This exhibition is also the occasion of the reopening of Manchester’s Whitworth gallery following a major expansion and refurbishment. he gallery’s director Maria Balshaw is a fervent advocate of the public space, saying, “This is everybody’s art,” and referring in particular to the large local Muslim community.
There are several memorable sculptures: one is Parker’s revisioning of Rodin’s The Kiss, entitled The Distance, in which she has tied the embracing lovers with coils of string, a reference perhaps to the complexity of love relationships. The second is a suspended shed, a melee of household and garden objects called Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View. Parker enlisted the help of the British Army to blow up a garden shed and its contents, and then displayed those objects in a permanent explosive moment, a powerful denunciation of violence.
Occupying a complete chamber is The War Room in which two layers of perforated red paper hang from the white walls. Through the aligned holes in the paper, one can glimpse the familiar shape of a Remembrance Poppy. The installation is made from some of the paper left over from the 40 million poppies made each year. A further expression of this fear of imminent darkness is an installation consisting of a series of squashed brass musical instruments.
An additional theme is provided by William Blake’s design The Ancient of Days, showing Urizen, the fallen Satan representing reason, law and order, crouching in a circular design against a cloud-like background. For Blake, this symbolised the dark, Satanic Mills of the industrial revolution, nowhere more powerfully present than in Manchester. This vision was expressed through a firework display containing an iron meteorite that fell in Arizona thousands of years ago.
Characteristic of Parker’s work are familiar objects confronting us in totally unfamiliar guise, making the ordinary extraordinary, underlining perhaps the constant need to renew our perception of the world, to see it as it is really is, brushing aside tired clichés or the ways in which the world is presented to us in official, stereotyped images that conform to the established order.
Indeed, the exhibition seems to express the Marxist notion of art not merely as a mirror of the world but as a practical intervention in it. This is an exhilarating and illuminating exhibition.