Cornelia Parker at Serpentine Gallery, London (1998)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 8 September 2011
This review first appeared in World Sculpture News, 4(3), page 48-9 in 1998.

Cornelia Parker at Serpentine Gallery, London

In the work of Cornelia Parker, unexpected objects come to mind—all with an ironic sense of poetry. Sometimes they recall cartoon death, semi-automatic machine gun fire, drive-by shootings, and the resurrection of the long forgotten. Such was the case with her recent exhibition which included installations, altered and re-presented objects, tarnishes, and photography work.

Of her installation work at the Serpentine Gallery, Cornelia Parker included two early works illustrating her trademark “cartoon deaths”, where objects come back to life. The installation, Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988-1989), consisted of steamrolled silver objects resurrected and suspended from the ceiling. Meanwhile, a catalogue[-publicity] photograph showed the pre-squashed objects laid out on the pavement with a sinister-looking steamroller poised for its work. With Matter and What it Means (1989) suspended coins run over by a train took an implied human shape with a ghostly presence.

Cornelia Parker also gives old objects new life and questions the hierarchy of valued objects. In a new installation, Room for Margins (1998), she arranged usually unseen margins and canvas liners from work by the 19th century British painter J.M.W Turner, which were damaged during the London floods of 1928. The effect (ghosts of the original paintings) is a repositioning of objects of little importance to artworks in and of themselves.

The literally titled Suit Shot by Pearl Necklace (1995) and Dress Shot by Small Change (1995) represented Cornelia Parker’s altered and re-presented works, both now part of the Saatchi Collection. With these works she ironically combines comedy, shock, and curiosity with her “executions,” while offering an opportunity for interesting interpretations with her choice of “bullets”—and target. Of her re-presented objects she included Embryo Money (1996), ten pence coins in the earliest stages of production, and The Temple of the Dragon is Destroyed (1997), a Bible retrieved from a church struck by lightening.

Obscure and largely forgotten objects with historical significance or curiosity made up her series of tarnishes and photograms. Tarnishes created by placing oxidized metal on materials such as a cotton handkerchief included Tarnish from the Inside of Henry VIII’s Armour (1988) and Tarnish from Charles Dickens’ Knife (1998). Photographs illustrated a Feather from Benjamin Franklin’s Attic (1998) and A Feather That Went to the South Pole (1998).

A 1997 Turner Prize finalist, Cornelia Parker’s obsession with redefining, repositioning and, reclaiming objects and spaces, often using humor and irony, [is accessible to a wide range of] viewers with varying degrees of art knowledge.