Cornelia Parker

Article excerpt

Ikon Gallery Birmingham

September 26 to November 18

This mid-career mini retrospective brings together some wellknown series and a couple of new works that point in a radically different direction. Parker's familiar works range from spectacular sculptural installations to highly conceptual productions--the sweet spot is when both are combined in a single work. So, while Heart of Darkness, 2004, is spectacular (a suspended array of charred wood and exploded pine cones collected from an American wildfire) it lacks the peculiar resonance of her iconic 1991 piece, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, which it closely resembles. Conversely, while Stolen Thunder, 1997-98, offers up white handkerchiefs blackened with the tarnish from items owned by various historical figures, the handkerchiefs themselves offer little visual stimulation. Neither of these works are as successful as 2002's Subconscious of a Monument, in which chunks of earth excavated from beneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa hover on suspension wires; the work brings that which was buried dancing up into the air to articulate both the gallery space and a space we imagine beneath the tower, corralling resonant cultural symbols and intricate sculptural play so that they chime together in a single, unified work. It is the highlight of the exhibition.

One room is taken up by the 'Brontean Abstracts' from Parker's 2006 residency at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth (see AM301). Utilising this proximity to the Bronte's home life, Parker produced macro photos of items touched by the sisters: pincushions, needles, brushes, etc. The justification is that the tiny holes in a pincushion become violent puncture wounds when massively enlarged, and the conceit is that this somehow reflects the sisters' literary output and short lives. Being photographs, however, the direct indexical link to the objects--and hence the sisters--is lost, and this quality of 'secondary evidence' dilutes the works' central power: the direct trace of historical figures and cultural symbols. Other works in the series, such as electron microscope images and recordings of psychics, are even further removed.

This second-hand experience becomes the focus of Killing Time, 2007, a split-screen video showing four views of the same thing: tourists watching for some unknown event behind the camera. Patiently waiting, they line up their cameras, check their viewfinders, check their watches. We do the same. A standoff. What is needed is a provocation, and that is exactly what is found in the second new video work on display. Chomskian Abstract, 2007, adds a political element to Parker's work that has never before been so overt. It is an odd work, a curious anomaly in her practice, but not unwelcome. The video documents an interview between the artist and the celebrated linguist and dissident, Noam Chomsky, but the camera is only directed at Chomsky, and the sound is cut whenever Parker speaks. In this 42-minute monologue Chomsky outlines some of the main tenets of his worldview, which is brilliantly and ferociously critical of American--and, by extension, western European--political, military and corporate power. …