Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Cornelia Parker Brontean Abstracts as part of Never Endings at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham. Jenine McGaughran

This collection of works, amassed from Parker’s residency at the Brontë family home in 2006 seeks to uncover the underlying truths through close historical research and analysis of their personal living space and belongings.

Objects integral to their daily lives are magnified in order to discover something that remains unknown. Close-ups of pin-cushions, Charlotte’s quill, Emily’s comb all seek to imply an greater degree of intimacy and thus a greater ‘knowing’ of their owners. As much as it may seem that we are getting closer to understanding the lives of the sisters through intimate investigations of their personal belongings the paradoxical twist is that these prying’s serve in bringing the viewer no closer to a truth, but instead draws them into a narrative of the artists construction.

This notion of investigation is played out further, firstly with a video and later in a sound recording. The video shows an interview with 90 year old Phyllis who claims to be a direct descendant of Branwell Brontë. Phyllis, accompanied by another man similar of age discuss family stories that give rise to the belief that she is related to the Brontë’s. Further to this is evidence of their genealogic investigations, including a photograph of the believed illegitimate child of Branwell Brontë, which is held up in parallel with Phyllis’s face in profile to reveal slight resemblances. However, this is all extremely tenuous. Next is a sound recording accompanied by a map detailing the layout of the Brontë’s home. Two psychics can he heard discussing the movements made by its inhabitants, played out as a narrative from room to room both tell of events that are actually recorded in history, including references to a howling dog. Later it is revealed, by a third voice, perhaps that of Parker, that on the eve of Emily’s death her dog howled continuously until her passing. These facts seem to suggest a level of authenticity in their claims, which later plays an important role when they discuss the possibility of Branwell having fathered a child, substantiating the assertions made by Phyllis.

Brontëan Abstract functions under the guise of a forensic investigation of the Brontë’s in an attempt to know or understand them more. However, it could equally be claimed that this is not its real function. Parker is instead constructing narratives and possible fictions in the creation of a story that is potentially never-ending.

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