Object That Fell off the White Cliffs of Dover is a Georgian teapot, made from electroplated nickel silver, which is severely crushed in places and features significant deposits of white chalk in some of its damaged areas. One side of the teapot largely maintains its original, rounded shape, while the other has been partially flattened, with the metal compressed inwards. On this flattened side the lid is upturned at the bottom such that the inside of the teapot is visible. The object is decorated with a raised, textured leaf pattern and has three sculpted legs, all made up of an identical leaf motif. Although some parts remain shiny, the surface is highly tarnished in places, and in certain areas the pattern has worn away.
This work was made by the British artist Cornelia Parker in 1992 by dropping the teapot off a chalk cliff in the British seaside town of Dover. It originally had a fourth leg and a handle, but these broke off when it fell, and the white chalk deposits were embedded into the dents and crevices in the teapot as it hit the cliff on its way down. These deposits are not permanently adhered to the object and it is likely that they will be lost over time through handling and natural erosion.
The title of this work explains the process that Parker used to create the object, as well as making reference to ‘the White Cliffs of Dover’, a commonly used nickname for this natural landmark. This name was primarily popularised through a song titled ‘(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover’, written by Walter Kent in 1941 and most famously recorded by Vera Lynn in 1942. The song implicitly references the Battle of Britain – a major Second World War air campaign held in 1940 that was partly fought over Dover – but it also optimistically envisions a time when the war would end and peace would return. Parker has made several works relating to the white cliffs of England’s south-east coast, including Edge of England 1999 (Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee) which consists of chalk fragments from the shoreline at Beachy Head in Sussex – a famous suicide spot – that Parker retrieved after a cliffslide had taken place there. The curator Iwona Blazwick has argued that in these works Parker ‘plays with the mythic status’ of the cliffs (Iwona Blazwick, ‘Dramatic Acts of Luxurious Violence’, in Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea 2001, p.63), and in 1999 the artist stated that in her practice she tries ‘to take very clichéd monumental things, things that everybody knows what they are (or you think you know what they are) and then trying to find a flip side to it or the unconscious of it’ (Cornelia Parker and Bruce W. Ferguson, ‘Cornelia Parker Interviewed by Bruce Ferguson’, in Cornelia Parker, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston 2000, p.46). With Object That Fell off the White Cliffs of Dover, Parker could be seen to address this by associating the cliffs – a symbol of British strength and independence – with damage and erosion.
Parker has made numerous other works involving silver-plated domestic objects that are flattened or broken, such as the large-scale installation Thirty Pieces of Silver 1988–9 (Tate T07461). Discussing her use of silver in 2004, Parker stated
I love it because it has got pretensions to grandeur, especially when it’s just silver-plate, which is just a thin skin on top of another more base metal. It’s all about an outward appearance, which has to be maintained; otherwise it tarnishes, showing its dark side.
(Cornelia Parker and Andrea Jahn, ‘Perpetual Canon: Cornelia Parker Interviewed by Andrea Jahn’, in Cornelia Parker: Perpetual Canon, exhibition catalogue, Württembergischer Kustverein Stuttgart, Stuttgart 2004, p.19.)
Curator Jessica Morgan has associated Parker’s use of silver-plated items with ‘a particular type of British etiquette in which the best teapot or cutlery is displayed to impress visitors’ and has suggested that by damaging such objects the artist ‘literally flattens class pretensions’ (Jessica Morgan, ‘Matter and What it Means’, in Institute of Contemporary Art 2000, p.16).
This work is also notable for the way in which it emphasises the material transformation of the teapot as much as the aesthetic and physical properties of the object itself. In 2003 Parker acknowledged that this is a key aspect of her work, stating that
Sculpture was always about making these permanent, solid things. For a long time my work has been about trying to erode monuments, to wear them away and to digest them, and then create a moment, a fleeting thing ... Nothing was solid, nothing was fixed, everything had a potential to change, so it was the opposite of the monument; it was the moment.
(Parker in Lisa Tickner, ‘A Strange Alchemy: Cornelia Parker’, Art History, vol.23, no.3, June 2003, p.370.)
Cornelia Parker: Avoided Object, exhibition catalogue, Chapter, Cardiff 1996, reproduced p.51.
Cornelia Parker, exhibition catalogue, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin 2001, reproduced p.52.
Iwona Blazwick, Cornelia Parker, London 2013.
Supported by Christie’s.