The jury has long been out on what does or does not constitute modern art, but the sheer wow factor of two combat tested warplanes filling the galleries of the Tate Britain is certain to silence even the most hardened critic – if only for a few moment. The work, aptly named Harrier and Jaguar in honour of the two aircraft involved, is the brainchild of artist Fiona Banner, and showcases one battle-hardened jet strung-up like a trophy while the second lies upside down on the floor.
Aircraft are amazing pieces of engineering considered by many to be an art form in themselves, but here’s a Harrier “jump jet” and Jaguar ground attack aircraft as you’ve never seen them before, in submissive poses amid the neo-classical grandeur of the Tate Britain’s sculpture galleries. Once at the forefront of military technology, the Sea Harrier and Jaguar GR3A – which saw combat in Bosnia and Iraq – are now “trophies of war, albeit fallen or inverted”, according to Banner.
The former Royal Navy Sea Harrier (worth £12 million when new) forms the centrepiece of the Harrier and Jaguar exhibition. Aviation enthusiasts may rebuke the aircraft’s new pose – suspended from the ceiling with its nose pointing at the ground, painted with feathers to resemble its avian namesake in an effort to symbolise a “captive bird” or trussed carcass – but had Banner not intervened the jet, serial number ZE695, would probably have been scrapped.
The Harrier was grounded after an accident in 2000 which forced the pilot to eject to safety. Seriously damaged but otherwise intact, it was gutted for spare parts at RAF St Athan then put up for tender. So despite the ignominious sight of one of the finest warplanes of all time being strung-up from the ceiling, this Harrier has had a new lease of life that has seen it rebuilt to become a complete aircraft once again.
In a similar vein, the 16-metre long, seven-tonne Jaguar, which saw action in Iraq and later Bosnia, lies belly-up “like a submissive animal” on the gallery floor, designed to “imply both captured beast and fallen trophy”. The Jaguar’s paintwork – including irreverent wartime nose-art reading “Buster Gonad And His Unfeasibly Large Testicles” – has been completely stripped off. The result is a highly polished surface that acts as a mirror, and an aircraft that looks more like an unfinished Airfix model than a weapon of war.
But Banner, speaking to the Mail, insisted the work was not a protest: “I’m conscious of the fact that we all hate war but these objects inspire a strange enthusiasm in us”, she said. “We’re seduced by them. I am interested in that clash between what we feel and what we think.”
Harrier and Jaguar isn’t Banner’s first use of aviation in art. Her previous work includes written transcriptions of the frame-by-frame action in Top Gun and an exhibition of Airfix models of all war planes currently in service in the world. Harrier and Jaguar is the latest Duveens Commission, a series of sculpture displays in the neo-classical Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain.
The two aircraft were bought from a dealer for an undisclosed amount. Discussion on this forum suggests the Jaguar GR3A, serial number XZ118, came from Everett Aero on the former RAF Bentwaters site in Suffolk, England. If so, it probably cost around £12,500, like this similar Jaguar currently up for sale. The picture above shows the Tate’s Jaguar in more active days, right-way-up with afterburners blazing on its take-off run. Harrier and Jaguar runs until January 3, 2011 at Tate Britain.