‘Everything changes art’: Cornelia Parker on art and politics

Will Bennett 13 November 2017

When asked if the progression of her art has become increasingly political over the years, Parker is inclined to agree with my assessment. What led to her becoming more vocal as an artist as well as a person? ‘When I had a daughter, things changed.’ She goes on to note that having a child has heightened her concern. Perfectly valid and touching. Nonetheless, I was curious about the exact reason she chose to accept the appointment as the first female official artist of the 2017 general election. ‘Why not?’ Parker is quick to note, explaining that the position would help her gain more access to the Houses of Parliament – thus being able to participate in the dialogue in her own way. It then becomes increasingly apparent that a conversation with Cornelia Parker without politics would be missing the point; her appointment as the official general election artist indicates as much, and there is an political touch to her work – her recent American Gothic videos are a pertinent example.

Parker spent a large portion of the year touring the country to seek inspiration for her general election commission, much like her predecessors. Considering today’s political climate, however, this must have been a unique experience – ‘I started using Instagram.’ She has always been interested in politics, but taking on a project of this magnitude entails a degree of direct involvement in political discourse – something she understands well. Surprisingly enough, her most memorable moment involved meeting members of the press such as Steve Bell outside party conferences, toeing the line between observer and participant. Parker also perceives the Labour conference as having been ‘open’ and ‘joyous’, whilst noting less-than-joyously that the Tory one was clearly ‘orchestrated’.  It is reasonable to wonder if the recent general election – and her experiences on the trail – have altered her approach to art in any way. Apart from describing the outcome as ‘mayhem’, Parker makes a fascinating observation: ‘Everything changes art.’ Which then beckons the question: how has Instagram helped her achieve this? Whilst a cursory glance at Parker’s general election Instagram feed would indicate a rather peculiar and random assortment of photographs, she points out that everything she posts has a deeper meaning, oftentimes political.

Prior to the interview, I had scoured the recesses of the internet to find the final version of her election commission, to no avail. As it turns out, the initial release date of late September has been delayed. There is no doubt, however, that Cornelia Parker’s latest effort is one to look out for. With an arguably more politically radical outlook in recent times, the sharper edge to her work makes for food for thought.