An Announcement about Our Royal Patronage

New Acquisition: Fiona Banner’s The Bastard Word Studies (2006-7)

Published on: 27 September 2023

Art Piece 'The Bastard Word Studies' on display in the Museum gallery

Fiona Banner ‘The Bastard Word Studies’, graphite on paper, 2006-7 © Fiona Banner and Frith Street Gallery.

The Royal Air Force Museum has acquired a major suite of drawings by contemporary artist Fiona Banner aka The Vanity Press, whose art is internationally at the forefront of exploring aircraft as weapons.

Fiona Banner’s The Bastard Word Studies (2006-7) is a series of 26 large graphite on paper drawings of aircraft fragments twisted and shaped into letters of the alphabet. It contends that the failure of language leads to conflict. Representing military aircraft operational around the world at the time, Banner questions the legitimacy of this universal language of weapons, which might instead have been the language of peace and negotiation. A precursor to her career-defining Harrier and Jaguar installation at Tate Britain (2010), The Bastard Word Studies is a seminal work which combines Banner’s two main conceptual interests: language and military hardware. With others entering private collections, this is the artist’s only aircraft alphabet to enter a public collection in the UK. Its acquisition vitally extends and enhances the Museum’s collecting of post-war to contemporary art.

Fiona Banner © Mischa Haller

Fiona Banner comments that: ‘Language really is our number one agency. It’s our tool of communication and coalescence, and yet it seems to fail us. And what happens when, ultimately, language fails us is conflict. So, that’s the shift over from something that could be the language of treaties, could be the language of negotiation, but becomes this obtuse and physical thing in The Bastard Word Studies, which is a sort of anti-language, a language which works against its own communicative potential … I was also thinking of language itself as a physical, potentially deployable, weapon. Each of those letters I saw as something that you might hurl or have hurled at you’.

Maggie Appleton, CEO of the RAF Museum said: ‘Fiona Banner’s The Bastard Word Studies is a major acquisition for the Museum which strengthens our growing body of post-war to contemporary works, an area we are keen to develop to match the quality of our important First and Second World War works. A strength of our collection is its coverage of work by women artists, including Dame Laura Knight and Sybil Andrews, and we are excited to update this representation with Fiona Banner’s work as one of the most internationally renowned female artists working in Britain today. Vitally for us, her work is at the forefront of examining themes of military aircraft and conflict, which she does in The Bastard Word Studies with a powerful visual intensity and probing exploration of the subject, inviting us to ask questions about diplomacy, reverence, beauty, and destruction.’

About the artist:

Fiona Banner aka The Vanity Press (b.1966, Merseyside) explores gender, language, interpretation and publishing through a range of mediums, including drawing, sculpture and installation, performance and the moving image. Two key themes are central to her approach: the struggle between language and its limitations, and how conflict is mythologised through popular culture. Banner combines these preoccupations in The Bastard Word Studies.

On display:

The Bastard Word Studies is on display in the Art Gallery, Hangar 3, RAF Museum London, as part of the exhibition, To the Stars: Illuminating the Art Collection in 50 Works.

The RAF Museum would like to thank the Art Fund for generously assisting the purchase of this work through Acquisitions Grant support.
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