Cornelia Parker by Iwona Blazwick/Bruce Ferguson

Thames & Hudson

By Helen Sumpter

Beginning with a drawing of a bird made on her foundation course in 1974, this chronological survey of Cornelia Parker’s poetic, transformative and often explosive sculptural and installation-based practice focuses on the artist’s own descriptions of her work. Thus, for Parker’s defining installation of the suspended fragments of a blown-up shed, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), we’re given both a personal and a political context behind the piece: the effect on the artist of living in London during a period of IRA bomb threats; her initially ambivalent attitude towards the army – whom she subsequently worked with to blow up the shed – and how she felt about the event itself. 

The overall result is an accessible mix of autobiography, insight and analysis that functions like a slideshow talk by Parker through nearly 40 years of work, which also includes her collaboration with a sleeping Tilda Swinton for The Maybe, 1995; creating sculptural ‘negatives’ such as The Negative of Words (1996), a pile of residue accumulated from hand-engraved silver inscriptions; and in Political Abstract (Red and Green) (2010), displaying green fluff collected from the House of Commons alongside red fluff from the House of Lords.

Critical and historical context is provided in the form of five thoughtful, themed essays, interspersed throughout the book, by Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick on the subjects of ‘The Found Object’, ‘Performance’, ‘Abstraction’, ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Power Structures’, which, alongside an introduction by curator Bruce Ferguson and an endorsement by Yoko Ono, add up to an artist’s monograph that’s as intimate as it is expansive.

This article was first published in the Summer 2013 issue.