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Image of Puddle by Cornelia Parker
Cornelia Parker, Puddle. Photo © Frith Street Gallery

Cornelia Parker

Works exhibited: Puddle, and Cloudburst

Cornelia Parker’s Moon Landing in the Fellows’ Garden of Jesus College tells us that ‘Here in this garden on the night of the full moon a lunar meteorite fell and was lost.’ 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 English 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. Ultimately, it is the reported disappearance of the meteor that disturbs our equanimity in any attempt to fix the meaning and control the approaches to this work of art.

Parker’s two works in the current exhibition, Puddle and Cloudburst, are solid objects that displace their referents, both phenomena that appear then disappear according to changes in the earth’s atmosphere. Clouds and rainpuddles take on form – transitory form – as stages in a process that is endlessly renewed, never in the same way twice. Both phenomena appear and disappear at different rates only to reappear as art objects in Parker’s practice, although not in identical fashion. Parker’s metal floor sculpture gives the puddle a seemingly durable form; nevertheless, its patinated condition makes it clear that the object is caught up in a process of constant change. The wall-work Cloudburst seems to capture the image of a cloud at the instant of precipitation – the relationship between image and referent depends on a visual similarity, although the patch of rust that forms the image is produced by the same alterations in the atmosphere that give rise to clouds in the first place. The cloud-shape that emerges from the patch of rust is purely arbitrary – it could easily have been different. But the very presence of rust on the surface of the exposed metal panel is completely inevitable. The metal has been sourced from the debris of a bomb disposal vessel in Jerusalem, used to contain a very different kind of outburst that has its own grim cycle. Parker’s work plays with the inexhaustible variation that determines the relationship between images and their referents; between so-called solid objects and their actual fluid states; between art andthe material conditions in which art is always absorbed.

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