Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The first of a new series of articles entitled ‘MODERN REVIEW’. This infrequently posted selection will feature reviews I’ve done of contemporary UK exhibitions for online publications other than ‘Kweiseye’.
Cornelia Parker at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (01/04/2015).
Upon entering the newly revitalised Whitworth, it can initially be unclear where Cornelia Parker’s retrospective is actually located. There is just so much to see. Exhibitions taken from the Whitworth’s portraiture collections, new acquisitions and examples from the gallery’s textile archive are all on display on the building’s lower level, and Parker’s show exists among them.
The first groups of pieces focus on Parker’s paper-based and smaller sculptural work. Embryo Firearms (1995) is a disturbing, engrossing piece of reductionism. Two Colt 45 guns are displayed in their earliest form of production accompanied by Precipitated Gun (2015), a suggestively cocaine-like line of powder. This is, in fact, the remnants of a gun that has been pulverised for the exhibition. Throughout, weapons and ammunition crop up with menacing regularity, achieving an odd abstraction through their use as a medium in drawing and painting (for example, the drawings made with melted lead bullets). Although a variety of techniques is employed, one constant remains: a focus on the fundamental parts that contribute to the whole, and how an engagement with such constituents can engender a deeper, more profound understanding of the thing.
This notion reaches its apotheosis with the installation Room for Margins (1998), which consists of a group of canvas linings taken from paintings by Turner during their conservation. The canvases are browned, and show compelling indentation of the proto-Impressionist delights once above them. The gesture is a bold one. Initially these works are confusing and obtuse – we question their veracity – but the process becomes an enlightening one as small images of beauty leak through the surfaces. Further on into the exhibition comes a series of Parker’s larger installation works, including the one she is, perhaps, most famous for: Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991). The astonishing slow-motion implosion of sorts decorates an entire room in the floating aftermath of disintegration. Opposite this work we find a new commission, War Room (2015), a punishing, remarkable piece wherein the walls and ceiling of a single room are layered with red poppy cutouts – waste material from the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal. The experience is significant, the room seeming to both swoon and be still, the pointillist echo of colour playing out as an angry womb.
These larger installations have certainly been the most advertised and discussed in relation to the show, but do not just be taken in by these grand motions. It is the earlier, more muted sculptures, experiments and works on paper that deserve the most attention. Here the rich imagination of the artist plays out with none of the equipment, posing questions in true, essential ways.
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