Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas – Einstein
To many, she is the creator of the infamous ‘exploded shed’, a phrase which certainly elicited a knowing (and generally approving) head nod when explaining to friends where I spent my Saturday afternoon. But Cornelia Parker’s work is far more than a sculptural gimmick and her latest show at the Frith Street Gallery (not actually on Frith Street I can attest, after much traipsing around in hellish London heat), is testament to her insightful exploration of the physical and intellectual societal framework we inhabit.
Entering the gallery, I felt initially triumphant that I had not caved into my clawing instinct to give up and head home, after a difficult journey through central London in summer heat, riding a wave of nauseous hangover and unable to locate the gallery address. This feeling of success began to ebb away as I looked around and concluded instantly that the place must be mid-renovation; piles of wood, exposed concrete floors, until I noticed that the planks of wood were floating. Magic. Or so it seemed until I put on my glasses and saw the wires. My initial reaction, however, sums up in many ways the beauty of Parker’s works; the simple magic of her pieces stun me in the way pure maths might a rocket scientist. Concise, honest, her work is delicate in form even when robust in material. The utter beauty is in the restraint; not lifting the wood high from the floor (perhaps 2 inches) she causes your brain to become confused. Peripherally the planks are standing on the floor, but a direct glance reveals they are suspended. The wires of course show it as not being truly levitational, but their linearity actually only add to the illusion, visually driving the planks further toward the floor and contrasting the horizontal of the concrete over which they hang. It was only after a circuit of the gallery that I discovered the intended meaning behind the work (although I enjoyed it just as much without knowing); the wood was collected by Parker in Jerusalem, a traditional holy land often blighted by war and poverty, the material bringing back with it the stories it holds and the scenes it has witnessed. Broken wood also representing the life cycle, it speaks to me of mortality and family ties.
Actually, quite a lot of Parker’s works strike a chord in me not unlike fear. By pointing to childhood games, particularly alongside the previous work, she pokes an inquisitive finger into that inherent terror most human beings hold in the depths of their belly, that of their own insignificance in the wider viewpoint when set against the vast backdrop of Time. Our fragile mortality. Her casts of pavement cracks remind me instinctively of Rachel Whiteread, but although the similarity in process links them, the point seems entirely different. While Whiteread casted ’empty’ space, provoking questions about spirituality, matter, physics, materiality, Parker’s work casts the space around, above and between. It produces a version of the real thing, a bit like an off-centre shadow. Her floor pieces are impressions of the streets below our feet, inspired by her love of childhood hopscotch; the brushed metal material making them seem both delicate and dense at the same time. Again, their minimal suspension from the floor has an arresting effect, with the shadows cleverly cast and mirroring the idea that the object itself is a metaphorical shadow.
Above and adjacent to the floor works are hung what appear at first to be abstract paintings. Peering closer I think myself to be initially wrong and conclude they are mixed-media collages. At the end, reading the guide text, I discover I was wrong again. They are in fact close-up photographs of the exterior of a prison wall. An investigation into cracks, they complement beautifully the linear language of the other pieces, and continue the theme of enlivening seemingly banal spaces. Taken shortly after a maintenance effort to fill widening holes, the images record the layman’s version of Parkers’ method; the filling of cracks for safety management is suddenly transformed and presented to the viewer as abstract expressionism.
Beautifully linked, visually understated, metaphorically loud and aesthetically sublime, I thought the show couldn’t get much better until I concluded with Bullet Drawing (Crosshairs) 2013, a set of geometrically- inspired pieces constructed with melted down bullets thinned and threaded through paper. With their offset mirror image again evoking the shadow, the works have a distinctly sexy aura and made me feel both exhilarated and utterly Zen looking at them, a very Kubrick moment occurring as I considered how their striking and magnetic simplicity seemed to relate both to our most basic primordial origins, with also a distinct nod towards the space age; purity, clarity, the future, the past. A captivating journey covering mathematics, geometry, architecture, structure, material and power; Cornelia Parker’s new work is a must-see.