Cornelia Parker is a British sculptor and installation artist working in London where she lives with her artist, husband, Jeff McMillan and daughter Lilly. Parker received her MFA from Reading University in 1982 and has since been acknowledged with honorary doctorates from the University of Wolverhampton in 2000, the University of Birmingham in 2005, and the University of Gloucestershire in 2008. Gaining critical acclaim in the 1990s for a number of large-scale installations including Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, 199l and The Maybe in which she collaborated with actress Tilda Swinton, who slept in a vitrine for the exhibition at Serpentine Gallery in 1995. In 1997 Parker was Shortlisted for the coveted Turner Prize. As a highly intelligent and thoughtful individual, respected artist and engaged participant in the British art world and beyond, she has sat on the board of Tate Modern, was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2010 and has been appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Parker has maintained an active and impressive exhibition record from a young age. Solo exhibitions include: Serpentine Gallery, London and Deitch Projects, New York in 1998; ICA Boston in 2000; the Galeria Civica de Arte Moderne, Turin in 2001, the Wurttembegischer Kunstverrein, Stuttgart in 2004, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in 2006, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham in 2007, Museo De Arte de Lima, Peru in 2008 and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK in 2010. Her work was included in the 8th Sharjah Biennial in 2007, the 16th Sydney Biennale in 2008 and the Folkstone Triennial in 2011. She is represented in significant public and private collections worldwide including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, the British Council, the Henry Moore Foundation, the De Young Museum, the Yale Center for British Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
Parker’s gallery, Frith Street in London explains her work on their website as follows: “Through a combination of visual and verbal allusions her [Parker’s] work triggers cultural metaphors and personal associations, which allow the viewer to witness the transformation of the most ordinary objects into something compelling and extraordinary.”
Cornelia Parker’s early installations brought her a great deal of attention and for good reason. They are ambitious in every way. Imposing in scale and visually stunning, the punch they pack is delivered upon the realization of what is being viewed and how it came to be. Politically and culturally astute, Parker’s work always offers layers of discovery, prompting thoughts that the initial, highly visceral encounters actually delay. Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View of 1991 is a collection of charred building fragments that appear to float as they hang from the ceiling to reconfigure the garden shed that they once were, prior being exploded upon Parker’s request by the British Army. Before reading the museum label or hearing about the origins of this piece the viewer is confronted with a beautiful but daunting form floating in the center of the gallery with a single light bulb, suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the piece as a source of light that casts dramatic shadows across the gallery wall. Enchanting yet frightening, like the monstrous shadows of a child’s room at night, the shadows expand the already impressive form to fill the room. Then the layers begin to peal away and the light becomes illumination as the viewer works through numerous implications from a humorous cartoon-like explosion that evokes the absurd; to the inference of violence and military force; to the philosophical, as the shadows bring to mind Plato’s cave and notions of reality.
Parker has made a number of audacious installations such as Mass (Colder Darker Matter) made in 1997 for the Turner Prize exhibition, obviously an extension of the former Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View in which she recovered the charred remains of a church in Texas that had been struck by lightening, followed by Anti Mass in 2005 which used and conjured a church in Kentucky destroyed by arson. There are also a few installations for which Parker employed a steam roller to flatten fine silver wares – pitchers, platters, candle sticks and vases – showing no limit to her resources and practice. But equally ambitious in thought-and-deed are her smaller works that pull the viewer in close to land their punch to the gut. There are the works from Parker’s series, Avoided Object for which the artist collaborates with various institutions using the history of artifacts and relics to present works that have had their identity altered and meaning shifted through various destructive processes – having been shot, flattened, drawn, cut, dropped from great heights ….
There are also works by Parker that neutralize conceptually potent and even physically destructive objects by replacing their original power with that of visual arrest and contemplation. Such is the case with the artist’s compelling piece, Bullet Drawing, included in where is the power.
“Friction has been going on in sculpture for centuries, ever since somebody first picked up a stone to knock another stone. My activity has been about that friction, which happens naturally and unnaturally in the world. I’ve had a long relationship with metals that have a history, and were formed by others, such as silver spoons, wedding rings, or bullets.”
Cornelia Parker in an interview for Sculpture magazine, June 2009
Bullet Drawing, 2009 proposes a highly charged Agnes Martin-like wire grid that has lost its elasticity and fervor due to its material source, a .44 Magnum bullet that has been melted and drawn to its material limits. By reducing a bullet to its essence and framing it between two pieces of glass, casting shadows that establish the physical presence of the resulting grid, Parker playfully speaks to the art historical movement of early Minimalism. Her formalization of something as volatile as a bullet is a poetic, and therefore powerful, means of inducing contemplation making Bullet Drawing a vital contribution to this exhibition.