A practice worthy of your time

A practice worthy of your time - Cornelia Parker

I was given this amazing book on Cornelia Parker by Julie, my contextual supervisor. Having just finished it I am struggling to put into words how amazing this book and Cornelia Parker’s art practice is. Will use some quotes from the book to do this and also my own analysis of how her practice works;

Parker works with found objects in much of her practice. “The found object is essentially singular, irreplaceable and both lost and found” (pg 32. The Found Object. Iwona Balzwick)

These objects “will carry the scars of use and the fingerprints of previous owners. The entropic forces of time alone will have created distinct material presences that is an index of its life as an instrument and as a possession” (pg 32 The Found Object. Balzwick)

The inference behind the term found is also that the object was once lost. (pg 32 The found object. Balzwick)

This idea of using found work, which by default has a history, to create work can complicate any outcome. But Parker seems to be able to marry the objects past and her intention of the work very well. This I believe is the result of her intense research, materials used and also the titles of each work.

Parker buys much of her work at flea markets or opp shops. Places where many objects land because they have become unwanted, had been lost in the back of a cupboard and are no longer useful to the owner. The action of acquisition and re-use creates its ow history.

Parkers works around four distinct different spheres of objecthood; the cultural artefact, the building type/found buildings, the natural material/organic & inorganic natural materials and the fragment. (pg 32. The Found Object. Balzwick)

“Her practice has over time ventured into astronomy, chemistry, geography, geology, forensics, hoplology, homeopathy, numismatic, literary history, archeology, psychoanalysis and biography”.(pg 138. Knowledge. Iwona Blazwick).

The breadth of Parker’s practice is impressive and also inspirational. Her brain must be on the constant ‘look out’, searching, cataloging, joining dots, discovering and questioning. These aspects, I believe, any artist should do with their work.

Having such a strong practice that is strongly based around ‘the found’, the dots need to be linked through thorough research and questioning. This is certainly a strength of her practice.

Parker collects titles just like she gathers materials. These titles may sit in a note-book “for years until suddenly they pop into focus and are put to use.” (pg 70 Parker)

eg Another matter :

In 1993 as water, wine, glass vessels, glass shelves (Installation in 20 windows, Grassimuseum, Leipzig). pg 70-71

In 1994 as Splintered wooden coffin, match material, sandpaper (dimensions variable) pg 72-73

In 1994 as Twig, match material (Approx 28x10x10 cm) pg 74

This collection of titles is something that had not crossed my mind, but is certainly one to add to the practice/notebooks. I can see how a title can start a new work, as we all are dealing with language each day. Dismissing this as a source of inspiration has been an oversight on my part.

A lot of her work has huge elements of research, but also of chance:

pg 80-81

Aircraft Carrier Shot by a Dime (1995. Dictionary shot by a dime. 4x39x27cm) and Luck Runs Out (1995. Dictionary shot by a dice. 4x39x27cm)

I particularly enjoyed many of the chance moments in some of her works, even if they had a very strong research base to them.

These 2 works mentioned above are a great example of that. With that I wondered if she had thought about the chance to ‘shoot’ an aircraft carrier, when she fired the dimes at the dictionary. Am sure that one resulted in the trial of the other.

Chance is often that part of the work that works the best, as it is unrestricted, not over thought and will have that spontaneous element that all the thinking & planning does not achieve.

“Her work is as much an exploration of forms of knowledge as it is of the objects of material culture” (pg 138 Knowledge. Blazwick)

Every work has a large amount of research attached to it, while often using banal materials;

eg Subconscious of a Monument (2001-5.  Earth excavated from underneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa - to stop it falling. Dimensions variable).Obtaining some of the quantity of earth that had been excavated by engineers to stop the Tower from collapsing through the pull of gravity, she created a suspended work using this earth. This earth that had lain dormant for almost a thousand years, was seeing the light of day and defying gravity itself.

