Artist’s Statement: Mark Wallinger on 10000000000000000 at BALTIC

Mark Wallinger interviewed by Mark Sheerin | 26 June 2012
Colour photo of a seated artist
© Charlie Hopkinson.
Artist’s Statement: In his own words...Mark Wallinger talks about filling the fourth floor of BALTIC, Gateshead’s former flour mill, with a vast carpet of chess mats and pebbles.

“It’s a kind of enormously extended chequerboard in which on every square rests a different pebble and, in fact, there are 65,536 squares and pebbles, which is two to the power of 16 or, in binary notation, one followed by 16 zeros.

I guess this just grew out of something I was playing with in the studio with a chess board. I picked up a bunch of stones from near my studio and set them down on the board and each suddenly became individually significant. Just the way they were placed felt so meaningful or inevitable that they almost became portraits of themselves, or something of that sort.

And then I had the idea of extending that exponentially. I suppose the structure of the chess board encourages that and the binary black and white structure seems to almost catalogue the objects.

That reminded me a bit of an archaeological dig in Troy, where they just passed cataloguing a million items, most of which were rather arid, stony-looking bits of flint.

By the same token, in the back of my mind, I was thinking about chess, but also the digital age. And 65,536 is a number signifcant in computing and early word processing.

I was also thinking about the Deep Blue computer and that moment where Kasparov was beaten by a computer, and that being a threshold beyond which materialist, artificial intelligence had outstripped certain capacities within us that were valued.

It kind of offends a bit against a spiritual notion we might have of ourselves. But at the same time, in a way, using that as a diagram, it still leaves us, I hope, just absorbed in looking at these stones in all their infinite variety.

I think it’s to do with trying to articulate that feeling of being kind of lost in either cyberspace or in systems that one can barely grasp.

The show's called Site and I suppose I did want to make a site specific show in what is now more thought of as a gallery space. And I wanted to address the dimensions of this place and make something that was kind of epic but kind of intimate as well.

It was actually assembled over a couple of days, which was pretty impressive, with the team of workers here. I mean, there's 10,24 chess mats and a lot of people on their hands and knees. My knees are playing up!”

  • Mark Wallinger: Site is at BALTIC until October 14 2012. Admission free. Open 10am-6pm Monday to Sunday (from 10.30am Tuesday).
Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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