The centrepiece of The Whitworth’s re-opening in Manchester this year was a major exhibition of Cornelia Parker. The almost retrospective collected much of what we know of Parker’s work; the monumental Cold Dark Matter (1991) – her garden shed exploded by the British army and then hung in violent beautiful disarray; the wrapped up Rodin; large floor-based metal works made by casting the gaps in streets and pavements and musical instruments, arranged in pattern, suspended from the ceiling as if floating. It also featured the largest installation War Room (2015)– a huge immersive installation of the negative cut-outs from Remembrance Day poppies, draped in womb-like curves from the ceiling, a sort of odd internal organ ballroom. The collection of work on show was, in a perfectly good way, big, bang-crashy, look at me, Yeah Yeah Yeah!, chuck it all in - as befits the firework re-opening of a major gallery or museum. Her new exhibition, however, currently on show at Alan Cristea in London has a completely different understated pace, retaining all of Parker’s violence and drama with pleasingly meditative and minimal execution.
This new body of work on paper, Parker’s first solo exhibition at Alan Cristea, uses the photogravure process to explore the physical possibilities of found and everyday objects. Influenced by Fox Talbot’s first photographic images she placed objects, a cup, a lightbulb, a candlestick, a soup tureen directly onto the photographic plate, exposing them to ultra violet light and resulting in a photographic positive. The objects become shadows of their former selves, scorched or burned into the paper, and gives the mundane items a spectral-like foreboding presence. A simple silver jug is transformed into the curtain-lurking housekeeper Mrs Danvers from Hitchcock’s 'Rebecca'.
The images of silver items make up the collection Thirty Pieces of Silver (Exposed) (2015) which uses a group of found glass photographic negatives of antique silverware, originally produced for a 1960's Spink auction catalogue. The negatives of the silverware remains in their original glassine bags when exposed on the plate and this results in a kind of warping of perspective. The dimensions and detail of the bags give the actual silverware objects back their shape, they become 3D objects again, but seem oddly steamrollered. The bag itself acts as another camera lens but containing and expanding an objects physical properties. The work gives a nod to a previous work Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988-89) in which over a thousand silver plates, cutlery and other items were steamrollered flat and suspended on wires just above the gallery floor.
Other photogravure etchings in the exhibition deal with smashing, splitting, throwing, spilling and exploding. The prints, on peachy pastel Fabriano Tiepolo Bianco paper, show lightbulbs smashed onto the plate and jugs spilling out ice like a magician’s plastic bunch of flowers. A cut glass bowl throws up grapes into the air. The black shadows of the fruit seem like they are levitating, flying out of the bowl of their own accord – a still from a sort of Victorian Marks & Spencer TV ad.
Prints such as these, which seem to contain their own dynamism and kinetic energy are the most successful in the Alan Cristea show. These are where we can see the artist’s manipulation, her hand, the most clearly within the work. There is a child-like or punkish need to pull apart, put a fist in or knock over. Sometimes we see an object, or shape, made from Parker’s body even more directly. Two Shots of Tequila (2015) is created by the artist spitting two mouthfuls of Tequila shots directly onto the photographic plate. The black cloud explosion radiates from the surface of the print. You can sense Parker’s mouth, the fire of the liquor, the propulsion of the liquid ejecting and the messy splashed hit of the Tequila onto the plate.
Cornelia Parker: One Day This Glass Will Break runs until November 14th at Alan Cristea Gallery.
Wednesday 4 November 2015 - Cornelia Parker in conversation with Jonathan Watkins, director of the Ikon, Birmingham, reflecting on the artists career and her newest body of work. 6 - 7.30pm, More info and to book here.
You can also view Cornelia Parker's new public artwork One More Time (2015) installed in the roof of St. Pancras International Station. More info here.