Mark Wallinger

Anthony Reynolds Gallery

“In the beginning”: the first words of the Bible; THE END: the first words of Mark Wallinger’s new film. Almost twelve minutes long, The End, 2006, is a sequence of names scrolling slowly up the center of the screen, like the credits concluding a movie, listing every person in the Old Testament (plus a few verses of the New), in order of appearance. GOD. ADAM. EVE. CAIN, it starts, finally ending—hundreds of unfamiliar, mostly male, names later—with JOSEPH. MARY. JESUS. This last name rolls up and offscreen at the end, ascending into the ceiling, as it were. Nearly all of the names are decidedly “other” for a Westerner—Ammon, Rahab, Achen, Zabdi, Zerah; of unmistakably Jewish and Middle Eastern origins, these names plainly connect Christianity to the faraway cultures many Christians now feel so disconnected from—indeed, to the peoples we are at war with. Especially when we recall that Islam, too, claims its biblical lineage as descendants of Abraham, The End becomes a very complicated commentary—on the impossibility of fundamentalism, the dangers of forgetting, and the threads that unite mortal enemies. So subtle is Wallinger’s message, it is almost as if he were working in a climate of censorship, in which any political statement must be veiled in such loaded, intelligent forms. Printed in a somber, seraphed font, the “credits” read like an electric tombstone, or like a dark roll call of lost soldiers, as in Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

For its sound track, Wallinger knowingly borrows Strauss’s most famous waltz, The Blue Danube, which Stanley Kubrick used so magnificently in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Thanks to the music, Wallinger’s biblical cast of characters dances through space and time, as if changing partners across the East-West divide. The music itself drifts into long, unfamiliar riffs before finally settling to the familiar, triumphant melody we recognize; in the same way, we are strangely comforted finally to read, within this ceaseless roster of unpronounceable names, the occasional one that we know, like Goliath, or Moses, or Satan.

Even more charged with geopolitical and religiohistorical innuendo is the installation A ist für Alles, 2005. Here, a Mies van der Rohe divan stands isolated and empty in the center of the room, surrounded by the sounds of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra—Arab and Jewish musicians who were brought together by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim—tuning up to the note A before a performance. Another beginning, therefore, and another overlap of geography and language. The word divan has multiple meanings, including a book of poems in Persian or Arabic, as well as a place of assembly in Muslim countries. West-Eastern Divan is above all the title of a book of poems by Goethe, who attempted to capture in this work the spirit of Eastern poetry for German readers: a model of engagement with non-Western art, or another example of colonial-era cultural exoticism? The divan moreover suggests Freud’s couch, the site where we confront that biggest of “others,” our own psyche, probably the real source of the conflicts and coincidences hermetically represented here. In this, Wallinger’s first foray into nonfigurative art, the artist presents a long, complicated tangle between East and West that goes back to Adam and Eve and that has persisted through Romanticism, modernism, and into the twenty-first century, with THE END nowhere in sight.

Gilda Williams