Mark Wallinger

Construction Site


Not on display
Mark Wallinger born 1959
Video, projection, colour
Duration: 1hours, 23min
Presented by Andy Simpkin 2015


Construction Site 2011 is a video projection that shows a team of three men erecting and then dismantling scaffolding on a pebbly beach against a background of sea and horizon. Filmed in real time on a beach in Kent against the backdrop of the English Channel, the scaffolding is gradually constructed into a three by three grid, the top of which is neatly aligned with the horizon. Questions of framing and context are crucial to the work. Removed from its usual function the scaffolding becomes a window onto the picturesque view of the sea behind, while the work of the labourers, constructing an ostensibly everyday structure, is turned into a balletic performance of illusion. This culminates with the three scaffolders stepping onto the top of the structure, where they appear to hover momentarily on the surface of the sea where it meets the horizon. Following this, the scaffolders return to their work and dismantle the structure, leaving the beach and the view empty once more.

In Construction Site Wallinger draws attention to a functional structure that becomes both the subject and object of the workmen’s efforts. For Wallinger, the scaffolding grid and the way the camera frames the shot are partially, and paradoxically, ‘a celebration of two dimensions’ (Wallinger in email correspondence with Tate curator Clarrie Wallis, 18 June 2015). The view at the beginning and end of the film shows the horizontal layers of land, sea and sky. The scaffolding structure that spans the offing (that part of the sea visible from shore to horizon) then becomes a two-dimensional drawing in space that frames the view and facilitates the optical illusion of the scaffolders appearing to walk, like giants, on the horizon line. The artist has described this interest in perspective and depth, which has been a leitmotif throughout his career: ‘this is the greatest magic and fascination we can work in representation – to condense and transform the world of objects and infinite space into images on the screen or a sheet of paper’ (Wallinger in email correspondence with Tate curator Clarrie Wallis, 18 June 2015).

In this work the physical act of construction becomes a metaphor for the construction of meaning through the act of looking. The title is a pun on perception: a site of construction which is also the construction of sight. Perspective is, for Wallinger, the construction both of illusionary space and mental outlook. It is a way of seeing and picturing the world that is both a rational system and an artificial construction. As he has explained: ‘I remember being taught technical drawing and still can’t shake the idea that the vanishing point is the radiating source of meaning’ (quoted in Herbert 2011, p.48). This subject has been a consistent theme in Wallinger’s work and can be traced back to School 1989, an early series of chalk-on-blackboard drawings, each in single-point perspective and inset with a light bulb shining out from the vanishing point. Like other video works that Wallinger has made that address issues of visual perception, such as When Parallel Lines Meet at Infinity 1998 and What Time is the Station Leaving the Train 2004, Construction Site is a silent film displayed on a loop. The artist has said of the work and its subject matter:

Perspective and perception and illusion have carried through different iterations of my work and the Sisyphean task is the mythical archetype of the endless loop employed in many earlier works … It is a full-length film with a completely predictable story, reaching a climax and a deconstruction playing with and reliant on the fascination that can be generated by the barest bones of storytelling and observation. Time passing like clockwork.
(Mark Wallinger in email correspondence with Tate curator Clarrie Wallis, 18 June 2015.)

Further reading
Martin Herbert, Mark Wallinger, London 2011.
Sally O’Reilly, Mark Wallinger, London 2015.

Clarrie Wallis
June 2015

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