Cornelia Parker is one of those British artists who manages to create art for almost any taste in almost any size possible, and now Tate Britain has filled much of its gallery with a look back at her career varied.
Some of the monumental pieces are famous, but much more because they are monumental and the kind of art that can only exist in a world where major galleries buy great art, and where major galleries attract large audiences to see great art.
It is therefore famous high art.
And the Tate opens with one of Parker’s most famous high arts, floating flattened forks. And other cutlery, which she bought at flea markets in the 1980s and then flattened into 30 hanging tableware sheets. First shown in 1988, it fills an entire room with people walking quietly or getting too close and triggering the proximity alarm. This happens often.
Elsewhere, a huge, exploding garden shed is displayed a split second after the explosive inside has detonated, creating a three-dimensional photograph of a moment in time that you can wander through. It’s a smart idea when seen in the flesh, as the images can end up looking rather flat.
Much better are works of art on a more domestic scale, as they show the artist’s great versatility in working with different materials and ideas, and his obvious persuasive abilities to grasp the raw materials used. . She’s a recycler and someone who tinkers with things we might not think we’d use.
A series of smudge paintings turn out to be made from ink extracted from VHS porn tapes destroyed by HM Customs, and here we are almost challenged to find something obscene in the ink splatter on paper.
A pile of round discs is money ready to be stamped, a metal casting will one day become a gun, and a pile of gunpowder is destroyed cocaine. A pile of plastic string is the residue cut from a vinyl record when it was created. Oliver Twist was beheaded by the guillotine that beheaded Marie Antoinette in 1793 and can now be seen in Madame Tussaud’s wax museum.
A display of dirty cloths turns out to be cloth used to clean silverware, and what we are shown is not the famous silver but the echo it leaves in the cloth.
There is a message in each of the works exhibited, but also a playful side that rewards reading the explanatory sheets and often makes you smile when the secret is revealed. Art makes us think a bit thanks to its alternative point of view on things, often reusing what we thoughtlessly discard.
Parker is also a videographer and somehow persuaded Parliament to let her fill the House of Commons with newspapers and blast them around the room, then filmed the result. It’s arguably more stunning as a piece of video art not because of the art, but because of its ability to borrow the heart of democracy for the art.
More political is a huge canvas that has been hand stitched with a copy of Wikipedia’s Magna Carta page. Sections sewn together by people with a strong connection to civil rights, then combined to create this huge work of art that is difficult to digest both because of its size, and it is more fascinating to look closely at how it was made just do what she tries to say.
A red tent-like space is uncomfortably fascinating because the red drapery is the discarded material from which the remembrance poppies are cut. An entire room is dedicated to one idea. Likewise, she shows off her remarkable powers of persuasion in a photo of a cloudy sky – taken from outside the Imperial War Museum with the camera belonging to Rudolf Hoess, the commander of Auschwitz. She took pictures of the sky to take her mind off the fact that she was looking through the same opening as a mass murderer.
She often challenges herself, and us, with these unsettling reuses of the past, but never in a way that makes you look at the art and puts you off. It is only by reading the explanatory card that one grasps the hidden meaning of art.
It’s a massive exhibit, and so vast in scope and form that it’s a bit easy to be baffled by how one person could have created it all. In this however, it becomes more enjoyable as you never really know what the next piece will bring – something huge or something tiny – every corner is a pleasant surprise.
The Cornelia Parker exhibition is at Tate Britain until October 16
Adult: £16 | Reduced price: £15 | Child: £5 | Child (
It is recommended to book tickets in advance from here.