Close by the River Orwell in Suffolk – from which the author of 1984 (1949), George Orwell, borrowed his nom de plume – there is a chalky patch of farmland. Inaccessible to the public, it is not used to grow crops or to graze livestock, but has instead been turned over to meadow, in order to attract and sustain a population of bees. Twanging among the wildflowers, these endangered insects remain unaware of what lies buried some nine metres beneath their flightpaths: a decommissioned Hawker Siddeley Dominie T1 military plane, interred by Roger Hiorns in 2016. The first in a network of submerged aircraft collectively titled A Retrospective View of the Pathway (to date, the artist has buried two others: in Prague and in the Dutch town of Haarlem), the Hawker was originally used for surveillance. Now, its windows nudged by moles and worms, its sensory apparatus struck blind, the plane has been removed from the realm of visible things and transformed, perhaps paradoxically, into a work of art.
Burying a military plane begins with an elemental inversion: the medium of air is exchanged for the medium of earth. From this, further inversions follow: a moving object is stilled, an aggressive object is pacified, a unilateral object stops taking sides. If there’s a faint echo, here, of the Biblical injunction to beat ‘swords into ploughshares’, then we should note that Hiorns made no physical changes to his Suffolk aircraft. An objet trouvé (or, given its subtraction from the sensible world, more accurately an objet perdu), it nevertheless retains its status as a tool, albeit one that’s been rendered militarily impotent, and is now available, to the mind if not the hand or eye, for a new and ambiguous use.
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