Friday, 21 August 2009

Word, Image and Cornelia Parker

In Staple 71, (2009) there's an interview with Cornelia Parker. In it the interviewer mentions one of her works, "a Bible you'd retrieved from a chapel burnt by lightening ... displayed ... on a lectern, open on a colour picture showing people running away from a temple that was being destroyed by lightening." (p.67)

It's a neat enough idea, but what does creating the prop add? What does the authenticity add? For me, very little. If I went to see the piece I'd have to read a caption to get much from the piece anyway. Writers know that the film adaption isn't always better than the book, and I think the same applies to the concepts of conceptual art. She's a visual artist and should be able to judge what will work visually. I liked her "Cold Dark Matter" (exploding shed) when I saw it in Tate Modern. It's like walking into a special FX film where time stands still except for the observer. But I wouldn't go to see the lectern.

Later she mentions a meteor that landed in China in 1517 that she relaunched from the top of Birmingham's Rotunda in 2001, and harmonica parts from a US civil war campfire that she reburied at Glastonbury. There's a Borgesian flavour to these specifics, and some poets include such details in their work, but to perform the act seem superfluous to me, sloppy.

One of her works uses lead wire made from melted bullets. Of course, the observer has to be told about that. And if we have to be told, if we can't see for ourselves, does it matter whether it's true? Others made the wire for her. Suppose unbeknownst to the artist they had substituted other lead, from a church roof maybe? Would it matter?

She's used tarnish from Dickens' cutlery, and a nightdress worn by Mia Farrow. As the interviewer (Wayne Burrows?) pointed out, this isn't only an exploration of the cult of Celebrity but harkens back to an older cult of Relics. But where there are relics there's simony and fraud. Would we bother with these works if some art student had done them? With Christo, the practicalities of his projects became part of the art, but with Parker's work most of the projects aren't hard enough for that, just expensive. Rather than explore the zeitgeist of celebdom, why not that of financial and aesthetic efficiency?

All too often a few words can paint £1000 worth of her pictures and props. Why doesn't she trust the power of words more? Why doesn't she trust the public's imagination? It's not clear. One of the problems with interviewing celebs is that if you give them a tough time they might walk out and get you blacklisted. Some things she said in the interview could have been challenged.

  • On p.66 she says "a 'blue shift' is ... a scientific term for measuring light in the universe, one of the elements used when looking for the Doppler effect". The phrasing here make me wonder how much she knows about the phenomenum.
  • On p.77 she says "I like that sense that each piece can become a very different work simply by being placed in a certain way, or seen in a new context. I suppose it's not unusual: a writer can put two words together ...". Indeed, and with each additional word the context can shift. I wonder whether she's explored the power of words sufficiently. It might save her a lot of time and effort in the future. But alas, words don't sell.

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