Cornelia Parker made her work Thirty Pieces of Silver back in 1988-89 and it is a major work, now in the Tate collection, consisting of over one thousand silver objects of all kinds, both useful and ornamental, which have been flattened with a steam roller and suspended on thirty two kilometres of fine wire. It has been on show at York St Mary’s for the summer filling the central space of what was the nave of the church with an eerie beauty. There are all kinds of transformed silver objects floating calmly just above the stone floor; spoons, candlesticks, a flute, trophies, trombones, fine wire mesh baskets, bells, mirror backs, plates, trays forks and knives. They are meticulously arranged into thirty perfectly balanced circular groups which hover, poised, serene and still. It is a moment frozen in time. It is only when your eye settles and begins to look closely that you sense movement, both within the composition of the piece itself, swirling shapes interacting gracefully with each other within each circle, and as breaths of air cause the objects to sway almost imperceptibly on their wires. There is a real meditative pleasure to be had from the concentration needed to notice these tiny movements and follow them with your eye. The fine wires shimmer as the sunlight falls on them through the plain windows of St Mary’s, making a sunlit gossamer curtain of indoor rain through which the blurred shapes of the arches and stonework of the church can be seen. Everything is shades of grey and glittering silver. From the high balcony as you look down on the work it fills the church, claiming the space as its own. The worn stone paving tiles underneath the circles are a perfect background for the piece, complementing the greys within it and allowing the silver tones to shimmer over its dull surface.
Thirty Pieces of Silver is a poignant title. As well as being a straight description of what is in front of you it also alludes to the fee paid to Judas in return for betraying his master. This in turn leads to thoughts of death and resurrection. Each of the objects has been transformed. They have had a previous life in an entirely different form and carry the resonances from this life forward with them. You watch them and wonder.
It is hard to believe that Thirty Pieces of Silver is not a site specific work made for the space at St Mary’s which it fits so perfectly. The size of the space and the tones and colours within it complement the piece perfectly and St Mary’s itself has also undergone its own transformation from a church into a contemporary art space. These may be two very different uses but they also share strong similarities, especially when a beautiful contemplative work like this is placed there.
Cornelia Parker’s silver objects are not the only ones to gather new resonances and change with time. At the back of the balcony area there is a board where visitors can describe the special meaning that silver has to them and pin their note onto a thin wire. People of all ages have enjoyed telling their stories and here are just a few. I think that Cornelia would like the first one, written by a child and accompanied by an illustration.
“My silver christening bracelet got run over by a fire engine.”
“I have a silver threepenny bit from my twenty first birthday cake and I am now 74 years old.” Ray.
“I have a newish silver and rose quartz ring bought by my husband on a weekend away. I wear it and it reminds me that when away from everyday life we get on very well and I love him. x”
“Silver tarnishes. It needs love and attention like people.”
Thirty Pieces of silver will never find a better home. I wish that it could stay at St Mary’s forever.
I would have loved to be able to take my own photos but I am thrilled to have been given permission to show you photographer Shannon Toft’s stunning images.