Cornelia Parker likes to think outside the box. Instead of confining herself to a pencil or paintbrush, the British visual artist has used everything from dynamite and steamrollers to create mind-numbing artworks that comment on a range of social issues — from the perils of war to the climate emergency.
Tate Britain is showcasing a selection of work spanning her immersive installations, including Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988–9), Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), War Room (2015) and Magna Carta (2015), along with lesser-known studies across film and embroidery, to drawings, prints and photography.
Perhaps her most revered work, Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988–9) was notably inspired by early cartoons, such as Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes, where objects and characters are routinely smashed to humorous proportions.
Parker commented further:
Silver is commemorative, the objects are landmarks in people’s lives. I wanted to change their meaning, their visibility, their worth, that is why I flattened them, consigning them all to the same fate. As a child I used to crush coins on a railway track – you couldn’t spend the money afterwards but you kept the metal slivers for their own sake, as an imaginative currency and as physical proof of the destructive powers of the world. I find the pieces of silver have much more potential when their meaning as everyday objects has been eroded. Thirty Pieces of Silver is about materiality and then about anti-matter. In the gallery the ruined objects are ghostly levitating just above the floor, waiting to be reassessed in the light of their transformation. The title, because of its biblical references, alludes to money, to betrayal, to death and resurrection: more simply it is a literal description of the piece.
Similarly, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) approaches creation through the process of destruction — where Parker worked with the British Army to blow up a shed and proceeded in suspending the charred remnants — a process equated to a "cartoon death", according to the artist. "Flattening Tom, Jerry filled with bullet holes, Road Runner falling off a cliff. The deaths are only token ones as the characters always pop up again in the next frame," Parker said in a past interview.
Although disparate in approach and materials, the process of destruction, resurrection and reconfiguration is at the core of Parker's oeuvre. Witness the full breadth of her work as the exhibition goes on view at Tate Britain until October 16.