Systems are go with mathematical Mark Wallinger show at BALTIC in Gateshead

By Mark Sheerin | 25 June 2012
Colour photo of a gallery filled with pebbles on chequerboard
Mark Wallinger: SITE, Featuring The Other Wall, 2012 and 10000000000000000 (2012)© Mark Wallinger. Courtesy Mark Wallinger, Anthony Reynolds Gallery and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. Photograph: Colin Davison
Exhibition: Mark Wallinger – SITE, BALTIC, Gateshead, until October 14 2012

On a grim day in June, a Mark Wallinger self portrait can be found lashed to the side of BALTIC, staring into the teeth of the wind and the rain. Such a pitting of the artist against nature might recall romanticism, but not here. This is no young man in a frockcoat, but a cool, conceptual letter “I” in Times New Roman.

Inside the Gateshead gallery, these cerebral confrontations with nature continue. A beach worth of pebbles has been carefully counted and arranged onto 1,024 chequerboard mats. Mathematicians may work out this makes 65,536 of the stones, a superperfect number. The less numerate of us will be quite simply stunned by the humbling scale of the piece.

Large but finite numbers also play a role in the contruction of a red-brick wall along one whole side of the cavernous fourth floor here at BALTIC. Some 11,000 bricks, which recall the building exterior, are here numbered up in chalk, randomly. It is up to visitors whether they see themselves as a brick in the wall or a pebble on the shore. Wallinger’s impersonal system driven pieces are more easy to relate to than you might think.

Colour photo of a carpet of pebbles on chequerboard squares
Mark Wallinger, 10000000000000000 (2012) (detail)© Mark Wallinger. Courtesy Mark Wallinger, Anthony Reynolds Gallery and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. Photograph: Colin Davison
All three pieces above are site-specific commissions for BALTIC. This is Wallinger’s biggest UK show for a decade and, compared with works like State Britain at Tate Britain or Sleeper at the Berlin Neue National, SITE is a little less colourful. But with no reconstructed peace camp on Tyneside and no antics in a bear suit, there are still personal touches.

The vast blanket of pebbles has accidental patches of light and dark like a Dutch landscape painting. And it finds an echo in a nearby film set on a beach. Three jaunty scaffolders set up and dismantle a rig in cheerfully absurd circumstances. And you get a feel for the mood which must have struck the gallery’s building team upon seeing their brief for this most arty of building sites.

Concept-led work is usually less dry than it sounds, but the effects here are even elegaic. A final piece presents a slide show of brickwork on which the artist has quite simply written his first name in chalk.

Brick after brick, you watch these shots revolve, until the word seems less like a signature and more like an existential placemarker. And this, now that numbers have become our nature, could be said for the entire show.

  • Open 10am-6pm (10.30am-6pm Tuesday). Admission free.

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