Cornelia Parker at Frith Street Gallery, London (1999)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 10 August 2010
This review first appeared in Sculpture, 19(2), page 69 in March 2000.

Cornelia Parker at Frith Street Gallery

Suspicious fires, explosions, poltergeists, and padded cells. Cornelia Parker’s recent show included these and more, with subject matter "too emotional, too out of control, and too dramatic." With these references, Parker presented a range of installations, objects, photographs, and drawings that include sensational aspects. Equally, the works also have quiet, reflective properties, which create a strong, layered presence with the "residues of memory... created by destructive forces both natural and man-made."

For her two installations, Cornelia Parker continued previous themes of resurrecting the forgotten and added new twists. In Hanging Fire (1999), she suspended charcoal, taken from a suspicious fire that destroyed a church near London, with string and wire. The work acts as a counterpart to Mass (Colder Darker Matter) (1997)—an implied cube of suspended charcoal gathered from a church struck by lightning in Texas—first exhibited at London’s Tate Gallery when Parker was a 1997 Turner Prize finalist. Parker says, "I like the idea of two very similar-looking works with two very different histories. A fire’s a fire’s a fire—yet they all have different causes." In comparison to the larger Mass, Parker made Hanging Fire on a domestic scale, and the piece also relates to the gallery space’s now-covered fireplace as "a memory of the fire." Meanwhile, with A Side of England (1999), Parker resurrected chalk from a cliff fall at Beachy Head, South Downs, in England—a famous suicide spot—and "rebuilt the cliff" in the gallery with suspended chalk pieces. In essence, she creates a new kind of "cliffhanger" with reference to the edge of England, as well as the edge of life, and materially conjures up the site’s associated emotions while offering a visually appealing form.

From suicide to poltergeist: Cornelia Parker included a photograph of a slipper "that flew through the air," prompted by England’s famous Enfield poltergeist of the late 1970s—as well as objects which reputedly combusted spontaneously. These works relate to her 1999 residency at London’s Science Museum, where she further nurtured an interest in "the fringes of science—things that are not deemed ’science’ by the scientific community. I wanted to show some objects that related to things that defied gravity, that were thrown through the air in terms of space and flight." Nearby, Tarnish from a Spoon Bent by a Psychic (1999), on a white cotton handkerchief, helps to stir up the space. Playfully framing the potential fact/fiction merger of the selection, two photographic images show the material of a padded cell from a psychiatric hospital in Inside Out and Outside In (both 1999). Adding a little spark to the pot, Parker created Explosion Drawings (1999), made with "deconstructed" charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter (components of gun powder), with dots on separate sheets of glass, isolating the elements and implying the uncertainty of potential disaster.

Over the past year, Cornelia Parker has exhibited work in "Contemporary British Artists" at the Denver Art Museum, "Documents and Lies" at Optica Gallery in Montreal, the Melbourne International Biennial in Australia, as well as in England, France, and Italy. In 2000, she will be in the group show "Interventions" at the Milwaukee Art Museum and have a major retrospective at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, which will tour to selected venues in the U.S.