The run up to Easter was a good time to go to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester to see the Cornelia Parker retrospective that hangs until 31st May. It was a good time because we are thinking about death and rebirth and the cruelty of human beings to one another. Parker's show is all about that - but don't be put off. It is very uplifting.
There is a lot of work on display in the gallery which is newly re-opened after a £15 million redevelopment. My favourites were:
Made in Bethlehem:
A haunting film about a crown of thorns manufacturer working away with his son, him in traditional Arab dress and his son in western style clothes. They answered gentle questions put by Parker from off camera. "Doesn't it hurt?", "Where are you from?", "How many do you sell?", with slightly impish and incredibly proud answers, "No, after 30 years my hands know how to avoid the thorns", "I am of a tribe from Bethlehem", "We make the crowns in advance so that when buyers come from Bethlehem they can take three, four or five thousand at a time."
A room, almost a shed, it felt so vast and had a pointed triangular ceiling, double lined with red paper from which the British Legion poppies are cut for us to wear on Remembrance Day. At the door was evidence of previous viewers' damage to the exhibit with two (luckily small) pieces hanging forlornly from the sign which asks you not to touch because of the fragility of the paper.
Room for Margins:
A Rothkoesque (as Parker's own notes to the show say) room with aged lining paper in big white frames. The lining paper had been removed from the back of Turner's works such as Venice at Sunset when they were being restored at the Tate Gallery in London. Parker found them abandoned in a drawer and made them into works of art in their own right - from the back of the art, to the front.
Black Path (Bunhill Fields):
A metal casting of a plastic mould of the streets of London. The metal casting has the reverse structure of the paving stones. It sits about two inches off the floor on some nails which are lost to the viewer. Parker's daughter had hopped on those paving stones as they walked to school, playing the childhood game which had her avoiding the lines otherwise a lion might emerge to eat her. In this piece the lions would come out of the voids where the paving stones had been - much more plausible I felt and much more scary as a result.
The gallery's refurbishment has added two brick and glass extension wings at the garden end. One houses a lovely restaurant where the diners sit with only glass between them and the trees and flowers. It was so popular that we shared a table with some other visitors. As we walked around the gallery afterwards they were also making their way through the exhibitions and I left thinking it would have been much more in the spirit of the Parker works if we had introduced ourselves. This review therefore comes with apologies to them and with thanks to the Whitworth for a brilliant re-opening.