Mark Wallinger’s work
Mark Wallinger’s work is noted for its succinct social commentary and political resonance. His early work explored the values of contemporary British society, in particular national identity and his focus subsequently expanded to address themes of death and religion.
Despite dealing with such expansive themes, his work is often characterised by a lightness of touch that belies the serious and multifaceted nature of the subject matter.
Sleeper records a live performance in which the artist, alone and dressed in a bear suit, occupied Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie for ten consecutive nights. The museum’s location enables a diversity of themes to converge, creating a uniquely complex and unsettling work. The bears in the nearby historic Zoo are doomed never to reproduce, the possibility of their procreation in captivity preordained and controlled by man. Fortified by a culture of surveillance and paranoia, Berlin during the Cold War was physically, politically and socially divided. The ‘sleepers’, or double agents, blended into their surroundings by sporting plausible disguises. Wallinger, a Briton in a foreign city, disguises himself as a bear – the heraldic emblem of Berlin – an appropriation in which he becomes both ‘bear’ and simultaneously not ‘bear’.
Wallinger has described how the idea of a divided realm exists within his subconscious, shaped by a German fairy tale in which a prince is transformed into a bear. In Sleeper the Marxist dictum in which history returns first as tragedy then as farce is wryly expressed. Allegory, the repression of memory, and the mutability of national identity combine to offer a meditative exploration of the language of representation, as well as an examination of the nature of perception itself.