Artists discover a new way of making monumental art.
By: Angelina Yang
Cornelia Parker isn’t your typical artist. While others use paintbrushes, Parker uses explosives, steamrollers, and snake venom to create her work. Parker grew up in North West England as one of three daughters of a physically abusive father in the 1960s. Even then Cornelia Parker had a unique imagination. Parker was forced to trade her playtime for mucking out stables and milking cows, so during her free time, she would put coins on nearby railway tracks to watch them violently transformed, into valuable works of art.
Since the 1980s, Parker has created multiple pieces of astonishing contemporary art. From plastic explosives to steamrollers, snake venom to the very blade of the guillotine that lopped off the head of Marie Antoinette. "In the gallery," Parker explained at the time the work was first exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1990, "the ruined objects are ghostly, levitating just above the floor, waiting to be reassessed in the light of their transformation. The title, because of its biblical references, alludes to money, to betrayal, to death and resurrection: more simply it is a literal description of the piece."
For the first major survey of her work ever staged in London, Tate Britain has assembled nearly 100 of Parker's sculptures, installations, drawings, films, and photographs, with more than three whole decades of Parker's determination to find beauty in the fragments of bruised, broken, and hurt fragments of the indestructible objects. Varying from small drawings made by sewing through the paper, a fine wire fashioned from melted bullets to the explosive large-scale works that shot Parker to prominence 30 years ago, including the suspended remnants of a garden shed that she persuaded the British Army to help her blow to smithereens in 1991.
Needless to say, each work has a deeper meaning "Everything just sort of weaves together, The Tate owns all my major works, so they just had to get them out of the old archive. I've got a piece where I wrap Rodin's The Kiss up in string. They own The Kiss, and they'll allow me to re-enact my work." Parker tells BBC Culture. Her carefully calibrated choice of a "mile of string" is an allusion to a famous prank played by the pioneering French avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp, who in 1942 used the same length of string to web the inside of a museum display. Parker isn’t just reenacting this prank played years ago she has a more profound meaning behind this. By cocooning the cold and chiseled clinch of Dante's lovers, Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini, Parker reinvents Rodin's sculpture. The spooling string forces our eyes to unravel the profundity of a cultural touchstone that we have looked at so many times we no longer really see it. Parker's work often pushes the viewer to step out of the box and relook at things with a new perspective.