Cornelia Parker

(b. 1956)

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(1956– )

British multimedia artist, born in Cheshire. She studied at Gloucester College of Art, Wolverhampton College of Art, and Reading University. Much of her work is dependent on the appropriation and sometimes transformation of existing objects. However, the objects are nothing like the Duchampian ready-mades. They are not mass-produced items which had no status or dignity before they were singled out as art. Instead they are often objects with strong powers of association, which carry what Walter Benjamin would call an ‘aura’. Some part of Parker's project seems to be searching for instances where this quality still resides. For instance, in 2006 as the result of a commission by the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, she produced works consisting of close-up photographs of items that were used by Charlotte Brontë, such as her needle or her pen nib, materials which have a history. To fully appreciate the work the viewer needs some knowledge of this history. The Pornographic Drawings (1996, Tate) are Rorschach-test-like images which suggest naked bodies in such an inexplicit and vague way that few would describe them as the title does. However, they have been painted with liquid solutions of video tapes which have been seized and condemned as obscene by Customs and Excise. In another piece a doll was cut in half by the same blade which beheaded Marie Antoinette. Her best-known works are probably her visually impressive installations. Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988–9, Tate) suspends silver and plate objects just above the floor. Once obviously prized by their owners but now discarded, they were crushed flat by Parker with a steamroller. Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1992, Tate) fills the room with the suspended dark fragments of a shed which was exploded, at Parker's instructions, by the British army. The impact of the work is enhanced by the light shining in the middle. Parker's recent work has been increasingly informed by her environmental and political concerns. Chomskian Abstract (2007) is a 40-minute video work consisting only of discussion of current affairs, especially of the destructive power of American business and government interests, by the radical philosopher Noam Chomsky.

Further Reading

R. C. Johnston, ‘Cornelia Parker is out to save the planet’, The Times (12 February 2008)C. Parker, Never Endings (2007)

Subjects: Art.

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