I must warn you to look out for a mangled copy of Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ launching past you. Indeed, one would also be well advised to duck so as to avoid colliding with hair straighteners and teapots, as you walk into the Gallery Two of The Whitworth – the temporary home for Cornelia Parker’s famed ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ (1991); Lest the threatening expressionistic shadows not serve as deterrents.
When Parker collaborated with the British Army to blow up a shed in the YBA hey-day, we could not have foreseen that this parallel to the Big Bang would serve as an ongoing symbol of creation and birth. This anarchic but decidedly British gesture has thus continued to reverberate throughout history, emerging and appropriated now, frozen in time, mid-scatter, within the newly refurbished Whitworth Gallery.
Illuminated by a singular, and absurdly still intact lightbulb with its warm emanating glow, Parker dares us to manoeuvre between the imposing shards that cut into the space’s very architectural existence and in doing so, achieves an eerie dynamism; even in, and because of, its motionless nature.
The re-emergence of Parker’s ‘Cold Dark Matter’, with all the flying teapots and hot water bottles in tow, suspended in a Matrix-style freeze frame, serves as an excellent new beginning. Most will remember the dynamic ‘Guernica’-like shadows the piece cast over the walls of the Chisenhale Gallery when it was exhibited in 1991, but for a new generation – my generation – of new culture millenial’s, this serves not as a reminder of past triumphs, but as an introduction, punctuated by the hodge-podge of styles and periods in the hang of the permanent collection, as Dexter Dalwood’s Hockney imitations find a new home amongst works by Pre-Raphelite Edward Burne-Jones.
Continuing on through the spacious, airy, recently redesigned galleries I am overcome with a sudden childlike aversion to stepping on cracks.This proves rather troublesome and a tad problematic as Parker has filled, inverted and cast a network of cracks within pavements once travelled and roads once taken; pilgrimage in Jerusalem, a Sunday jaunt in London town. These fossils of the metaphorical journey of life hover and speak sweet nothings of nostalgia, but serve as a whimsically Rauschenbergian ‘hop skotch’ path towards the catalyst of controversies past that looms ahead.
When Cornelia Parker first trapped the iconic Rodin sculpture ‘The Lovers’ within a mile of string some years back, its claims for radicalism seemed all the more justified within the contrived modes of consideration. Speaking quite clearly about the pains of love and the constrictions of normative relationship models, the proverbial woes of heartache and passionate suffering have dimmed somewhat – its power flickers, we’ve moved on. The laboured message with all it’s Duchamp-ian rehashes is at a disservice when placed amongst all of Parker’s incinerations, stretches and squashes. There is a certain confusion of the arts. But the appropriation of the old to create new will be forever interesting. In comparison, and with well deserved commendation, within another space of the renewed gallery, Sarah Lucas’ leggy limbed ladies are awarded a vast expanse of breast-bordered space, with vaulted ceilings and chairs to drape themselves over like Amsterdam whores or reincarnations of Bellmer’s Doll. I can hear Rodin’s lovers sharing jealous whispers underfoot.
Molehills of cocaine incinerated by HM Customs speak to Cornelia Parker’s preoccupation with the futility of destruction and the traces left behind. Whilst a patchwork handgun, broken into pieces and reassembled as part of a crime scene investigation invades the white wall gallery rhetoric delivering a similar message. The themes of life, death and destruction continue in a new commission, ‘War Room’ – which sees Parker interrogate materials once more as she lines the entire gallery space with reels of red paper, the offcuts from remembrance poppies, familiar forms cut out with machine precision. It is about absence and so a parallel is achieved; in one room we witness an explosion, and in the other, the detritus. Ever intimate and impressive, Parker’s works, old and new, ignite the reopening of the Whitworth.