Cornelia Parker, ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ 1991
Cornelia Parker
Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View 1991
© Cornelia Parker

Cornelia Parker was born in Britain in 1956. In the late 1980s she began making installations using materials that had often been subjected to violent acts of transformation. In The Maybe, a collaboration with actress Tilda Swinton held at the Serpentine Gallery in 1995, Swinton slept in a glass case, surrounded by items that had belonged to historic figures. Parker lives and works in London.

Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View was once an ordinary garden shed. Then Cornelia Parker filled it with junk, bought from car-boot sales, and asked the British army to blow it up. She collected the wreckage and reassembled it as this constellation of suspended fragments, frozen as if at the moment of detonation. The smallest elements, such as plastic hair curlers, toy cars, and a crushed tin can are nearest the centre. Larger pieces - shattered planks of wood, a bicycle wheel - are at the edges. A single 200-watt light bulb in the middle of the orbiting debris throws shadows onto the surrounding walls. ‘Cold dark matter is the material within the universe that we cannot see and we cannot quantify. We know it exists but we can’t measure it. It’s immeasurable, unfathomable’, says Parker. From the shed’s hoarded odds and ends, the kind of everyday flotsam accrued in a life, she has conjured her own sculptural Big Bang.

In Parker’s hands, nothing is stable. Solid objects fall apart, collide, combust and are crushed, only to re-emerge from these acts of violence in new and surprising forms. ‘I like to take man-made objects and push them to the point where they almost lose their reference’, she says, ‘so that they become something else, take on other alliances’.

Sometimes the act of transformation is spectacularly destructive, as when she flattened a pile of silver plate with a steamroller. At other times, in her photograms of feathers for instance, it is gentle and fugitive. Parker rearranges the physical world on her own singular terms, finding poetry in the most prosaic of objects.