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REVIEW MISTAH KURTZ - HE NOT DEAD: Fiona Banner in collaboration with Paolo Pellegrin, with The Arch


Over-exposure to images of sex, war, and power has left us less able to apprehend what’s at stake in them. In her current exhibition at PEER, Fiona Banner returns to these subjects, looking beyond their mass consumption to draw out latent issues normally left unspoken or unseen. The darker sides of sex and finance are interlaced, at the heart of modern conflict.

MISTAH KURTZ - HE NOT DEAD is a collaboration between the artist and award-winning Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin. In response to an invitation from the London-based Archive of Modern Conflict, Banner commissioned Pellegrin, who is known for his coverage of international conflicts, to document London in a similar guise. The resulting photographic series is titled ‘Heart of Darkness’ after Joseph Conrad’s novella and Orson Welles’ unrealised screenplay. It’s not the first time she has been inspired by these texts: for a previous project in 2012, she directed Brian Cox to read the film’s script in its entirety, including the actions of the camera and cast never intended to be seen by the audience.

The exhibition begins in a darkened, pulsating space with a projected montage and accompanying soundtrack. Large-scale wall drawings of disembodied pinstripe suits provide the backdrop throughout the gallery’s two rooms, morphing seamlessly into a fluid symbolic form that carves through the city of London. The second room of the exhibition holds a set of vitrines, presenting a constellation of reference points, from images of the ancient Livery companies’ pinstripe uniforms to aerial pin-drop markers of the strip clubs that encircle the City of London Corporation. False pinstripe-painted nails and other mimicry suggests a decadent network of appropriation – an iconography of artifice. In the centre of the gallery floor lies an uprooted city boundary marker bearing London’s motto, Domine Dirige Nos (Lord Guide Us), near a vitrined leg with a prosthetic Moet champagne bottle at its base.

The link between the novel’s plot and the dominant subjects of the exhibition is poignantly articulated in Giles Fraser’s accompanying text, which lays the contextual groundwork, showing how historic exploitation and colonialism underlies the trading operations of the present. Fraser locates the heart of darkness not in the individual, but in the abstract mechanisms of companies – be they trading ships or financial corporations.

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