I’ve posted this before, but was reminded of it on Friday because I went to the Tate Modern. I was ostensibly there because I’m writing about the Miroslaw Balka thing for uni, but I had time to see Thirty Pieces Of Silver by Cornelia Parker again too. Last time I was there, a couple of years ago, I had this insatiable urge to run my fingers through all the strings and make it all clatter, and it was the same on Friday. I had to leave the room for fear of embarrassing myself and being asked to leave.
For the Tate Modern’s Gallery Assistants, Cornelia Parker’s installation was a real money earner. Positioned, as they were, to prevent the room becoming overcrowded, subtle crowd control was administered until, nearing closing time, the client arrived to an empty wing.
Cornelia Parker had steamrollered her silver items; dinner sets, jewellery, trombones… naming the work in progress after the payment made to Judas Iscariot for his betrayal of Jesus. She hung each piece just a few inches from the ground, in clusters, and shadows fell on the laminate floor. With the potential to swing and clatter and chime and tangle, the installation was still and silent and unemotional.
That is, of course, until the arrival of the client, and the whisper that set them apart from the thousand other visitors.
While the rest of the gallery emptied, the tills ringing with highbrow books and cut-price postcards and the Southbank filling with chatter and cagoules, the client removed her shoes and socks, and sprayed her fingers with antibacterial gel. Carefully, she stepped over the rope cordon, and breathed out for five whole seconds. She had come straight from the office; told no-one of her appointment.
Like a harpist, she began by gingerly plucking one thread, attached to a heavy plate. The plate rocked slightly, and the items around it tinkled. With more confidence, she bent to pick up a teaspoon, pulling it away from its family and watching it clatter back down, swinging around the wiry huddle until it crashed and swayed and the client crumpled her nose and grinned, raising both shoulders as if weathering a rock-fall. The Gallery Assistant smiled back.
With her arms behind her now, she walked forwards, fingers strumming at the hanging threads until her feet were surrounded by a mass of silver waves, clinking and shunting one another to and fro. This continued for several minutes, her rapture never vocalised, but always obvious. She walked up and down, and then across each row, pulling at the wires, listening to the chiming become louder and louder.
As the silver settled, the client lay on her back, crumpling her suit jacket but not giving a toss. She fidgeted until her head was below one of the swinging clusters, and her eyes moved back and forth, as if watching a tennis match gradually shrink.
When the room was silent again, she sat up slowly, and the Gallery Assistant returned her footwear. Smiling, she passed him one thousand pounds in folded notes, and said her thank yous. The Gallery Assistant simply nodded.