Order, chaos, and chance play out throughout Site, Mark Wallinger’s new exhibition, which has just opened at the BALTIC Gateshead (22 June to 14 October 2012).
The largest installation, 10000000000000000, consists of thousands of differently shaped stones placed individually on the black or white squares of an enormously extended chessboard. The initial effect is of a remote shoreline, evoking an expansive rain-washed beach where the tide is far, far out and where shoes are a definite must. On further inspection, however, the intense regularity of the checked floor-surface reveals itself, reminiscent of school corridors and Vermeer’s tidy domestic scenes. This overlapping and breakdown of conventional binaries – such as order and chaos, or wilderness and domesticity – is fitting for an artist who, in this exhibition, showcases a range of work that confronts physical and cultural constructions.
There are 65,536 stones used in 10000000000000000, and the title is in fact the binary expression of the decimal number. This seemingly random decimal number, 65536, is also in fact very ordered – it is a “superperfect” number, a square achieved by saying to yourself (or your calculator), "two by two is four, four by four is sixteen, sixteen by sixteen is 256, 256 by 256 is… presto, 65,536! And so the number of stones used in fact hide a type of strict mathematical order that is visually expressed in the square shapes of the chessboard. The Other Wall, meanwhile, refers to Wallinger’s witty habit of "mark-making’ – whereby he writes his first name in chalk on the various bricks of walls (geddit?) in central London. In this case, numbers are applied sequentially, pre-assembly, to each brick, and then the wall is built without recourse to the numbers – so their overall appearance is completely random.
Construction Site, is a film depicting three builders erecting and then dismantling a scaffolding on a beach. Set against the backdrop of the sea and with the top of the structure aligning with its horizon, Wallinger draws attention to the construction of structures that are usually regarded as peripheral – and yet, are undeniably pivotal – to the construction of other structures. The idea is to highlight the construction of scaffolding itself, and arguably presents an interesting meditation on how we, the viewer, construct shapes and patterns and ideas out of things we see. Are the scaffolders actually “framing” the scene behind them, or are we? Or is Wallinger?
The show runs until October 14, admission free.