I recently visited the reopened Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, the highlight of which is an exhibition of work by Cornelia Parker. Three of the works in particular really connected to some of the books I’ve been reading recently – in particular to Slavoj Zizek’s “Absolute Recoil”.
“War Room” is a room draped with what initially appears to be red fabric. The effect is a little like being inside a tent. The ‘fabric’ in fact turns out to be large sheets of what is left over after British Legion poppies have been cut out. The visual effect is mesmeric, inside the room feels quite disorienting.
But it was the impact of what is left out, what is missing, that really struck me. The installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London uses visual poppies, but Cornelia Parker’s work creates impact through what is not there. All those missing poppies bring to mind the gaps left by all those who never returned from the war. They are more poignantly present by their absence than by the presence of the poppies at the Tower. The dialectic underneath the art is clear.
“Black Path (Bunhill Fields)” and “East Jerusalem” are similar casts of lines between paving stones. Here again it is the impact of what is missing which is striking. Oddly, standing in the gallery there is a strong sense of the texture of the ground, even though there is a blank space between the outline where the paving stones ought to be. It is the absence again delivers a strong sense of presence and place.
The last piece is “Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View“, the shed which Parker displays suspended in pieces as if in the act of being blown apart. Is is suspended with the planks of the shed outermost and the objects from inside seen through the gaps, with a single light bulb in the middle. These throws strangely distorted shadows onto the outer walls. Despite the static, frozen aspect what the piece creates is a strong sense of motion, but not the motion of being blown apart. In fact the feeling is of a structure where the film has been reversed and the shed is in fact about to fly back together and reassemble itself. The sense of motion in stasis is overwhelming.
If dialectics ever seem somewhat technical and disconnected from reality, then this exhibition shows how directly relevant they can be to the world around us and how we think.