British artist Cornelia Parker has created a site-specific installation, Transitional Object (PsychoBarn), atop The Met’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. The installation is the fourth in a series of commissions created specifically for the outdoor space. On the eve of the opening we caught up with Cornelia Parker to discuss her exclusive scarf and pocket square and their design inspiration.
In your work there are a few recurring themes that come to mind: suspension, transition, context, perspective, and contrast. Can you tell me a bit about how those manifest in Transitional Object (PsychoBarn)?
There are other themes that I am exploring too, such as good and evil, back and front, and reality versus fiction. Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) is two iconic structures fused together: House by the Railroad by Edward Hopper (1925), which was transformed by Alfred Hitchcock into the Bates house in his 1960 film Psycho. Hopper also painted many red barns, so I’ve been absorbing these references and taken the physical fabric of a real red barn and reconfigured it as a replica of the Psycho house.
For me, the red barn seems to typify the wholesomeness of rural America; early settlers from Scandinavia, Germany, and Holland bought them over from Europe. Hopper was a Francophile, he loved all these Victorian mansard roofs and the Second Empire architectural style, which then mutated on its passage across America and by the time it landed in Hollywood it became California-gothic gingerbread.
Hitchcock, a Brit from Leytonstone, a London suburb where I lived for ten years, brought his own sense of sinister psychological baggage with him to Hollywood and became the master of suspense. He had been absorbing German expressionist cinema and through his silent movies had been creating early film noir. Hitchcock’s visual staging was amazing. I hope—as the original film Psycho is black and white and the house on The Met’s roof is red, because it is made from the timbers of an old barn—you kind of can recognize both structures because everyone is familiar with the references.
The piece is set at an angle; the two facades of the house are exactly the same as the ones that Hitchcock created for the film. There is a sense of cognitive dissonance, a yo-yo-ing between malign and benign. I wanted the piece to morph with the skyline of New York, so the PsychoBarn is adding a new dimension to the view.
How did you find the wood that the barn would be created from?
We learned that a century-old red barn in upstate New York was being taken down by an antique barn restoration company—it seemed perfect. They said there would be wood that we could purchase, so basically the barn company kept the main frame of the structure (for restoration) and we received all the clapboard cladding and interior stalls of the barn. The scarf is an image of the skeleton of the barn once the wood was taken off, silhouetted against the sky. It is a captured moment in the history of the piece. I like that the image is black and white—it takes us back to the film.
It seems that most of your works follow a limited color palette. Is there a reason behind that?
I usually use found color. I’m not adding color, but using the inherent hues of the found objects that I co-opt for the work. So it is not a too-limited color palette. I’ve used red a lot recently, including the wood from the Roof Commission. This is especially true over the last year. I have created a large tent-like installation in a U.K. museum, using punched-out red paper from a factory that creates commemorative British poppies, titled War Room. That was a very vibrant found color. For an earlier piece, Edge of England, I used white chalk that had fallen off the White Cliffs of Dover. So you see, it’s very much to do with the inherent color of the found material.
Along with the Roof Commission, which is site-specific, I have a piece in The Met collection which is going to be on display in the Modern and Contemporary galleries called Endless Sugar. The piece is a suspended horizontal column of squashed silver-plated sugar bowls that go from Georgian to Victorian to Edwardian. Due to the fact they are silver plated, not silver, they have pretensions to grandeur and each has a different base metal, which causes them to tarnish differently. Color for me is always a found intervention.
How does it feel to see this piece translated into an object that will be offered for sale to the public?
I think it’s great! I like the idea of wrapping a silk barn around your neck. It has nice ambiguity to it. I’ve made various prints in the past with a grid-like pattern and I’ve also created various charcoal pieces, one using wood from a church struck by lightning and suspending the timbers against a white wall, for example. I conceive of it being a giant charcoal drawing. I think the scarf design, the silhouette of the barn against the white sky, is also acting as a drawing in wood. The process of selecting the image for the scarf began by editing photos of the barn structure being taken down for the commission. Taking just a fragment of it somehow sums up the whole essence of Transitional Object.
What was the process in which you worked with weR2 to develop the exclusive silk designs?
I went through all the images of the deconstruction of the barn, and cropped a fragment I thought would work formally. It was a very simple question of editing and trying to keep the spirit of the sinister undertow of the barn. The red wood of the barn makes the Psycho structure friendlier than how you see it in the Hitchcock film in black and white. The scarf somehow takes it back to the feeling it has in the film. You can use it as a transitional object.
What do you want visitors to take away from their experience of viewing Transitional Object (PsychoBarn)?
I hope it gives them an extra charge when they see it set against the landscape of New York; after all, everyone is going up to the roof to take in the view. All I’m doing is adding something to that view. I think it will be quite a curious juxtaposition, as most of the buildings behind it are elegant high-rises, and we’ve got this shabby sinister house up on the roof. I hope it will be a good place to have photographs taken: the skyline of New York plus the Psycho house on top of The Met.
The Met is full of culture from all over the world, and Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) is an homage to vernacular American culture in a way. I’m married to an American so I spend a lot of time here and I’ve visited about 35 states. I just love its mythic quality, which you get with distance and landscape. Britain by comparison is tiny; it’s about one-third the size of Texas. You fly over Britain and it’s like a little patchwork quilt, while you fly over America and you see vast great expanses. On road trips here you glimpse a beautiful red barn in the middle of nowhere – there’s something elegiac about that.
How does it feel to exhibit your work outdoors in the setting of the Museum’s roof?
Amazing. I’ve done very few pieces outdoors so this is a departure for me. It’s really great. It’s my favorite museum. I am very honored to be part of it. I like the idea of the roof edged with a privet hedge, becoming the garden of the PyschoBarn. A curious house, which is sort of hunkering in the corner, like it’s scared of the public.
In the Artist Project you speak at length about Robert Capa’s Falling Soldier. Is there another object or gallery in The Met that you’re drawn to?
It’s so hard! So many pieces here I love. I was just wandering around earlier looking at paintings by Philip Guston, from his abstracts to his later, more figurative phase. There are many great things here—great Van Goghs, great Vermeers. I’m very upset that his milk jug painting is out on loan because it’s one of my favorite works of all time. So yes, it’s great to see so many iconic works here. I am using The Met as a plinth for my lowly PsychoBarn. It’s quite a humble object in a way.
Cornelia’s exclusive scarf and pocket square are available here and you can read more on the installation via the accompanying publication. For further information on her Transitional Object (PsychoBarn) on The Met’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden, click here.