Cornelia Parker

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Cornelia Parker
Born 1956 (age 59–60)
Cheshire, England
Nationality British
Education Gloucestershire College of Art and Design
Wolverhampton Polytechnic
University of Reading
Known for Conceptual art, installation art, sculpture
Notable work Cold, Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991)
The Maybe (1995)

Cornelia Ann Parker OBE, RA (born 1956) is an English sculptor and installation artist.

Life and career[edit]

Parker studied at the Gloucestershire College of Art and Design (1974–75) and Wolverhampton Polytechnic (1975–78). She received her MFA from Reading University in 1982 and honorary doctorates from the University of Wolverhampton in 2000, the University of Birmingham (2005) and the University of Gloucestershire (2008). In 1997, Cornelia Parker was shortlisted for the Turner Prize along with Christine Borland, Angela Bulloch, and Gillian Wearing (who won the prize). Parker is married, has one daughter, and lives and works in London. Parker's mother is German and was in the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, and was then a prisoner of war for a couple of years after the war. Her British grandfather fought in the trenches in the First World War.[1]


The Distance (A Kiss With String Attached), 2003

Parker is best known for large-scale installations such as Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) – first shown at the Chisenhale Gallery in Bow, East London[2] – for which she had a garden shed blown up by the British Army and suspended the fragments as if suspending the explosion process in time. In the centre was a light which cast the shadows of the wood dramatically on the walls of the room.[3] This inspired an orchestral composition of the same name by Joo Yeon Sir.

In contrast, in 1997 at the Turner Prize exhibition, Parker exhibited Mass (Colder Darker Matter) (1997), arranging the charred remains of a church that had been struck by lightning in Texas into a visual form looking like a suspended cube. Eight years later, Parker made a companion piece "Anti-Mass" (2005), using charcoal from a black congregation church in Alabama, which had been destroyed by arson.

Parker's compelling transformations of familiar, everyday objects investigate the nature of matter, test physical properties and play on private and public meaning and value. Using materials that have a history loaded with association, a feather from Sigmund Freud's pillow for example, Parker has employed numerous methods of exploration- suspending, exploding, crushing, stretching objects and even language through her titles.

The Maybe (1995) at the Serpentine Gallery, London, was a performance piece conceived by Tilda Swinton, who lay, apparently asleep, inside a vitrine. She asked Parker to collaborate with her on the project, and to create an installation in which she could sleep. Swinton's original idea was to lie in state as Snow White in a glass coffin, but through the collaboration the idea evolved into her appearing as herself. Parker filled the Serpentine with glass cases containing relics that belonged to famous historical figures, such as the pillow and blanket from Freud's couch, Mrs. Simpson's ice skates, Charles Dickens' quill pen and Queen Victoria's stocking.[4] A version of the piece was later re-performed in Rome (1996) and then MoMA, New York (2013) without Parker's involvement.

She has made other interventions involving historical artworks. For example, she wrapped Rodin's The Kiss sculpture in Tate Britain with a mile of string (2003).[5] as her contribution to the 2003 Tate Triennial Days Like These at Tate Britain . The intervention was titled The Distance (A Kiss With String Attached). She re-staged this intervention as part of her mid-career retrospective at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, in 2015. Subconscious of a Monument (2005) is composed of fragments of dry soil, which are suspended on wires from the gallery ceiling. These lumps are the now-desiccated clay which was removed from beneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa in order to prevent its collapse.[6]

Embryo Firearms, 1995. Colt 45 guns in the earliest stage of production

Avoided Object is the title of an ongoing series of smaller works which have been developed in liaison with various institutions, including the Royal Armouries and Madame Tussauds. These “avoided” objects have often had their identities transformed by being burned, shot, squashed, stretched, drawn, exploded, cut, or simply dropped off cliffs. Cartoon deaths have long held a fascination for Parker: ‘Tom being run over by a steamroller or Jerry riddled with bullet holes. Sometimes the objects demise has been orchestrated, or it may have occurred accidentally or by natural causes. They might be “preempted” objects that have not yet achieved a fully formed identity, having been plucked prematurely from the production line like Embryo Firearms 1995. They may not even be classified as objects: things like cracks, creases, shadows, dust or dirt The Negative of Whispers 1997: Earplugs made with fluff gathered in the Whispering Gallery, St Paul's Cathedral). Or they might be those territories you want to avoid psychologically, such as the backs, underbellies or tarnished surfaces of things.’

Another example of this work is Pornographic Drawings (1997), which consists of drawings made from ink which has been manufactured by using solvent to dissolve (pornographic) video tape confiscated by H.M. Customs and Excise.[7]

In 2008, a new exhibition by Parker opened at the Whitechapel Laboratory, Whitechapel Gallery in London. It featured a 40 minute film — Chomskian Abstract, 2007 — presenting her interview with the world-renowned writer and theorist Noam Chomsky. Exhibited alongside Chomskian Abstract, 2007, Parker’s Poison and Antidote Drawings, 2004 featured black ink containing snake venom and white ink containing anti venom.

Folkestone Harbour Mermaid

For the Folkestone Triennial in 2011, Parker created a Folkestone version of one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, Copenhagen’s ‘Little Mermaid’. All women of Folkestone were offered the opportunity to model for the bronze sculpture. Through a process of open submission, Parker chose Georgina Baker, mother of two and Folkestone born and bred. Unlike the idealised Copenhagen version, this is a life-size, life-cast sculpture, celebrating the local and the everyday. Parker’s mermaid, a more confident and knowing lady of the sea than Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale one, is a permanent work for Folkestone.[8]

The top-left corner of Magna Carta (An Embroidery)

To celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, Parker created Magna Carta (An Embroidery), an embroidered representation of the Wikipedia article Magna Carta as it was on 15 June 2014, completed in 2015.[9]


Parker's work was included in the 16th Sydney Biennale (2008), the 8th Sharjah Biennial (2007),[10] the 4th Guangzhou Triennial, China (2012), 3rd Aichi Triennale, Japan (2013), Shenzhen Sculpture Biennial, China (2014), and the 10th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2014). She has had major solo shows at the Serpentine Gallery, London (1998),[11] Deitch Projects, New York (1998), ICA Boston (2000), the Galeria Civica de Arte Moderne in Turin (2001), the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart (2004) the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (2006), Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2007), Museo De Arte de Lima, Peru, (2008), Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK, (2010),[12] and Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, UK, 2015.[13] She is represented by Frith Street Gallery (London), Guy Bartschi (Geneva), and Galeria Carles Tache (Barcelona). Her work is in private collections worldwide, besides many public collections, including MoMA (New York), the Metropolitan Museum (New York), the Tate Gallery, the British Council, Henry Moore Foundation, De Young Museum (San Francisco), the Modern Museum (Fort Worth, TX), and the Yale Center for British Art.


In 2010 Parker was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts, London and appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours.[14] In 2000, 2005 and 2008 she received Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and Gloucestershire respectively.


In politics, prior to the 2015 general election, she was one of several celebrities who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party's Caroline Lucas.[15]

See also[edit]


Parker appeared in the BBC Four television series "What Do Artists Do All Day?", a BBC Scotland production, first broadcast in 2013. In the programme she talks about her life and work.


  1. ^ Adams, Tim (25 January 2015). 'Cornelia Parker: ‘I don’t want to tick anyone else’s boxes’'.
  2. ^ "Cornelia Parker: Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, shown at Chisenhale Gallery, 18.9.91-27.10.91". 
  3. ^ "Cold Dark Matter:an Exploded View" Tate Gallery interactive site Retrieved March 20, 2006
  4. ^
  5. ^ Fenton, James (8 March 2003). "No strings attached". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  6. ^ Cornelia Parker: Subconscious Of A Monument, 21 September 2005 – 25 October 2005 Frith Street Gallery, London.
  7. ^ a b Retrieved March 20, 2006
  8. ^ Cornelia Parker Folkestone Triennial 2011, 25 June – 25 September 2011.
  9. ^ Merrill, Jamie (14 May 2015). "Sculptor uses unveiling of Magna Carta artwork to attack Tory plans to scrap Human Rights Act". The Independent. 
  10. ^ Parker, Cornelia. (12 February 2008). 'Apocalypse later', The Guardian. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
  11. ^ Preece, R.J. (1998). 'Cornelia Parker at Serpentine Gallery, London', World Sculpture News / artdesigncafe. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
  12. ^ 'Cornelia Parker - Doubtful Sound(2010), Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England,
  13. ^ 'Cornelia Parker at Whitworth Art Gallery' Financial Times, February, 2015.
  14. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59446. p. 12. 12 June 2010.
  15. ^ Elgot, Jessica (24 April 2015). "Celebrities sign statement of support for Caroline Lucas – but not the Greens". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 July 2015. 

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