Cornelia Parker – At the Whitworth Gallery Manchester

Cornelia Parker is an English sculptor, installation and conceptual artist. Her work is based around transformation of the everyday object. Investigating the nature of matter and to test the physical properties of space, meaning, and its relationship to the world in which it sits. By changing familiar objects into unfamiliar forms, helping the viewer to see the object in a different way or in its more natural state. As with the lead bullets, she uses them to stitch into paper after turning them into threads of lead. By using a threatening object in an unthreatening manner allows the object that causes destruction to re engage with the viewer in a new way, as form of disarming it.

This exhibition has a vast amount of Parker’s work on display and each piece has its own complex and allusive narrative, which she seems to enjoy exploring and inviting the viewer to engage in dialogue with the piece. Her materials are loaded with a past history and her work uses this narrative to both translate and transform the ideas of that history. The way the materials are manipulated is always in a scientific way with much collaboration with scientists, engineers and many others helping explore the possibilities, via suspending, stretching and chemically altering their values.

The work I had wanted to see first was – Cold Dark matter: An Exploded View (1991)

This work in itself was a feat of engineering and organizational skills, largely due to the help of the British army and their explosives engineers. The concept originally came about due to Parker living in London during the threat of the IRA bombings. The idea of the ‘explosion’ within society was an iconic thing at the time and had many connotations and narratives attached to it.

Violence and beauty and multilayered physicality are intertwined within most of her work and this piece is no exception. Constant imagery of violence from media, films, history and science with the big bang theory and supernova had informed much of her MA work and it was a natural progression to produce and actual real explosion.

A garden shed full of household objects was used for the work, a ‘heterotopia of time’ an area rather like a loft space or a museum for the home, a place/ space where objects are collected and stored, they exist in time but are also outside of time being preserved within the walls of the building.

The shed, specifically when this work was produced within society is classed mainly as a male dominated domain. One could read many things into this. The shed blown up by an army, using explosives that terrorists use are all predominantly male areas of society, depicting violence, control, and both natural and supernatural happenings and yet the idea and process is created by a woman. The Name itself ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ is itself an attempt to measure something that is unmeasurable.

Like life itself this work leaves us with many unanswered questions. A light at the centre glowing through, casting immense shadows on the surrounding walls. Larger than life size yet fragile to touch, precariously hanging in the space, suspended in time, a frozen moment where solid tangible material becomes shattered and dismembered.

A sombre reflection on the explosion work was an installation created for the gallery called ‘War Room (2015)’ like a chapel of 320000 absentees. Parker wanted to show absence. A dimly lit room filled with the feelings and emptiness of loss. A floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall marquee, of flowing, rippling blood red empty poppy spaces. Two layers of these paper negatives covered the whole space, echoing the symmetry of war graves.

The work of Cornelia Parker is extremely multilayered, visceral and emotional. Tensions between the material and the context are extreme prevalent within her installations and sculptures. Her influences of Arte Povera from the 1960’s can be seen throughout her practice.

A part of the work the public does not see, is this performance of creating, this is what she enjoys the most. The transformation of the artwork, passing through the themes of life, death and resurrection.


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