Objects define us. From the flashing of labels that articulate a certain class-awareness to the seemingly vacant ticket-stub that holds a memory of a romantic evening, items, in every shape and conceivable size, reveal different narratives, stories, and histories that cannot be imagined in their literal manifestations. They are much more than their cocoons.
Cornelia Parker, the conceptual provocateur, in her new exhibition at the Baltic, delivers a discourse on the new meanings she finds in artefacts, old and new, some manufactured, distorted, morphed, and twisted, others left, so to speak, in abeyance, neither here nor there, and asks us to reconsider what it is we think we see before us. What is, for example, a feather if it comes from the pillow of Sigmund Freud, or what understanding can we come to from the random trajectory of a dice ricocheting into a dictionary?
Such pondering questions – often left unanswered – are in abundance during a saunter of this rich installation. Doubtful Sound is a brooding show of old and new work, including a magnified slide-projection of Fluff from the House of Commons and House of Lords, the smooth benign yet provocative casing of an unfinished gun – Embryo Firearms – and the mammoth Perpetual Canon, a suspended Stonehenge-like monument of 60 silver-plated instruments that have been squashed and arranged in a circle.
Simplicity is not on offer, and instead, you get disbelief, the imaginative reality of something that does not make sense – why squeeze a musical object into oblivion where it cannot function as it should? Yet, conversely, modestly lit by a bulb, this defunct object, whose shadow falls onto the walls along with its counterparts, creates a silent symphony. It works. It’s like innovative recycling.
And indeed, of her work, Parker has said that she resurrects things that have been killed off: “My work is all about the potential of materials – even when it looks like they’ve lost all possibilities.”
It says something that Parker lets the subconscious dictate the direction of her art. It’s only later that she contextualizes it. Gives it meaning. So check it out, let the subliminal do its job, and in time, the penny will drop.
Doubtful Sound at The Baltic from 19 June to 19 September 2010