I will often stand in front of an object in an art gallery wondering, “Why is this ART?”, but the recent Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney turned that question on its head.
It is clever, it is unapologetically intellectual, and it spoke to this viewer.
Seeing the realisation of Ms Parker’s work at the MCA resonated with me and gave me an understanding of what an art exhibition actually is or, can be.
Art takes you away from the mundane and fills you with wonder.
As my friend and colleague, textile artist, Sheila Beer explained recently about what a work of art does – “It has to grab you and draw you in. You look at it and you wonder. It has to take your eye on a journey.”
Seeing Subconscious of a monument did that for me.
Cornelia Parker asked for and obtained the earth that was taken out from under the Leaning Tower of Pisa in 2001 in order to help rectify its lean.
She has used that earth to create a sculpture that hangs from the ceiling.
Clods of earth are hung from wires that descend from the ceiling and hang suspended over the floor of the exhibit.
It is mind boggling. How were the pieces of clay put on the wires that hang from the ceiling? How is the work transported and then re-installed? How did she manage to envision what it would look like when installed? It brings to mind the work of Beethoven who created his pieces while deaf – but obviously he could hear the whole orchestra in his mind.
Of course, in order to appreciate it as a work of art you need to see it in situ.
Cornelia Parker – I’m assuming could see the finished piece in her mind. I can’t tell you how big the piece is – it took over a room in the exhibition and it was mind boggling, but it was also beautiful and you did not need to know the story behind the piece to appreciate its beauty.
However, it was a different piece that first caught my attention as I walked into the exhibition area and made me stand up and take that initial notice of her work.
Out of the corner of my eye, as I wandered into the exhibition, I noticed what I thought was a large negative on the wall (even though it is 247 x 295.5 x 1.0cm) so far so ho hum and then for some reason I wandered closer and did a double-take – hang on is this embroidered?
From there on in, my mind was blown!
So, the piece, Thirty Pieces of Silver 2017/2019 is a tapestry using wool, silk and metal thread. Therefore, it’s woven, not embroidered. It didn’t say whether Cornelia Parker made it herself, a lot of her work is made by other people, but it was just an amazing visual piece that looked like a photogravure.
In her interview with the curator of the Australian exhibition, Rachel Kent she says that her 1988-89 piece Thirty Pieces of Silver (in which she used over 1,000 pieces of silver plate, jugs, plates, knives and forks that were flattened by a steamroller) was realised in tapestry, and in photogravures and I wondered whether the tapestry hanging on the wall in the exhibition is a photogravure of some of the silver objects used in the 1988/89 piece, however she was also commissioned to make a tapestry that was inspired by Thirty Pieces of Silver for Trinity Hall Cambridge with the tapestry depicting ‘a selection of the College’s most significant pieces including the Founder’s Cup’.
The photo on the Trinity Hall Cambridge website which shows the tapestry hanging in their dining room, looks very much like the piece that was shown at the MCA.
She has used the silver from one of the college pieces as a thread in the tapestry.
I think what blew my mind was that it was a woven work – with all the details that would normally be seen in a photo engraving – all the tones and shades – with the silver elements worked in and so beautifully realised.
I think it was at that point that I just stood up and started taking a bit more notice of the works, instead of just wandering through as a sleepwalker might.
I had to engage with the works.
Somehow, through the way the piece is installed, she has managed to convey to the viewer the thought that went into the process without detracting from the piece as a work of art.
The other piece that blew my mind is her realisation of the Wikipedia entry on the Magna Carta. She was asked to make a piece of art to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta which took place in 2015.
She eventually decided to embroider the Wikipedia entry for the Magna Carta using the labour of other people in a way that is similar to the way Wikipedia itself functions. She used celebrities, anonymous prisoners (who were paid for their work), lawyers, judges and people the public are familiar with for their lack of freedom, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, who embroidered the single words ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’, respectively.
Every piece of the Wikipedia entry is embroidered – so all the images that are shown in the original entry on down to the footnotes are embroidered. If I remember correctly, the goldwork piece of Pope Innocent III took 450 hours to make. It looks like a piece of Or Nue work – where different coloured threads are couched (sewn) over a base of gold threads to form a pattern or picture.