Connect>Create 2008

Mark Wallinger, 'Passport Control' (1988)

Have you ever found yourself doodling over your own, or a friend’s photograph or digital image? Have you ever seriously thought about you’re intention when making those marks? Did you discard the image, thinking that it was meaningless?


In Passport Control (1988), Wallinger uses the simple method of doodling over his own passport photographs to show us how easy it is to perceive someone totally differently, and to classify them as such. His materials and equipment consisted of photo-booths, felt-tip pens and Tipex. The enlarged passport photos have been defaced to resemble ‘insulting epithets’ that address racial stereotyping.


The series is derived from the feeling of apprehension and sense of unease, when faced with scrutiny at frontiers, border check points or passport inspection at airports.


‘A passport photo is something you carry around with you to prove to people you’ve never met before that you exist….. It’s a personal flag’ [1] Wallinger is challenging the concept of identity – ‘ is that ‘me’ because it resembles my portrait’.


Portraiture has always featured strongly in his work. Wallinger includes himself in his art both as critical commentator and as part of the artwork. The size of Passport Control comments on what happens to the small photo if the identity of that person becomes news worthy, e.g. if a crime has been committed. This series also deals with the theme of inclusion or exclusion, playing upon the classification of human beings through racial type.


Since the mid 1980’s he has explored the complex theme of identity. Wallinger’s work is concerned with the ‘politics of representation and the representation of politics’. In the 1990’s his more well known work includes a passionate exploration of the sport of horse racing. In 1992 he produced a series of horse paintings entitled ‘Race, Class, Sex’. The four life-sized thoroughbred stallions are directly descended from Eclipse, a horse portrayed in the eighteenth century by George Stubbs. Typically challenging the viewer’s interpretation, the subject shifts perception between representation of a particular horse and the manner of its representation. Wallinger’s investigations culminated in 1994 with the purchase of a race horse which he named ‘A Real Work Of Art’. His comment suggests irony - the thoroughbred is presented as an aesthetic object whose sole purpose is to give pleasure to its owners and followers.


Wallinger works in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, video and photography, and performance e.g. the film, Sleeper, records a live performance in which the artist wears a bear suit, whilst wandering alone in Berlin’s Neue National Galerie for ten consecutive nights. He was awarded the Turner Prize in 2007 for the visceral reconstruction of banners and paraphernalia of the protest against the war in Iraq, in Parliament Square by Brian Haw.


[1] Interview with Mark Wallinger, 2007.  Ferens Art Gallery ‘Illumination’s’ recording. ©

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