For the first time in this century, Tate Britain has surpassed Tate Modern as the birthplace of London’s most dazzling contemporary art show. Cornelia Parker’s retrospective is a must-see of the season, and to get to it, you need to travel through Hew Locke’s gorgeous parade of 100 stuccoes and fabrics, colorful carnival figures, processionits joyous, pathetic, and postcolonial narrative vigorously disturbed the neoclassical Duwen Gallery.
Then the bustle stopped, the colors faded, the tones were all monochromatic shimmer, and Parker’s “Thirty Pieces” quivered in the silence. It’s a superb opening moment: hanging from copper wires, more than a thousand pieces of everyday silverware – teapots, candlesticks, plates, cutlery – are flattened by steam rollers and arranged in 30 disc-shaped groups to eerily The grid form hovers above the ground. Beginning in 1988, Parker’s first major work is well known, but always stunning: brutal/sophisticated glamour, monotony and domestic wonder transformed into shimmering strangeness – beauty that emerges from destruction.
Thirty Pieces of Silver is the most original and memorable British sculpture of the 1980s. A stark contrast to the boy gangs of the decade lifting weights – Kapoor, Gormley, Cragg, Woodrow. Parker’s mass of broken old silver looks weightless, stunning and elegant: the sculpture not only pulls from its base, but appears to defy gravity, floating in the air.
“I seem to like killing things and resurrecting them,” Parker said. The Christian allusions are clear in “Thirty Pieces”, which set the parameters for her career: the ephemeral is the subject of the material and the physical transformation – “I think it is variant” – which she did The core process of everything, on a minute or huge scale.
The gossamer “Negation of the Word” consists of tiny silver swashbuckles, the remnants of the letters engraved by silversmiths. The ethereal “Negative of Sound” is painted in black lacquer, the residue of cutting the grooves of the record. ‘Inhaling the Cliffs’ are sheets painted with chalk from the White Cliffs of Dover.
In the “Bullet Paintings” series, Parker melts the lead in the bullet, stretches it and sews it onto paper; the result is reminiscent of Agnes Martin’s airy, irregular linear abstractions. Parker works in a minimalist aesthetic — the show is almost entirely black, white and silver — but has a bite. She made inky Rorschach ink blots with rattlesnake venom. In “The Precipitated Gun,” the acid turns the murder weapon into a harmless, crumbling pile of horizontal rust. Violence is dismissed as redundant, orchestrated, formal displays.
Parker’s famous installation, “Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View,” was a garden shed whose contents were blown up by British troops on her instructions. Twisted metal remnants are suspended in a cubic shape by transparent threads: gardening tools, parasols, bicycle wheels, roller skates, discarded record players, books, hair curlers, thermos caught in the explosion. Charred wood chips dangle on the outside; on the inside, a light bulb creates shadows that change as you move.
The content has also changed. Parker wrote it in 1991 “in response to the bombing of the IRA in London, that constant threat of explosion”; today it resonates with the slaughter of war, the bombardment of civilians in Europe. It’s a timeless work, even philosophical (the title refers to The Big Bang Theory), but, like all of Parker’s work, it’s also contemplative of Britishness, with elements of junk-shop comedy, suburban dirge— — Once the fragility of life owns these mayflies.
Parker’s fragments do function as artifacts – each object’s history lends a mysterious meaning. “They act as agents, materials and substances,” she said. In 2015, 25 years after Cold Dark Matter, in a dark, war-torn world, she created War Room to “deal with an exploding shack”. . . I feel like I want to do something that acknowledges the war”. The installation is the Tate’s only ongoing, brilliant colour: an immersive blood-red tent made from perforated crepe paper left over from the production of the Memorial Poppy Film composition.
Thousands of poppy-shaped holes commemorate the countless lives lost in war. The huge tent that Parker sees as “a kind of chapel” is both fragile and sheltered, luxurious, and soaked in the stain of conflict. Parker has never done physical sculpture, and her work is framed by images of refuge, threat, or shattering, from the detonated shack to here’s latest work, “Island,” a greenhouse covered in white chalk. Calling it “England in a cliffhanger”, Parker alludes to a closed, uncertain, inward-looking country, as the crisis hits — crumbling coastlines, rising sea levels, ecological and political catastrophe.
Parker is a conceptual artist who can consciously play in Duchamp-esque fashion—in “Distance (Kiss with Strings)” she wraps Rodin’s “kiss” in a mile-long rope, using bland entanglement to embody romantic ecstasy. But despite her use of every trope of the formalist agenda of modernism—found objects, grid structures, abstraction—her work is more accessible, less esoteric, and more moving than that of most conceptualists. They feel intuitive, emotionally charged, and that must be partly because they feel deeply about the experience.
Parker was born in Cheshire in 1956 and is a Catholic. Her peasant father was a bully and unexpectedly violent. Her introverted German mother was a nurse during World War II, and when Parker was a teenager, she was hospitalized with a mental illness — the self-evident consequence of witnessing horrific trauma. “I’m still trying to understand this — I’m struggling with this chaotic mood swing,” Parker explained, adding: “I can’t stand Catholicism right now.” However, its paradigm of destruction and resurrection is very important to her. The works are crucial, like the unsteady feeling of a wandering child’s wobbles.
More recent works are more political, including the ambitious Magna Carta (Embroidery) (2015). Parker conceived this epic embroidery for the Medieval Charter’s Wikipedia page, with text stitched by multiple hands, including Doreen Lawrence (“Justice,” “Deny,” “Delay”), mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence ; pulp singer Jarvis Cocker (“Ordinary People”); and whistleblower Edward Snowden (“Liberty”) as “Portraits of the Times.” As a documentary, it’s impressive. But her truly spectacular work remains spooky and mysterious.
For “Eternal Canon” (2004), Parker had 60 trumpets, tubas, cornets, a giant ring-shaped sousa tuba – squashed by a forklift – and hung up to form a phantom, silent copper The pipe band, amplified by huge reflections projected on the gallery walls, ceiling. There were memories of thousands of breaths energizing these deflated instruments, and a fresh sense of presence—like the collective “giant breath” that Parker hoped, a gasp that held and continued “forever” . And so the band moved on: as uplifting and lyrical as any image of loss, renewal, and survival in 21st-century art.
Until October 16th, tate.org.uk