Full Marks: Mark Wallinger's ID runs rampant in his new show
Source:theguardian Author:Adrian Searle Date: 2016-02-29 Size:
Mark Wallinger is everywhere in his latest exhibition, even when he’s not there. His shadow walks up Shaftesbury Avenue……

The oak photographed in four seasons

. He circles a roundabout as the seasons turn. He plays God and Adam and makes a fist of Michelangelo. He squirms and gestures blackly across 17 full-bodied canvases. He’s all id and ego and superego. He’s Mark, making marks, marking his territory.

It is almost 30 years since I first wrote about Wallinger, and he continues to impress, entertain, baffle and surprise me. I don’t love everything he has done, but then every career has its highs and lows. He can be grand, slight, offhand, funny, intellectual and poetic, sometimes all at once. The last two are a terrible slur for a British artist, so ingrained is our distaste for cleverness, which is somehow associated with foreigners and charlatans, while the poetic is a sort of shorthand for weak-mindedness and self-regard. That’s our loss.

Id Painting 29, 2015

In his way, Wallinger is infuriating, and I mean that in a good way. A series of paintings – like the exhibition itself, at Hauser & Wirth in London – is called ID. The id is the Freudian underbelly, all inchoate instincts and unfettered desires. Mine is, anyway. It is dark in there and so are Wallinger’s paintings, which resemble gigantic black Rorschach blots. Looking in, I see things: lunar craters and assholes, feet, the face of Groucho Marx, escutcheons, a horseshoe crab, filigree, a female portrait, wings and spread legs, a vulva and a cock, breasts, mouths and bones and a figure kippered, devilish Masonic regalia … but this could just be my projection. Make of that what you will.

Rather than blotted, the images are painted using both hands – and who knows what other parts of the artist’s body – pressed to the canvas and rubbed about with fistfuls of black acrylic in an awful symmetry of reaching and pawing, rubbing and smearing, fingering and fondling. The touch goes from the most delicate teasing to frenetic black-on-black fumblings. This is Wallinger as a living version of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, getting down to some hot and dirty action. Even when he’s letting himself go, there is restraint, the centred markings never losing their left/right symmetry, always poised and contained on the factory-fresh primed canvas. I almost said virgin white.

Around the corner, life-size photos of the artist’s hands recreate the gesture in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco, in which the fingers of God and Adam almost meet – across what must be the most famous and the most charged little patch of emptiness in art history. Wallinger calls his photographic reconstruction EGO.

The superego is next door, in Hauser & Wirth’s second large space. In the middle stands a metal pole, on which sits a mirrored triangular shape, a copy of the revolving triangular sign that stands outside New Scotland Yard. Wallinger’s version is a blank mirror, slowly turning above our heads. I am reminded less of the Metropolitan police sign than a sculpture that once stood in the gallery I’ve just left, a revolving beam on which a big neon sign reading “MOTHERS” almost decapitated viewers in Martin Creed’s last show here. Wallinger’s sculpture might be taken as its counterpoint. Rather than Creed’s fearsome, homicidally inclined mother, Wallinger’s SUPEREGO is the father, the law-giver, the moraliser, under whose all-seeing mirrors we sin and suffer. Why else go to a gallery?

Things all start to get a bit giddy in here. In a dark space, we meet Wallinger’s shadow, toiling up Shaftesbury Avenue on a screen leant against the wall. The shadow walks the pavement. Sometimes the artist’s feet obtrude in the bottom of the moving image. Did Hauser & Wirth get him a footwear stylist and pedicure people? If so, why is he wearing those terrible sandals? Perhaps Wallinger’s walk is a penance or a personal calvary, from Piccadilly Circus to New Oxford Street, not in a tattered robe but baggy shorts, dodging the gum and the dried vomit, last night’s spilled takeaways and the litter. Bits of other people come and go, yawing in and out of the frame. I’m guessing he walks alone, an iPhone attached to his person.

Wallinger’s refashioning of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam

Wallinger the flaneur doesn’t dither about. He’s a man on a mission. No swerves into Soho, no dives into Covent Garden, no loitering. Nor is this an art walk or a performance. He’s not rolling a barrel through Manhattan, as Steve McQueen did in his 1998 film Drumroll, or pushing a huge and slowly melting block of ice around Mexico City like Francis Alÿs. Probably dozens of artists have walked the walk in the name of art. In Wallinger’s own 2011 Shadow Walker, there is a sense of unknown purpose, the shadow walking as though on a gym machine with the paving slabs sliding away beneath him. It is as if he’s walking his thoughts away.

Beyond, filling a far wall, we see a Mayfair barber’s. I did a double take, taking it as the view across the street. The striped red and white pole keeps turning, but no one comes and no one goes, and no traffic passes by. After a bit I notice the clock in the window, the second hand jerking back every couple of seconds – the length of the looped film. But the pole turns sedately, without pause or interuption, perfectly sychronised. Like all gags, it’s a matter of timing.

Shadow Walker, 2011

This is a clever trick, both filmic and optical. Wallinger is good at noticing things, teasing out meanings where you least expect them. No two shows are ever the same. Themes return: England and Englishness, autobiography and the self. For a while, he would wander the streets and chalk his name on the brickwork: “Mark.” Mark is a mark. I have come across the graffiti at Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, and held an umbrella over his head as he wrote his name on a wall in Gateshead. Sometimes, he becomes a character in his own videos, hidden under a bear costume or in a pantomime horse – or here, delegating his presence to his own shadow and his monstrous id.

In another group of four videos, we circle a large roundabout in Barkingside on the eastern edge of London where, among the municipal plantings, an oak tree stands. We keep going round and round, in spring, summer, autumn and winter in the fitful English sunshine. Driving with his iPhone Blu-Tacked to the side window, Wallinger sees his transit as a kind of orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system, with the oak tree, planted during the 1951 Festival of Britain, at its centre.

Rather than the universe, his orbits are the cycles and epicycles of his own life passing. I read in his notes for the show, that Wallinger learned to drive on this roundabout. Standing between the four screens and turning to watch the endless revolutions of the footage, you become the still centre of this model universe, circled by Wallinger, who’s circling the tree.

Barkingside’s Fullwell Cross roundabout looks like nowhere, or anywhere. But of course it is somewhere. Walks and places, perambulations and circumnavigations, wanderings and journeys are a familiar trope. WG Sebald’s literary trudges through East Anglia and around Vienna, and Iain Sinclair’s through London, are always in search of something, full of delays, surprises and frustrations. Blame the id, blame the ego and the superego.

Most of us have our walks, and we all have places that hold memories and meanings. This corner, that pub, a certain doorway – they become the incidental markers on our individual journeys. So do the stories we tell and hear, the books we write and read, the art that some of us make and look at, leaving our marks wherever we go.

• Mark Walllinger ID is at Hauser & Wirth, London, until 7 May.

[Editor] 张艳