• I couldn’t decide if “Mark” was a moniker or a conceptual statement when I first spotted this mysterious piece of graffiti politely chalked in the middle of acres of brick wall, but it struck me as a clever, so I photographed it. It was a good move – I later learned it was part of a Guardian/Frieze project by Mark Wallinger, so it was both a name and a conceptual statement, with the triple whammy of converting the wall into a frieze. It was one of many such he chalked on various brick walls in summer 2010, which were then incorporated into a 113 minute video called “MARK”, often paired with “According to Mark”, an installation of miscellaneous chairs all tethered by cords to the same lofty vanishing point, and magic-markered with his name – or possibly a word meaning dupe – on the back.
He has also made a series of works called “Self portrait”, paintings of the small but meaningful word “I” in different fonts. Many artists have done variations on this – there’s a page of them here – though to me Wallinger’s seem most inspired by the compulsive “I am” paintings of that late struggler after faith Colin McCahon, too little known outside his native New Zealand, who had an impactful London show at the ICA in 1990. But while “MARK” and “Self Portrait” may seem superficially similar in their concepts, they present diametrically opposing aspects of the self. The letter “I” presents the inward self, different for everyone and impossible to really know from outside, yet a word that when written or said is exactly the same for vast numbers of people. Whereas Mark, in the sense of a name, represents the outward self: again a title shared with many others, but with differing socio-historical readings imposed from the outside, depending on the hearer. A name can even confer qualities on its owner that were shaped by other bearers: Queen Victoria in my case say, or the Gospel of St Mark – alluded to in the aforementioned “According to Mark”, and whose writer is in fact disputed – in Wallinger’s. His first name is felicitously also the word for the basic component of what his “trade” is traditionally deemed to be about – which in itself is an extrapolation of the most primitive indicator that an entity was present, from an animal to a glacier to a meteorite to a hoodie. But of course even the basic mark is not a given in contemporary art; though there’s no doubt that this Mark is indeed a clever and subtle (much more so than he at first seems) artist.
Below are two other images I stumbled across while researching this that, in very different ways, seemed to refract echoes of Wallinger’s “MARK”: “The Resurface”, 2010, by Turner prize loser (shame!) George Shaw, whose brick walls also allude to the mysteries of human lives passing; and a 1450-ish imaginary portrait of St Mark the Evangelist raising a singular digit by Andrea Mantegna, the only artist of that period known to have painted self-portraits. See the Mantegna in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt; or for more of Mark Wallinger’s self-contained marks and non-marks there’s an exhibition at the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art in the Netherlands (it’s in Tilburg, an hour from either Antwerp or Amsterdam) until 12 Feb 2012.