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Image of Moon Landing by Cornelia Parker
Cornelia Parker, Moon Landing. Photo © Dr Jim Roseblade

Cornelia Parker

Work exhibited: Moon Landing.

"On the night of the full moon, 22 June 2005, a piece of the moon fell in this garden. It wasn’t a natural phenomenon but a deliberate homeopathic act; a fragment of a lunar meteorite was allowed to fall from my hand and to disappear in the terrain. It had fallen once before, after eons circulating in space it was eventually captured by earth’s gravitational pull, landing in North Africa, part of a chain of events that have led to this garden."

Cornelia Parker’s statement represents an apparent revision in her attitude towards meteorites since the comment she made public in 1998 during her show at the Serpentine Gallery: "In the past year, I have been trying to send a meteorite back into space with great difficulty." 

However, the contraction of scale from outer space to the Jesus College Fellows’ Garden does not alter the character of her attempt to add to the relay of events in which the history of an individual meteorite is involved.

Perhaps the most revealing detail in her account is its reference to homeopathy, with the implication that absorption by the soil of a tiny sliver of alien matter will in some way guard against the extinction event with which meteors, comets and asteroids are commonly associated.

It may be that the 16th century representation of Halley’s Comet on the beams of the Master’s study in Jesus College is part of the same talismanic fascination with this ultimate shock to the system. Parker’s work is remarkable for the versatility with which it has devised a range of strategies to address its viewers and readers, and it has covered a variety of thematic preoccupations. However, it seems never to have strayed very far from a profound inquisitiveness about the positive and negative effects of violent transformations of matter exemplified by combustions, percussions, and collisions.

The violent yoking together of mutually resistant materials is not only an aspect of the aesthetic spectacle her work supplies, it is also intrinsic to her techniques and, perhaps most significantly, acts as a metaphor for the intrusion of art into the sphere of everyday life. Meteors represent the most decisive use by nature of the key avantgarde technique of montage. Our awareness of them is governed by their randomness and volatility.

Parker’s conception of the artwork recognises a similar risk and value in its unpredictability, as it lands without warning in a set of assumptions about function and intelligibility that are ill equipped to deal with experiment and innovation. This perception is what gives a cool irony to her commemoration of the passing of the meteorite. The plaque we read is like a museum label informing us that the object we seek has been removed. And the irony is doubled when we appreciate the generic similarity between this plaque and others we have encountered in the landscape. Shape, design and lettering recall the inscriptions of English Heritage or the National Trust, provoking questions about the extent to which these deploy a house style of interpretation that displaces the object of scrutiny instead of retrieving it.

A third layer of irony is cemented into place by the diminutive size of the artwork, struggling to live up to the literal portentousness of its message. It brings to mind the title of another work by Parker, Measuring Niagara with a Teaspoon, that confirms with a more sarcastic inflection the absurdity of our attempts to deal with nature on our own terms. Ultimately, it is the disappearance of the meteor that disturbs our equanimity in any attempt to fix the meaning and control the approaches to a work of art.

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