Threshold to the Kingdom by Mark Wallinger

Mark Wallinger

Threshold to the Kingdom, 2000, Video, projection, colour and sound (stereo), Duration: 11min, 12sec, Tate; Presented by Tate Members 2009, T12811, © Mark Wallinger, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

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A Discomfiting New Jerusalem

Commentary by

British artist Mark Wallinger is best known for his explorations of loaded issues like class, British heritage, nationalism, and imperialism. But he has also drawn on his Church of England upbringing to create sculptures, photographs, and videos that deal with the intersections of religion and politics. In such works, quotidian settings like classrooms, underground railway stations, and airports become stand-ins for the sacred realm.

In his film Threshold to the Kingdom, Wallinger transforms the international arrivals door at London’s City Airport into an unsettling version of Judgement Day. This video was filmed surreptitiouslyin 1998 as travellers made their way out of the airport. They walk through the door, some slowly and apparently disconcerted, others purposeful, and yet others happily waving to waiting loved ones. As they pass a hidden camera they suddenly vanish, as if into another realm. The video is presented in extreme slow motion to the choral accompaniment of Gregorio Allegri’s sublime hymn of atonement, ‘Miserere Mei’.

Here, as the title of the work suggests, the airport serves as a metaphor for the gates of heaven. But it is an ambiguous symbol. Wallinger explains that the work was inspired by his own fear of flying and his discomfort with the heightened security measures at these places of arrival and departure. The airport, he remarks, ‘is where we experience the power of the state at its most overt: we are being judged, which I realized was analogous to confession and absolution in the Roman Catholic Church’ (Bois et al 2008: 196).

In this work, the gauntlet that the faithful must undergo to achieve salvation is re-imagined in terms of the authoritarianism, the surveillance, and the potential humiliation and exclusion that are now part of the travel experience. As a result, Paradise, when finally achieved, begins to seem more akin to prison than to the glories of the New Jerusalem.

 

References

Bois, Yve-Alain, et al. 2008. ‘An Interview with Mark Wallinger’, October Magazine, 123: 185–204