Forming part of Parker’s Avoided Objects series, which takes dangerous objects and renders them benign, the missing work comprises ashes of cocaine confiscated from a drug bust that has been burnt after seizure.
The MCA’s chief curator Rachel Kent had hoped that the incinerated contraband could have been exhibited in Sydney but it couldn’t be imported or sourced locally for Parker to recreate her work.
In London and in Lima, Peru, police and forensics agencies permitted this work to be shown using their own local contraband.
Parker and Kent are grateful authorities did give the go-ahead to a floating installation of 7800 clods of dried earth – extracted from the foundations of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy by engineers seeking to correct its lean – and suspended on drop-down wire.
“Cornelia has always been fascinated by gravity – things floating, suspended, falling, and so forth – and this work entails the chunks of earth floating on slender metal wires that are suspended from the gallery ceiling. It looks a little like an asteroid belt or space rock,” Kent says.
Parker started out in art college as an aspiring painter and had thought of sculpture as something that usually resided on a plinth “like Henry Moore” until an eye-opening trip to New York. She began to make objects that, by necessity, were suspended from her home ceiling for lack of storage space.
One of Parkers’ best-known works, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, has been borrowed from the Tate. It comprises thousands of fragments from a wooden garden shed and its contents. The British Army happily blew up the shed with Semtex. Parker has created a freeze-frame of the moment by suspending the fragments in a three-dimensional installation. The spectacular artwork is missing only two wooden replica guns and a toy donkey. These items couldn’t leave London as the contents were unable to be identified, and the MCA worried that they might be removed by Australian authorities ahead of the exhibition.
Parker says her work is about her trying to make sense of violence she hears on the news every day.
“Violence is a part of our lives whether we like it or not.”
War Room came out of a visit to the London factory that makes memorial paper poppies for export. Observing the machine that punched out the paper petals, Parker took sheets of the remaining perforated paper and has hung them like fabric curtains, reminiscent of the opulent red tent Henry VIII took to France to talk peace. It’s the first time War Room has been seen outside England.
Kent regards Parker as an extraordinary artist, adept at working inventively in large and intimate spaces, equally interested in embroidery, drawing, and photography.
An embroidered reproduction of the Wikipedia entry of the Magna Carta features the needlework of prisoners, whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden and the former head of MI5.
“[Parker] takes all sorts of ideas, stories, and materials from everyday life and reinvents them, quite literally, so that we see things in different and quite unexpected ways,” Kent says.
“This is her strength as an artist and the works elicit curiosity, surprise, and wonder; they can also be very dark yet playfully so.”
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald