Early in her career, the British sculptor Cornelia Parker avoided the familiar associations of representational objects by creating purely abstract works. At a certain point, however, she began to reverse the process, achieving a form of abstraction instead by removing recognizable items from their fundamental usage or meanings.
For the Rorschach Series, Parker was inspired by Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychiatrist who in the early twentieth century developed a technique of psychoanalysis utilizing inkblots. Ink was allowed to fall onto a piece of paper, which was then folded in half, permitting the ink to spread into a symmetrical pattern. Rorschach prompted his subjects to make free mental associations and to “see” shapes and images in the inkblots, and these were interpreted as direct projections of the subconscious. In Parker’s Rorschach Series, silver-plated objects standing in for the ink literally mirror the viewer. As in all of her works with found objects, individual pieces with varying pasts have shared the same fate in the artist’s hands. Robbed of their third dimension and evoking their lost volume by being suspended a few inches above the gallery floor, they create cartoon shadows of their former selves.
Parker has made several works referring to psychoanalysis and the subconscious, even making Rorschach inkblots using various symbolic materials. The artist’s so-called “pornographic drawings” are made with ink she created using pornographic videotapes confiscated by HR Customs and Excise. Parker explains, “Customs destroyed the tapes by chopping them up; I reinstated their imagery by making Rorschach blots.”(1) Parker realized that the folding of paper to make a blot was similar to the folding that occurs when metal is crushed, and this led to the Rorschach Series. Parker comments, “Making Rorschach out of silver gave a new dimension to the pieces. As objects that have had a life and a death, they are full of associations. The works become loaded and contradictory in the context of the idea of Rorschach—they are the inverse of Rorschach.”
Like Rorschach’s inkblots, Parker’s sculptures are open to countless subjective interpretations. Endless Column I suggests in its title an homage to the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, whose concentration on pure, abstract, repetitive form was a significant influence on later artists, especially the Minimalists. Brancusi’s seminal work, Endless Column (1918), created as a memorial to Romanian soldiers killed in World War I, consists of a series of carved wooden forms that sit on the floor while rising into the air. Parker creates a similarly elegant line of balanced, symmetrical forms, yet, rather than rising from the earth to the sky, Parker’s work hangs from the ceiling, floating just inches from the floor. “Suspension has been a central theme in my work,” the artist explains, “sometimes literally and other times metaphorically. It describes limbo and our battle with gravity and its grip on all of us. All our life we have a precarious relationship with the earth’s surface; gravity exerts its attraction increasingly until the moment we die.”
— Andrea Karnes
(1) All quotations from the artist are taken from an e-mail message to the author, November 30, 2005.