), Wallinger performed as a character called Blind Faith, a sightless artistic alter ego whose sung and spoken words explore belief, consolation and proselytism. Reflecting the work’s engagement with religious themes, Threshold to the Kingdom has been installed in Milan Cathedral (2004) and in the Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia in the National Gallery, Prague (2005). Before this it was shown as part of Wallinger’s exhibition at the British Pavilion at the forty-ninth Venice Biennale in 2001.
Rachel Withers, ‘Customs Man: Mark Wallinger’, Artforum, vol.39, no.10, Summer 2001, pp.164–8, reproduced pp.164–5.
Mark Wallinger, exhibition catalogue, British Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Venice 2001, pp.11–12, reproduced no.7, unpaginated.
Martin Herbert, Mark Wallinger, London 2011, pp.105, 110–12.
Supported by Christie’s.