I had only vaguely heard of Cornelia Parker before my brief trip to London last week (primarily to see my dentist and my football team). Long-Suffering Wife informed me that this artist had done a work involving an exploding shed and I did vaguely recall that. It was enough to encourage me to book a visit to her current exhibition at Tate Britain and, yes, the exploding shed (called ‘Cold Dark Matter: A Exploded View’) is indeed on show as part of a career-to-date retrospective.
My visit didn’t start particularly well. After a now familiar, but nonetheless lovely, breakfast of kedgeree at Ozone, I strolled to Tate Modern. Once inside, I floundered around like an idiot for a few minutes before realising that the Cornelia Parker exhibition was at Tate Britain not Tate Modern. The upside of this rookie error was that, to even get close to my ticket booking time, I had to travel by Uber-boat down the Thames to get to the right side of town. It was a very pleasant ride on an almost deserted ferry.
The Cornelia Parker was at the back of the Tate Britain building and the route to it took me past an enormous display by Hew Locke called The Procession. I was late and in a hurry but as I walked past I could see that the installation was full of a sense of carnival but also images of slavery, colonialism and imperialism. It was certainly an impressive and very colourful use of the main, central space in the gallery and I spent a little more time viewing it on my way back from the Parker exhibition.
The Cornelia Parker retrospective was a bit of a surprise even though I only had hazy ideas of what to expect. It was posed those perennial questions about ‘what is art?’ through display of part-manufactured goods, used products and repurposed objects. It was an exhibition revealing process as well as end result.
For example, she worked with a police force to obtain a shot gun that they had destroyed by cutting it up. The several parts had been placed alongside a strip of rust grains from another rusted and destroyed gun in a way that implied blood caused by firearms. Violence was implied by a number of other objects such as the steel template of a gun from the earliest stage of gun manufacture.
Other works included piles of black lacquer cut from discs to produce vinyl records (‘Negatives of Sound’) and piles of silver left over from engravings (‘Negative of Words’). Another weirdly attractive set of works were cloths stained from rubbing silver spoons belonging to famous/infamous persons such as Davy Crockett and Guy Fawkes (see below).
In one room there were a series of suspended pools of crushed silver objects apparently collected from flea markets and then collectively flattened by a steamroller (‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’). Another similar exhibit was of flattened brass instruments hung in a circle like a huge silver mobile (‘Perpetual Canon’).
‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ was the centrepiece of the exhibition and was an arresting sight. As the accompanying blurb pointed out, it both looked like a moment of explosion but also, as one stood back, felt like an implosion; like a moment in one of those films of something exploding put into reverse.
It was great that the exhibition wasn’t crowded and I spent quite a while peering into the exploded shed at the diverse and disintegrated contents. The explosion, when organised by Parker with the Army School of Ammunition and a chunk of Semtex, had clearly followed some degree of cramming of the shed with strange objects from toys to clothing and from tools to cable. As with some other works on show, the shadows were as impactful as the substance. Nicely done!
On my way home I stopped in opportunistically at the White Cube Gallery in Masons Yard which I had not visited before. This gallery is smaller in scale than its bigger brother White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey but follows a similar pattern with very large, starkly pure white rooms.
On the walls were numerous works by a Belgian artist called Léon Wuidar. The works had a pleasant simplicity and some had very warm, comforting colours. It was a more straightforward art experience than that Cornelia Parker and the Tate had provided earlier in the day but I’m glad I popped in to see it.