Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Parker Portending: Cornelia Parker at Frith Street Gallery

Liza Weber ducks into Cornelia Parker's Frith Street Gallery exhibition to escape Soho's sudden influx of riot police.

It was the drone of a police helicopter overhead, not the Star of Bethlehem, that led me to Frith Street Gallery 17:00 BST on the 11th June 2013. Paying homage to British sculptor and installation artist Cornelia Parker was, befittingly, met with breaking news of local criminal activity: 'Riot Police Storm Soho G8 Protest Squat'.

Prison Wall Actract (A Man Escaped), 2012-2013

Where Parker was exhibiting – amongst other works – Prison Wall Abstract (A Man Escaped) 2012-13 in Frith Street, a stone’s throw away in Beak Street, protesters were staging a ‘Carnival Against Capitalism’. It seemed that in Soho the heretofore unnoticed was, quite literally, being rallied into high relief. For Cornelia Parker’s Pavement Cracks (City of London) 2012-13 are not forgotten underfoot, but are rather elevated to ankle level. We walk precariously amongst the fractures. 

The once cold-cure rubber liquid Parker poured between concrete paving stones is, here, resurrected as a lattice of black-patinated bronze. Yet the artist’s lattice hardly serves as a screen. Rather, Parker’s cast is unapologetically wounded with ‘worm holes and everything…casting the very thing that you’re superstitiously trying to avoid.’

Pavement Cracks (City of London), 2012-2013

Growing up, ladders, three drains, and yes, cracks in the pavement were indeed avoided like the plague. Superstitions, together with such unimaginative idioms, were seamlessly assimilated by our impressionable child psyches, and soon posed as real threats to our material real. The not deducible, the abstract and the irrational were – at least from 10-13 years of age – the axis upon which our worlds rotated. For there was a time when I hopscotched, not walked, down cobbled market streets in a game of what Parker calls ‘don’t step on the lines’.

It seems then that the artist finds the unfound, if not the altogether unfounded. In discussion with Sue Lawley on BBC Radio 4 Desert Island Discs, it is of no surprise then that Parker discloses Arte Povera as her life work’s influence; not only does the artist frame natural life in a gallery space, but she also, in accord with the Italian art movement, conjures a world of myth. Strung by gossamer-thin wire, her wooden slats in Unsettled 2012-2013 mysteriously float three inches above the ground; found on the streets of Jerusalem, they are reconstituted in Frith Street Gallery and constitute, in their lingering, somewhat of a time capsule. Albeit historically trivial, the time capsule is a symbol of preservation.

(left) Unsettled, 2012-2013

Talking to Lawley, Parker recollects how, as a child in rural Cheshire, she used to create ‘time capsules out of the knots in her trees houses’ where she would hide ‘notes to the future’. Where the child Parker in her woodland den preserved memories, the adult artist Cornelia Parker, in asking us here to remember the oft overlooked, conserves. For in the courtyard of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre she restores to our view in Cloud Burst (Jerusalem) 2012 not the archaeology of its vaulted cistern but the rusting paintwork on a bomb disposal vessel. Cornelia Parker's concern and subsequent framing – for half of her work is framed – is the art of maintenance of today’s history. We are not to cry over the past, for it is Spilt Milk (Jerusalem) 2012-13.

We might contemplate however, behind Frith Street Gallery’s steel shop shutters, a rather uncertain future. ‘Sitting Thinking about Explosions in a Small Quiet Room’ is Parker’s pitch to London, if not the world, where a police helicopter still drones outside. 

Liza Weber

Cornelia Parker
Frith Street Gallery, London W1
7 June - 2 August 2013

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