Cornelia Parker (1956 − )
Cornelia Parker OBE, RA, came to wide public attention by being shortlisted for the all-female Turner Prize in 1997, along with Christine Borland, Angela Bulloch and Gillian Wearing. As an artist for whom institutions are a key subject - she has worked with the Church of England, the British Army, H.M. Customs and Excise - her route into the art establishment was somewhat oblique. Born onto a small-holding in rural Cheshire in 1956, she studied at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design (1974-75) and Wolverhampton Polytechnic (1975-78). As a student, Parker turned away from painting, frustrated by its representational limits; in sculpture, she found herself hard-pressed against the monolithic, monumental canon. Arte Povera was a formative influence: she cites Piero Manzoni's Artist's Breath (1960) for example - a deflated balloon - as a way of describing the temporariness of the world. Accordingly, Parker divides her works between those that inhale or exhale, understanding solids to be unstable, and objects as living, changing things.
Getting away from representational or purely formal concerns, her starting points are often actual things. Memorabilia bought up at auction include a feather from Sigmund Freud's pillow, Mrs. Simpson's ice skates, Queen Victoria's stocking, Charles Dickens' quill pen, Charlotte Bronte's pincushion, the nightgown worn by Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. These are historical remnants - other people's deflated balloons, as it were. Cliche can rob something of its strength; Parker's interventions add a note of dissent, in the hope of granting the item a new lease of life. So Freud's feather is presented in a forensic close up, while Farrow's nightgown is photographed through a blue lens, as if capturing the elapse of time since the era of the cult film. Darian Leader has observed, 'These recuperations not only show objects in a new state but also introduce the idea of an object as a change of state.'
In a commission for Tate Britain, The Distance (A Kiss With String Attached) (2003) Parker took Rodin's iconic sculpture, The Kiss, a go-to icon of romantic love, and refreshed that idea with emotional complication by wrapping it in a mile of string. Her action lassoes associated stories. On its first display in 1911, The Kiss had to be covered up because it was deemed too erotic; by covering it with a mile of string Parker answered the original audience's outcry, whilst invoking Duchamp's impish contribution to the 1942 Surrealism exhibition in New York, where he exhibited a mile of string by draping it over everybody else's work. This sense of humour was not shared by a portion of the 21st century public, offended by having such a well-loved sculpture temporarily obscured.
'Avoided Object' is an ongoing series on a small-scale, pursuing the idea of the inverse of a monument. Here Parker uncovers hidden aspects from between the warp and weft of familiar institutions. In The Negative of Whispers (1997) she made earplugs from fluff gathered in the Whispering Gallery of St Paul's Cathedral. Political Abstract (Red and Green) (2010) presents a carousel projector shining light through a glass slide that contains fluff from the Houses of Commons and Lords.
The counterbalance to Parker's delicate reworkings of cultural residue is her relish of cartoonishly violent processes: steamrollering, exploding, having things riddled with bullet-holes or fall from cliffs, these all have a ring of 'Tom and Jerry'. In Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), violence is twinned with a quiet aftermath. Parker had a garden shed blown up by the British Army and suspended the fragments around a single light, as if the explosion process were suspended in time. Shadows are thrown across the gallery walls. Suspension is one of the artist's signature methods of display: it is dramatic, site-specific and imbued with uncertainty. So in Cold Dark Matter Parker is describing a psychological state alongside the Big Bang, bringing together the universal and the personal.
Recently Parker's attention has turned to issues of global warming, consumerism and the mass-media. Chomskian Abstract (2007) is a film of her interview with the philosopher and commentator Noam Chomsky, where all her questions have been edited out, prompting the viewer to come up with the questions. World on the Brink of Tricky Small Print (2008) serves as a postscript. Here the titular sentence was arranged from words drawn from newspaper clippings and then written out by the artist's seven year old daughter in learner's joined-up. The pencil is pressed hard with concentration into the exercise book; the words outsize the guidelines, and teeter down to the right, diminishing towards an ellipsis.
 Darian Leader, 'The Double Life of Objects', Jahn, Andrea, ed., Cornelia Parker: Perpetual Canon (Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld 2005), p.72
Watkins, Jonathan, ed., Cornelia Parker: Never Endings (Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 2007)
Jahn, Andrea, ed., Cornelia Parker: Perpetual Canon (Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld 2005)
Cornelia Parker (exh. cat., Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin 2001)
Morgan, Jessica, ed., Cornelia Parker (exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston 2000)
A revolving container for slides, positioned on top of a projector, which allows slides to be projected in sequence either manually, automatically or by remote control.
Existing or coming into being at the same period; of today or of the present. The term that designates art being made today.
The arrangement of elements or details in an artefact or a work of art.
A transparent, flexible plastic material, usually of cellulose acetate or polyester, on which light-sensitive emulsion is coated, or on which an image can be formed by various transfer processes.
An image in which colours and shades of an inage are reversed: the light areas of the object appear dark and the dark areas appear light. Also refers to a film, plate, or other photographic material containing such an image.
Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.
A three-dimensional work of art. Such works may be carved, modelled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, relief, and made in a huge variety of media. Contemporary practice also includes live elements, as in Gilbert & George 'Living Sculpture' as well as broadcast work, radio or sound sculpture.
An image on a transparent film / transparency, usually photographic, mounted in a frame. Viewed with a slide projector or projected onto a screen.
Current & upcoming exhibitions
- India, Mumbai, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum
- India, Kolkata, The Harrington Street Arts Centre
- India, Delhi, IGNCA
- Albania, Tirana, National Gallery
- Greece, Athens, Benaki Museum
- China, Suzhou Museum
- China, Hong Kong Heritage Museum
- China, Xian Museum
- China, Sichuan Provincial Museum
- China, Shanghai, Minsheng Art Gallery
- UK, London, Barbican Art Gallery
- Chile, Santiago, Instituto De Arte Moderno
- Colombia, Barranquilla, Museo De Arte Moderno
- Colombia, Cali, Museo La Tertulia
- Colombia, Bogota, Galeria Santa Fe De Bogota
- Venezuela, Caracas, Museo De Artes Visuales Alejandro Otero
- Venezuela, Maracaibo, Museo Arte Contemporaneo De Zulia
- Albania, Tirana, Galeria Kombetare E Arteve
- Macedonia, Skopje, Museum Of Modern Art
- Bulgaria, Varna, Varna Art Museum
- Bulgaria, Plovdiv, Plovdiv City Art Gallery
- Bulgaria, Sofia, Sofia City Art Gallery
- Cyprus, Limassol, Evagoras Lanitis Centre
- Cyprus, Nicosia, Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre
- Slovenia, Ljubljana, Mestna Gallery
- Slovenia, Celje, Contemporary Arts Gallery
- Slovenia, Maribor, Kibla Centre
- Estonia, Tallinn, Tallinn Town Hall
- Czech Republic, Prague, Czech Museum of Fine Art, Husove Street Gallery
- Yugoslavia, Podgorica, Podgorica
- Yugoslavia, Belgrade, Art Pavilion
- Poland, Wroclaw, Awagarda Gallery
- Croatia, Zagreb, Muzej Suvremene Umjetnosti
- Croatia, Zadar, Galerija Umjetnin Narodnog Muzeja
- Croatia, Split, Galerija Umjetnina
- Croatia, Dubrovnik, Palaca Sponza
- Romania, Sibiu, Museum Brukenthal
- Romania, Brasov, Muzeul De Arta Brasov
- Romania, Bucharest, National Museum Of Art