Cornelia Parker: The installation artist on mucking out pigs, blowing things up and Michael Gove's 'terrifying' cuts


I never got to play as a child All my spare time was spent working on my family's smallholding. It was a life of drudgery, really, planting vegetables, digging, mucking out the pigs; perhaps that's why I left for art school and became an artist – to work on stuff that had no [practical] use to it.

My father thought that what I was doing was useless Even when I took my parents to the Turner Prize show, in 1997 [when Parker was shortlisted for her work "Mass", which saw her construct an installation from the charred remains of a church that had been struck by lightning]: my father stood in the room and asked, "What do you think of this stuff then?" and belittled the responses of people coming in. I think he would have preferred it if I were a factory worker; he could have understood that.

Artists tend to want to be outsiders But I've enjoyed the frisson you get from working with institutions that don't conform to my views, such as the Army [which blew up a garden shed for her project Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, in 1991], and the National Rifle Association. I've also been an academician [at the Royal Academy] for three years now. I'd reservations in the past about [being an RA academician] as I was worried about losing my autonomy. But when friends became members, I thought, why am I being so churlish?

The Royal Academy has regained its mojo In the 1950s and 1960s, top artists didn't want to be part of the Academy because it was outmoded, and until recently there was only one black artist. But there were 11 new members last year and the changes are gathering pace. And its artists are working in so many more ways than just painting, engraving and sculpting; in my room "Black and White" [which Parker has curated for this year's Summer Exhibition], there's some overtly political work in there about Michael Gove and his cuts to education.

Violence is part of everybody's life whether you like or express it, or not. My work utilises all the energies that I have and part of it is violent and I'd rather it be out than in. When I blew up a shed, I could touch the fragments, process them and hang them in a space and reanimate them; I was trying to control something you can't normally control.

If you cut art from school, you're going to have a lot more looted shops A lot of the most rebellious kids at school end up doing art, but if they've got nowhere for their energies to go, that energy will go somewhere else. In Newcastle, the arts budget has been cut massively and now 40 per cent fewer students at school have been doing GCSE art in the past three years, which is terrifying. Michael Gove is going to wreck the future of fine artists and our creative industries.

Living in a warehouse is great – but after a while you just want a garden I was living in Shoreditch, east London, for 20 years but it became a nightmare by the end; once the area had cachet, the developers and all the money people moved in, trying to get every last pence out of the place. By the end we were fighting though the graffiti tours, and my husband and I decided we just wanted some green space, to be near a good school, so we moved. I've realised I've become middle class, and that's really nice!

Cornelia Parker, 57, is a sculptor and installation artist best known for her works where she violently destroys objects and suspends the resultant debris. The RA Summer Exhibition, for which Parker has curated the 'Black and White' themed room, runs to 17 August (

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