Cornelia Parker captures dystopian political era in new works for UK’s snap election

First female Election Artist unveils two new videos and a series of photographs using drones and Instagram

Cornelia Parker, the UK Election Artist 2017 UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Cornelia Parker, the UK Election Artist 2017 UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The latest “results” of the 2017 UK general election are in: the artist Cornelia Parker has unveiled two videos and a series of 14 photographs in response to the political event. The works capture the conflicted political scene of post-Brexit UK, when the country’s leadership seemed paralysed. Parker, who is best known for her large-scale installation and sculptural works, followed the campaign trail of the snap election, attending manifesto launches, protests and debates, and meeting with voters and candidates.

Parker is the UK’s fifth election artist since the creation in 2001 of the official position, which invites artists to creatively—and unbiasedly—document the elections. She is the first female and first conceptual artist to take on the role, and has produced the first digital works to enter the 8,500-strong Parliamentary Art Collection. The videos reflect an era when UK politics seem dominated by saturated media and a sense of dystopia.

Left and Right, one of the 14 photographs Cornelia Parker has made as the election artist Cornelia Parker, Frith Street Gallery

The disquieting eight-minute video Left Right & Centre was recorded using a drone that hovered over an eerily empty House of Commons chambre, piled high with the House’s newspaper subscriptions. The drone speaks to a feeling of surveillance and disquiet, and the newspapers—which date from the start of the election campaign up to October last year—are blown away by the machine’s propellers. “In a way, the newspapers were a liberation for me because they covered all the events of the campaign. Piled up in the Commons, they were almost like in in-tray or out-tray of what had happened in those months,” Parker says.

In contrast, the video Election Abstract is a three-minute onslaught of images taken from Parker’s lively Instagram feed, through which she has been documenting her experience since became the election artist in April last year. Though she confesses her avoidance of social media in the past, Parker was encouraged to use it as part of her commission. “Instagram for me seemed to be the natural vehicle and it became my sketchbook,” she says, admitting that she has since become addicted to the app. “Because I had been working with Instagram and had been using video a lot for that, I decided I wanted to make a time-based piece, to capture a moment in time.”

“There was an overload and so much to deal with. But the project seemed quite attractive—this short, sharp immersion.”
Cornelia Parker

The photo series is made up of 14 framed photographs from her Instagram account. Parker captured everyday scenes for both Election Abstract and the series. “I began seeing the political spectrum played out everywhere I looked,” she says. “The street signs, rubbish in the streets, paint spills, coffee stains took on extra significance.”

“This is the time we all need to politically engage. We need art more than ever because it’s like a digestive system, a way of processing,” Parker says. “I was in the mood to do it because I was in such turmoil. Because of Brexit and Trump I was feeling quite discombobulated and I thought this could be a way of engaging more full with what’s going on.”

But her final verdict? “I’m not any more optimistic about the political situation—and perhaps more pessimistic—now that I’ve seen it from the inside.”

Watch Cornelia Parker's videos here.