If Cornelia Parkerís suspended charcoal work Mass (Colder Darker Matter), is a drawing, as the artist suggests, then the cubic space it occupies is some kind of Flatland algebraic mysticism wherein six planes become one and the volume becomes a void. The piece is in fact a drawing, one from which the artistís hand is withdrawn and the draftsmanís instrument is itself the work. This delineated cube, suspended as it is before white walls, alternately flattens in a scattering of black marks and reasserts itself as a three dimensional mass.
This occurs most obviously as you traverse your way around the piece which is backlit from your point of view as you enter the gallery at ArtPace. As you move around the cube to the sides upon which the light is directed by deflection off the white walls, the texture of the burned wood emerges and the formerly deep black drawn strokes become what they are: remains of a terrible fire.
Just as the workís role as a drawing is conceptually derived, so is the status of the charcoal as drawing implement more idea than actuality, for the charcoal is not used to make marks, but is itself the mark, and besides, the artist has not suspended drawing sticks but hundreds of charcoal remnants of a found Baptist church struck by lightning. The church was, as they say in the newspapers, burned to a crisp, but the real news here is that the eye recognizes a space that is nonetheless transporting. The larger pieces of charcoal, in scale analogous to arms, legs and heads, are suspended in a central core, a mass almost spherical in form within the cube which is demarcated by successively smaller and smaller burned black shards. The outer planes of the cube have a curtain-like feel, veiling perhaps a sphere of terrible energy into which the eye implodes. The scattering of smaller and smaller parts from the center outwards to the edges of the cube gives the sense of motion arrested, a release of energy which is somehow stopped, without consequence. And without time. Thus the holocaust of a burning church is somehow stilled in a site-pacific state of tranquility.
Parkerís tendency to dismantle the monument or institution is realized in this work as in others, but with a subtle difference, especially when compared to a work like Cold Dark Matter, An Exploded View (1991), Mass (Colder Darker Matter) is a reordering of a building previously destroyed by a natural disaster, whereas Cold Dark Matter, An Exploded View is a reassembly of a building (garden shed) destroyed by a military rocket at the bidding of the artist, and must then be linked to the creative intent of the artist and is therefore an act of god and as such is specifically distinct from the class of occurrences which might be grouped under that tandem designation, natural disaster. Perhaps the reassembly (step by step) of the shed can be viewed as an act out of guilt. If so, then the restructured (inch by inch) church is a resurrection affected by the intent of the artist. It is this slippery metaphysical play of guilt and redemption that is the mechanism through which Parker saves the monument even as she takes it apart. Of course, all this is just interpretive balderdash, as the mechanics of what the artist is really doing are not so easily or evenly diagrammed.
The madcap conceptualism of this artist is generally informed by a kind of lightning flash cleverness of conception: a silver spoon melted down and extruded into a piece of wire exactly the length of Niagara Falls; an inconsequential spider found in the home cum museum of American literary icon Mark Twain pressed into a glass slide and projected; a cloth used to remove tarnish from Jim Bowieís spoon (his spoon!) framed and presented like a drawing; a threshold from a ghost town doorway placed on the floor next to a similarly sized block of wood which has never been stepped on. This kind of thinking is like a cloud with a silver lining actually sewn into it: you can see how she threads the needle, but how in hell does she make the stitch? None of us, including the artist, really knows, but perhaps when these fortunes are reversed, some kind of privilege is extruded for us too and maybe, just maybe, it reaches all the way to the bottom of Niagara Falls.
Copyright Hills Snyder, 1997 / appeared in Artlies #21, 1998.