America and Britain have long held a morbid fascination with one another. They think we’re a creaky island of tea-addicted aristocrats; we think they’re a deranged wasteland of trigger-happy rednecks and religious fundamentalists. While conceptualist Cornelia Parker is clearly interested in the darker aspects of the American psyche, she never quite passes judgement in this extensive, two-space exhibition.
Lots of guns, in various forms, are on display. In the photograph ‘Innocent Bystander’, Parker has captured an antique revolver in a museum vitrine from such an angle that it’s directly pointing at an oblivious (white, male, middle-aged) visitor. A pair of wire ‘drawings’ made from melted-down bullets are confounding mixtures of beauty and violence. Parker’s remarkable gift is to create work that’s almost crassly simplistic in concept but still delivers a rich, complex, layered payload of meaning. Take her ‘News at Seven’ and ‘News at Five’ pieces (in the Golden Square space): blackboards on which she’s got kids of those ages to write out their perception of current affairs. These could be little more than naff one-liners, but their scrawled, misspelt headlines are actually rather poignant. Whatever’s going on in the world today will affect this generation the most.
But the closest thing here to a state-of-the-union address is the multi-channel film ‘American Gothic’ following costumed revellers celebrating Halloween on the streets of New York – which, of course, was just when the presidential election was reaching fever pitch. A slowed-down, nightmarish nocturne of monster masks and ‘Lock her up!’ placards, the film is pretty much the closest Parker comes to saying: ‘Yep, the US of A is indeed a grotesque horrorshow of lurid spectacle and pressure-cooker politics.’ Almost, but not quite. That’s British manners for you.