Last Thursday, the Whitworth Art Gallery saw a private viewing of Cornelia Parker’s new Magna Carta (An Embroidery) attended by numerous dignitaries and senior figures from the arts world.
The newly elected chancellor of the University of Manchester, poet Lemn Sissay, made his opinions clear on both the Whitworth and the viewing, exclaiming “This place rocks!”
The Whitworth reopened its doors in February 2015 after a £15 million redevelopment. Since then it has been awarded the biggest museum prize in the world, the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2015. It has also been shortlisted for The Stirling Prize, and received one national and one regional award from Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Last year, Parker’s artwork Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View, more commonly known as ‘the exploding shed’ formed a mainstay of the Whitworth’s impressive collection.
This year, Parker’s new, innovative Magna Carta display commemorates the world famous document’s 800th anniversary. The thirteen-meter-long tapestry is an exact copy of the Wikipedia page of Magna Carta from the 15th June 2014—the document’s 799th anniversary.
In an exclusive interview with The Mancunion, Parker talked of how she admired the “crowd-sourced nature” of Wikipedia and the fact that it was not dry history written by academics or victors, but fresh and dynamic.
Parker said she had struggled with the idea of how to take this webpage and to turn it into a crowd-sourced piece of art, until eventually she arrived at the idea of a crowd-sourced, or co-operative tapestry.
Following the themes of freedom and law that run through the Magna Carta, Parker collaborated with over sixteen prisons to sew the bulk of the tapestry; however, key words were left to a range of individuals. Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower, has embroidered the poignant ‘freedom’ from his asylum in Russia. Other contributors include Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks; Moazzam Begg, a released inmate from Guantanamo Bay; the Head of MI5; Alan Rusbridger, the ex-editor of The Guardian newspaper; and the American Ambassador to the UK.
Parker declares that “there are lots people who would not want to be seen on the same page but they are all in the same embroidery.”
Towards the end of the interview Parker became passionate, calling for students to rise up: “Manchester University is lagging way behind Manchester Met in greenness. Manchester Met is third in the league while the University of Manchester is 122nd out of 150 universities.
“Manchester University is lagging behind. The University needs to divest from fossil fuels. This is a call to arms! You should be occupying the [Vice-Chancellor’s] office, standing on the table and making Manchester University shape up.”