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Cornelia Parker - Biography

Cornelia Parker is a London-based sculptor and installation artist. She was born during the year 1956 in Cheshire, England. She was raised on a Cheshire smallholding. Cornelia Parker's work is regarded internationally for its complex, darkly humorous, ironic style. Cornelia Parker's work is highly allusive and patterned with cultural references to cartoons, a style which she adapts to her need to capture things in the moment before they slip away and are lost beyond human perception. When examining her work holistically one can see the following themes driving her work forward consumerism, globalization, and the role of the mass media in contemporary life. Cornelia Parker was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1997 and featured in the 8th International Sharjah Biennial in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates in 2007.

Cornelia Parker has rural roots, as Simon Hattenstone for the Telegraph writes, Her sickly father had never been out with a girl until he was 34 and met Parker's mother, a German girl who had been traumatised as a Luftwaffe nurse in the second world war. Life was tough and physical – mucking out the pigs, milking the cows. "My father wanted a boy badly and didn't get one, so I was happy to be the surrogate boy. I was very strong, always doing manual labour." Later, Cornelia Parker studied art and received her MFA at Reading University in 1982. The Telegraph reports that Cornelia Parker trained at Wolverhampton Polytechnic because she was turned down by the larger colleges in London. After her Masters degree Cornelia lived a bohemian lifestyle in the fringes of Eastern London where she worked from home. She was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Wolverhampton (2000), the University of Birmingham (2005), and the University of Gloucestershire (2008). As the Telegraph writes:

While she got teaching jobs in the art schools that had rejected her, she was opposed for years to the commercial art market, and wasn’t represented by a gallery until she was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1997. Parker is married to the American artist Jeff McMillan. She has a daughter Lily, with whom she became pregnant with at the age of 44. The pregnancy is depicted in a piece of art in which Parker purchased the night gown worn in the film Rosemary's Baby hoping to wear it for birth but it was too small so she displayed it as a piece of art.

Many of Cornelia Parker's artworks are ephemeral or 'site-specific', created for a single time and place. Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) was such a work, in which Cornelia Parker had the British Army explode a garden shed, and the fragments were suspended in the air around a single source of illumination casting shadows of the shattered pieces on the walls. This work was displayed at the Tate Modern Gallery. Mark Hudson wrote the following in a review of the work for Telegraph:

Squashing a brass band is quite another. Flattening a whole band’s worth of instruments and sending them to the North East, home of the Durham Miners’ Gala, where the blare of brass is the very breath of proletarian pride, suggests a degree of chutzpah bordering on the suicidal.

The striking style of the suspended sculpture, which challenges the limitations of time and space, is typical of Cornelia Parker's work. Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson) (1999) is another example of this type of sculpture, in which charred fragments of a building supposedly destroyed by arson are suspended by wires and pins in a pattern which is both geometrical and chaotic. The work captures the identity of the two states by a retroactive positioning, much in the manner of a forensic scientist might reconstruct the scene of a crime.

Cornelia Parker has had numerous solo exhibitions in England, Europe, and the United States, at the Serpentine Gallery, London (1998), ICA Boston (2000), the Galeria Civica de Arte Moderne in Turin (2001), the Kunstverein in Stuttgart (2004), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, California (2005), the Modern Museum at Fort Worth, Texas (2006) and Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima Peru (2008). The work of Cornelia Parker was included in group exhibitions and public collections at the Tate Gallery in London, MOMA in New York, the British Council, Henry Moore Foundation, De Young Museum in San Francisco, the Yale Center for British Art and many other venues.

Some of her most noted exhibitions and works include Chomskian Abstract (2008), Never Endings (2007, 2008), Brontëan Abstracts (2006), The Distance (A Kiss with String Attached) (2003), Subconscious of a Monument (2002), Blue Shift (2001), Edge of England (1999), and The Maybe, in collaboration with Tilda Swinton (1995).

Cornelia Parker was a Professor of Conceptual Art at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where she taught an Intensive Summer Seminar with Klaus Ottmann.