IKON Birmingham

Ikon Gallery | 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace
GB-B1 2HS Birmingham

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press release

Ikon presents the first survey of new and recent work by Cornelia Parker in the UK for ten years. Typically ambitious in both form and content, it will consist of installation, discrete sculptural pieces and video. The latter constitutes a significant development in the artist’s practice, often featuring human subjects in conversation - including, on this occasion, the distinguished writer and philosopher Noam Chomsky. A number of other commissioned works will also capitalise on aspects of Birmingham’s traditional industries; specifically jewellery manufacturing and gun making.

Heart of Darkness (2004) is an installation involving relics of a devastating forest fire that took place in Florida in 2004. Started by the US Fire Service as part of a preventative routine, it quickly began to rage out of control, to the extent that it now has a place in popular memory as “The Impassable One”. Parker recasts it as a cloud of burnt bits of timber suspended from the high ceiling of a white room, an extraordinary three-dimensional drawing made from charcoal, one of the most basic drawing materials. The work is a quiet resurrection out of a destructive event, an anti-monument to something remarkable, and thus the result of an artistic strategy not unfamiliar in this artist’s work overall.

Subconscious of a Monument (2002) involves small clods of earth (extracted from underneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa) as if to suggest some fluid substance finding its level. Through inverting the way things were, what was subterranean is now elevated; what was discarded is now at the centre of our attention. Like Heart of Darkness (2004), significantly, Parker is using found natural materials as opposed to modified man-made objects (e.g. exploded garden sheds, crushed silverware) that often featured in her earlier ‘suspended sculptures’.

The sublime nature of terrestrial and cosmic phenomena has inspired Cornelia Parker’s artistic practice from the first. Old Faithful 2007 is a triptych of filmed footage she made at the site of the famous geyser in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming. Instead of Old Faithful in action, we witness a group of tourists waiting, watching with cameras ready to capture the sensational event. They are expectant in this situation full of suspense, talking about something they’re sure is imminent, and thus Parker alludes to a conceivable end of the world.

Global warming is a topic that particularly concerns Parker. Interestingly it represents a reverse of her previous concerns, whereby humankind is subject to unstoppable natural forces, with the idea that the world is now an innocent victim, at a tipping-point towards what she refers to as a “quieter apocalypse … [the] 50/50 chance that the planet may not be able to sustain human life by the end of this century”. It is this that prompted Parker to request an interview with Chomsky. In the video, wonderfully edited, we watch him dwell on this extraordinary moment in history when America and other world powers are seemingly paralysed in the face of imminent catastrophe.

Other works to be exhibited involve the collaboration of a variety of Birmingham institutions, such as the School of Jewellery and Gun Barrel Proof House, in which various found objects will be exploded, shot, crushed and drawn in order to point up human vanity.

A tiny sculpture commissioned as a limited edition, a silver cast of bullet hole, epitomises this artist’s practice, encouraging us to imagine how things might be otherwise, not simply accepted as the way they always seem to be.

A catalogue is proposed, including text by Jonathan Watkins and transcript of Cornelia Parker’s interview with Noam Chomsky, with photographic documentation of the Ikon exhibition.

Supported by the Henry Moore Foundation.

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Cornelia Parker