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Art for Breakfast: Cornelia Parker’s Hanging Fire



A drawing, mid air. Magically floating just off the ground, with a shadow gracefully leading back up the wall. Stand for a minute, and the pins will wink at you, suggesting sparks from the fire that once turned this wood to rubble.

The piece hogs attention. It sucks the life out of the room and then feeds it back slowly at a calmed, transfixing rate. Every person who walks in is in love with it right away. And then it moves a little, and their breath is caught in their throats. When they look at the wall text, they can’t believe it has such depth! Can you tell where the wood came from? Is that the leg of a chair?

Cornelia Parker’s Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson) is constructed from the remnants of a woodworking shop that burned to the ground in an event of suspected arson that had not been determined before the pieces were taken. The evidence has been reanimated by the artist hanging from glass on threads of wire. Taken out of its context, it hangs in balance both literally and metaphorically, never having disclosed its secret. Detective work is still possible, despite its futility. There is a crocodile skin pattern on the charred surface of the wood, which forensic experts have pointed to as a sign that an accelerant was used.

Is it rising or falling? It is both rising and falling, as only a fire can do. As the interior heats and pushes upwards into the air the wood around it crumbles and fills the void. A dynamic that continues up into the sky as sparks rise and ashes fall. The pieces themselves are not static, they slowly twist back and forth, occasionally pumping to the beat of the installation next door. A dancing calligraphy.

It is a resurrection of the materials, a visual resurrection. Rising from the ashes, literally and figuratively. Maybe it embodies a new kind of ideology—that of sustainability and renewal, in which the used and the discarded are not cast away but elevated.

Image information:
Cornelia Parker
Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), 1999
Wire mesh, charcoal, wire, pins, nails
144 x 60 x 72 in. (365.8 x 152.4 x 182.9 cm)
Gift of Barbara Lee
ICA Boston

About Author

Margaret Rew is the gallery director at Howard Yezerski Gallery by day and fledgling writer by night. She graduated from Tufts University in 2011 with a degree in Art History and Political Science. Her daily art blog, artforbreakfast.org, chronicles the story behind, beneath and within one piece of art every day.

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