In essence, every finished work of art is a proverbial fly trapped in amber.
Even the most conceptual contemporary art offers some sort of sentiment, however abstruse, fixed at the moment of artistic realization. Husband and wife art makers Jeff McMillan and Cornelia Parker both embrace this notion, but manage to circumvent any potentially ennobling aspects of implied longevity. Both artists use found objects as a starting point, but present such objects without abject mawkishness, lending a strange revisionist bent to two otherwise elegant bodies of work.
In Finesilver’s downstairs gallery, British artist Cornelia Parker presents two series of inkjet diptychs, two sculptures and a dainty dirt drawing — all rather modest in scope, considering the artist’s 1997 Turner Prize nomination. Parker’s inkjet diptychs, entitled Different Dirt — Found in Britain: Lost in America (2003) and Different Dirt — Found in America: Lost in Britain (2003), present various artifacts unearthed by hobbyists in Great Britain and the US. Parker scanned each set of artifacts against various backgrounds, and reburied them on the opposite side of the Atlantic — an act that first memorializes the objects, then obliterates the archeological significance of their discovery. Roman coins now dwell in the dirt of Athens, Georgia; Civil War-era toy soldiers now molder under the site of the Battle of Hastings. In this gesture, history is negated, while the science of archeology is merely parodied.
Parker’s sculptural readymades — Composition with Horns (2004) and Alter Ego (fancy coffee pot with pale reflection), 2004 — demonstrate less of a revisionist tendency. Composition is comprised of a Tenor horn and a French horn, one in perfect condition, the other flattened with an industrial press. Alter Ego forges a similar relationship between two silverplated coffee pots. The works are an homage to Marcel Duchamp and Yves Klein, stimulating a violent collapse in purpose but displayed in delicate, gravity-defying placidity.
Indeed, gravity seems key to all Parker’s compositions. Everything in the space — from the falling artifacts pictured in the diptychs to the (quite literally) floating French horn and coffee pot — seems suspended. At the far end of the room, a single drawing titled Unconscious of a Moment (2003) mirrors this suspension. Frail puddles of dirt linger on stacked sheets of glass, forming an ethereal, layered composition from a stylized snail trail of earth pilfered from Sigmund Freud’s London garden during the burial of an intriguing Different Dirt artifact: a bullet used during field surgery in lieu of anesthesia.
Upstairs, Texas-born, London-based Jeff McMillan chooses more humble found objects as the basis for his compositions — ordinary cardboard boxes and kitchy thrift store paintings — which he dips in vats of richly-hued acrylic paint. The work hangs in a horizontal grid across the gallery’s walls save for the piece Buster, which rests on the gallery floor. The boxes are dipped in paint one face at a time, allowing the liquid to congeal as it dries, enhancing the familiar folds of the underlying cardboard. The paintings are partially dunked, frame and all, into the same thick, soupy paint. All of the objects are appetizing, transformed in much the same way as chocolate-covered fruit into mysterious confectionery and decorative minimalist object.
Like Parker, McMillan alters the purpose of his objects, but only slightly. Thanks to the forces of gravity, his boxes resemble overstuffed envelopes — an aspect that somehow flattens the works a bit, making them read more like paintings than sculptures. The narrow dimensions of the gallery prevent one from pondering this optical illusion from a sizeable distance, which is a bit frustrating. Given the right distance, these boxes might collapse altogether.
Images courtesy the artists and Finesilver Gallery.
Anjali Gupta is a freelance critic and video producer based in San Antonio, TX.