Harrier and Jaguar is the new installation by artist Fiona Banner and is on display at Tate Britain. Banner has grasped the discomfiting significance of these weapons of war. The incongruity of the setting in which these recently decommissioned fighter planes find themselves helps to build the tension between our perceptions of these machines and our objective experience of them.
The Sea Harrier is suspended from the roof and brings to mind the butcher’s shops of yesteryear when game birds would be publicly hung so their meat could mature. It brings to mind these trussed birds, well and truly deceased and hung ignominiously upside down.
The Jaguar is polished and presented lying on its cockpit, like an outstretched, recumbent animal. It position suggest a submissive, tamed animal. It is highly polished allowing the audience to see its own reaction in the reflective surface.
Are they captive beasts or fallen trophies? There is irony here – both of these fighter planes have seen military action and who can tell how many lives they and their pilots have taken? The ambiguity is self evident – one can only deplore the destruction they have wreaked but, simultaneously, we are drawn by their beauty and elegance.
Some have argued that the Harrier and Jaguar are not art, but essentially the mixed emotions that they evoke are at the very heart of what art is. Tate Britain has been planning this installation with Banner for two years. No doubt they knew that her subject matter would cause some controversy.
Yet Harrier and Jaguar is not intended as a political statement. Banner is simply drawing our attention to our responses to iconic images that we are faced with every day. We are asked to judge our own response to the art as much as the art itself.