© Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London


Cornelia Parker (1956 – )


81.3 X 17.8 CM
Accession number


Cornelia Parker, Falling 1990 81.3 X 17.8 CM SILVERPLATED TROPHIES AND DISHWIRE

Those at great heights have further to fall, so the saying goes. Here a trio of silver-plated trophies have been given the cartoon death treatment by Cornelia Parker: they have been steamrollered by a 250-ton press into a flattened caricature of their former selves. The tail end of their connecting dishwires drifts upwards as though caught, stop-motion, during a downward fall. The self-important, hands-on-hips stance of the trophies’ handles looks all the more impotent and absurd. Similarly, Parker encourages the anthropomorphic in her ongoing ‘Alter Ego’ series, where, referencing silver’s usage in mirrors (to help us see ourselves), an intact item of silverware is suspended above a squashed equivalent, its metaphorical shadow. Silver is a favourite material of Parker’s, it being the most reflective of metals whilst able to tarnish black - in Falling, the comic crumples of the squashed piece are described and emphasised by the tarnish. Silver is also rich with associations. The commemorative appeal of silver for a trophy is bound up in its monetary value: it is something to be treasured, polished, displayed. Seemingly iconoclastic, Falling resurrects a new worth from these tired objects.

Speaking about her earliest silver piece, Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988-89), where over a thousand everyday objects were flattened and suspended above the floor in disc-shaped groupings, Parker says:
‘I wanted to change their meaning, their visibility, their worth, that is why I flattened them, consigning them all to the same fate. As a child I used to crush coins on a railway track – you couldn’t spend the money afterwards but you kept the metal slivers for their own sake, as an imaginative currency and as physical proof of the destructive powers of the world.’[1]

Silver-plating moreover brings up ideas of imitation and pretension, while drawing attention to the surface. Breathless (2001), her commission for the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, was Parker’s response to the newly opened British Galleries, where lavish rooms from stately homes had been transposed. Parker played on the trompe l’oeil effect of the flattened instruments, by hanging them in a circular gap between two floors of the museum, with the tarnished sides facing down, and the silver lining viewable from above.

Perpetual Canon (2004) was made for a round hall in the Wurttembergische Kunstverein. A former brass band, counting 60 silver-plated instruments, was squashed flat and then suspended in a circle around a single lightbulb; they gleam on the inner side, while their shadows are projected in a ghostly dance around the surrounding walls. In some cases the wear of usage has revealed the brass body beneath - true colours show through. The title refers to a musical term, meaning a phrase repeated over and over again. So too this marching band is going round in an endless circle. This muted brass band has an elegiac quality, marking the demise of one of the English working class’s proudest traditions.

‘I refer to breathing - inhaling and exhaling - throughout my work, this piece is being inhaled. The old instruments, which had thousands of breaths going through them in their lifetime, had their last breath squeezed out of them by me.’[2]

[1] Cornelia Parker, quoted in British Art Show (exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London 1990), p.88

[2] Jahn, Andrea, ed., Cornelia Parker: Perpetual Canon (Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld 2005), p.17