Posted: October 26, 2014 in Chat
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I started to take notice of Cornelia Parker’s work with her exploding shed of the 1990s: COLD DARK MATTER: AN EXPLODED VIEW, 1991.

This was a simple wooden garden shed, exploded from the inside.
The explosion was carefully documented by film and camera; then the pieces collected (she used an Army demolition crew – they knew how to collect meticulously) and then arranged.
The sheer skill that went into all of this – in particular the arrangements – was outstanding. The shattered pieces were hung/suspended at various heights and distances. This was like a captured explosion, without the obscuring of smoke and detonation.

Each piece/fragment had to be relocated to its original position as near as identifiably possible, and its arranged position proportionally placed.

The end result was one of contained violence, suspended force: arrested destruction.

The work was then lit from the inside with a single source of light.
We had the suspension of materials, and we also had the shadow effect – an extra dimension of chiaroscuro that shifted the cognitive possibilities of the piece beyond metaphorical implication, beyond but including connotative implications.

Thinking entropically that arrested position is ours: in the cosmic entropy of our entire universe, we exist, our lives are lived, in what appears to us as a stable system; and yet how we see it is as a fractional moment in the movement of its great unwinding. We have the sun or big bang centre of the universe, and around it our solar system, and/or the current state of expansion, caught.

We also have here the fragility of our world, the penchant for destructiveness of its inhabitants, and a pointed reference to destructiveness of closed mind-sets.

Our experience of the work constantly shifts between interpretive models, visually arresting phenomena, awe, and appreciation of the technical accomplishment – this last engaging our mechanical and spatial aesthetic modes.

This exhibit not only depicts basic and stereotyped gender attitudes: destructive and creative attitudes, but goes beyond that to posit an energising creative-through-destructive approach to knowledge and experience.

OK, hyperbole over-load!

‘The Army was deeply unpopular at the time, she says, ‘and I was aware that this would feed into the perennial debate about whom you could or couldn’t accept as a sponsor for your art.’ Even more provocatively, she comments, ‘I needed to elicit the expertise of an explosives engineer. Perhaps I could use special-effects people, or a demolition crew, The IRA….’
As it was she used the Army School of Ammunition. And Semtex. What we have then, is a cross between the IRA, and the British Army.

‘The two parts of the title together sound like,’ she comments, ‘a forensic examination of an emotional state or a murder, an attempt to measure something you can’t measure…’ (all quotes from CORNELIA PARKER,  by Iwona Blazwick, Thames and Hudson, 2013).

Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View 1991 by Cornelia Parker born 1956

Some ten years later she produced another exhibit – a re-visiting almost of an aspect of the exploding shed, in THE EXPLOSION DRAWINGS, 2001.
The exhibit consists of three glass sheets; and splattered centrally on one is a solution – charcoal on one; on another sulphur; and the last saltpetre. All are combined with fixing agent. How is your chemistry? Combined they constitute gunpowder.
They are held separate – three solutions held as three ingredients in one solution, as we see them superimposed on each other. And yet it is an arrested solute. It is a potential explosion.

The ‘exploded’ theme has also been revisited – for instance in HEART OF DARKNESS, 2004; and ANTI-MASS, 2005.
This last consists of ‘Suspended charcoal retrieved from a Kentucky church burnt by arsonists’ (ibid). Here I ask you to note the word play on Mass. She writes, ‘The aging black congregation had suffered years of intimidation…’ at the hands of a gang of bikers, ‘who made a sport out of racial harassment.’ What we see and what we interpret are disturbing: the social and racial evil is depicted as an anti-mass. In physics terms anti-mass, like anti-matter, is a negation of our positive state, destructive to it. And yet a part of its nature.

The former, HEART OF DATRKNESS, we are informed ‘uses the charred remains of a forest fire in Florida.’ It was a controlled burn whipped up by sudden winds. This particular fire caused a huge blaze which became known as ‘The Impassable One’. ‘At the time it seemed … an appropriate metaphor for the butterfly effect of political tinkering, from Florida’s hanging chads…’ the anomaly that meant George W Bush became elected President… ‘and the ongoing war in Iraq, to the cutting down of the rainforests to grow bio-fuels…’ (ibid).


What we see in all these examples are challenge, controversy, and great skill and craftsmanship.

Cornelia Parker’s parentage intrudes on occasion – describing her video animation from 2010, DOUBTFUL SOUND, she says, ‘… Like a waking nightmare, this is the unheimlich – the ‘unhomely’ or uncanny space.’ German mother and English father, Cheshire farm background. This dislocation from the English heartland, from central location in full English culture and tradition, have perhaps helped develop a unique slant on culture in general. Hence we have SUBCONSCIOUS OF A MONUMENT, 2001-5, which uses ‘Earth excavated from underneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa…’. There are many such instances.

What is pertinent here is that each piece is not the Duchampian thing-of-itself, but derives its meaning, impact, resonance from its context, its wider perspective. The works are apart from and yet still remain part of the world. We see the uniqueness of for example the chalk dust micro-photograph of Einstein’s working on his blackboard, the rubbed-off tarnish from James Bowie’s Soup Spoon, but these objects are also invoked as part only of the matrix of their relevance in time, meaning, and space.

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