The Spider that Died in Mark Twain’s House (1997. Spider trapped in a 35mm glass slide then projected. Dimensions variable - pg 116)

Who would think to put a dead spider in their pocket? Using it raises many questions for me: Did it feel like stealing to her when she did it? How secretively did she pick it up and put it in her pocket? Why did she pick it up? How long did she have this spider ‘sitting’ around in a jar before she squashed it between glass slides? What made her squash it? Why project it? Making it larger than life?

Such a simple, banal object, that creates so many questions to the viewer/me.

Her works are collaborations with all types of professions - from NASA to, Rattlesnake farms, Customs, Record factory, Sound engineers, Silversmith and Undertakers, just to mention a few.

By collaborating with many others you use their insight, knowledge and skill set, what a fantastic way to broaden not just your horizons, but also those you collaborate with and the viewers.

Many of her works are collections, often of banal things:

eg Avoided Object (1994. Metal objects, wire. Dimensions variable). These are items she dug up in the Ruhr valley, while ‘digging up’ her own heritage. The title refers to the fact that these objects were buried, through which they were neglected, had dropped out of society, lost their identity and had been, by default, avoided.” (pg 75. Parker)

A collection is one of my favourite things to look at, create. It can fill you with so much, knowledge, questions, answers or simple awe.

From the early cabinets of Curiosities to the modern museums, they help to tell a story, connect dots and link us to our past, without which we would not be here.

This collection of Parker is a delight. none of the objects were worthy of being placed in a museum, yet they contain so much history. It raises the questions: where they all found within a close distance from each other? Where they washed to the same place by water? Why did nobody want them any more?

These objects were truly lost and then found.

Many of us have a rich heritage, one that may not be interesting to you at the time, but invariably the future will find it fascinating.

Much of her work is “consistently unstable, in flux; leant against a wall, hovering or so fragile it might collapse” (pg 107. Abstraction. Blazwick):

Thirty Pieces of Silver 1988-9 by Cornelia Parker born 1956 Thirty pieces of silver. (1988-1989)

She questions whether this is a reflection of her own life & relationship to the world. She was brought up in the countryside and nature around her was constantly changing, moving, leaves on trees, blades of grass, breeze.”

She feels it is a universal condition, one of vulnerability. We constantly face what life throws at us, our lives are not fixed.(pg 107. Parker)

Much of Parker’s work is suspended, creating instability and movement. It is this movement that is added to her work that fascinates me. The objects she uses were moved around by the previous owner through use, now we move them through simply walking past them. It could be interpreted that we stimulate the ghost of the previous owners to again touch them, creating the movement.

“Parker often distorts or etiolates her objects. Yet the ghost of their original identity is always evident, either cited in the title, or through a vestigial remnant of the former shape” (pg 109 Abstraction. Blazwick)

Parker’s ability to squash an object yet still retain its shape is a skill gained through years of sourcing items and learning what to look for that creates the squash-ability of an object. It is building up knowledge and a skill set to improves with each new project and idea.

One work feeds the idea/thought for another work;

Stolen Thunder (1997-1998. Tarnish from famous peoples’ silverware, collected on handkerchiefs. Each: 63x63cm x 12) - while spending many hours cleaning silverware for her many projects she looked at the marks on the polish cloth and thought ‘these could be drawings.’ The phrase tarnished reputation sprang to her mind; “everybody want to be buffed up, and become shiny and resplendent, and I would leave with a grimy trophy, stealing their thunder and their fame” (pg 124. Parker)

It is this constant feeding of her practice which makes it so sustainable, creates its longevity. Inspirational is only thing I can say here.

What was also very enjoyable of this book was the many explanations by Parker herself by many of the works. These were very accessible in language and aided to explain the many layers of each work.

Thank you Julie, for bringing this artist to my attention.


Blazwick, Iwona. (2013) Cornelia Parker. UK, Thames & Hudson Ltd



Posted by Elle Anderson

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