Overwhelming dystopia: Cornelia Parker’s General Election art

By Helena McFadzean

Conceptual artist Cornelia Parker OBE RA has produced a body of work to reflect the turmoil of the 2017 snap General Election. She is the first female election artist, in addition to producing the first digital artworks to enter the Parliamentary Art Collection. The two main final pieces produced are videos, titled ‘Left, Right and Centre’ and ‘Election Abstract’.

These are accompanied by a series of photographs taken from the artist’s Instagram account, @electionartist2017, where she documented her first-hand experiences of events throughout the United Kingdom and within Parliament during the election. Making the process accessible to an open audience enabled citizens to participate in her work by commenting and observing for themselves the artist’s ‘sketchbook’.

“The newspapers…piled up in the Commons, they were almost like an in-tray or out-tray of what had happened in those months”

The setting of ‘Left, Right and Centre’ is contained within the House of Commons, where stacks of newspapers and markers of the space ominously shape-shift in and out of recognition through the use of light and shadows. Using a drone, Parker finally confronts us with the chaos of the election’s news coverage as a whole – paper flies left, right and centre around the room. We are left feeling unsettled and overwhelmed by the sheer amount and intensity of newspaper headlines.“ In a way, the newspapers were a liberation for me because they covered all the events of the campaign. Piled up in the Commons, they were almost like an in-tray or out-tray of what had happened in those months” Parker said to The Art Newspaper.

Meanwhile, ‘Election Abstract’ has a wholly larger scope, in terms of location as well as time. Rather than portraying a single concept, this video is a documentation of the entire election, shown to us in rapid-fire video clips and images. Parker revealed that “there was an overload and so much to deal with”.  The media exacerbated this intensity with its emotionally charged headlines. Throughout the video, headlines are mixed with metaphorical images of left and right, elevator doors opening and drawing apart, as well as campaign snippets. Parker “started seeing the political spectrum played out everywhere [she] looked”, and she reflects this phenomenon in ‘Election Abstract’.

We get the sense that – despite complete over-saturation of information – the truth is far from within our grasp.

There are fragments everywhere, even literally represented through mirrors. We get the sense that – despite complete over-saturation of information- the truth is far from within our grasp. This can be seen in response to the videos on YouTube; the audience clearly feels unsure – there is an almost balanced ratio of likes to dislikes.  Personally, Cornelia Parker reveals: “I’m not any more optimistic about the political situation – and perhaps more pessimistic – now that I’ve seen it from the inside.”


Photograph: UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor via The Guardian 

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