Cornelia Parker at Tate Britain review: A retrospective that doesn’t shy away from the present

The changing nature of British culture becomes the dominant theme in this important exhibition

Mark Hudson
Wednesday 18 May 2022 06:38
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<p>Parker had a shed and its contents detonated by the Royal Artillery for her most famous work, ‘An Exploded View’ </p>

Parker had a shed and its contents detonated by the Royal Artillery for her most famous work, ‘An Exploded View’

Exploding garden sheds; guillotined dolls; a vast collection of silverware run over by a steamroller. Cornelia Parker’s first Tate retrospective is full of implicit noise and violence. But the experience of looking at the objects in the gallery is in complete contrast: there’s stillness, silence, even elegance.

Take Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991), the work that gave Parker fame, and can now lay claim to being one of the most popular British artworks ever. Parker had a shed and its contents detonated by the Royal Artillery, then suspended the remaining fragments around a central light. The silhouettes and shadows fill the space and the surrounding walls, so that a split-second moment of blinding mayhem is contained forever in the stillness of the gallery.

When first exhibited, the work seemed of a piece with a subversive new spirit in British art, typified by the then emergent Young British Artists, or YBAs. Yet approaching the work today, you’re struck less by that perceived edginess than by the meticulous care with which the whole thing’s been assembled: with the smallest fragments closest to the light, radiating out towards whole sections of wall hanging over the viewer’s head.

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