Transitional Object (Murder Barn)

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‘Transitional object’ is a term borrowed from developmental psychology describing things like comfort blankets that children adopt as mother-substitutes, as props to test reality.’  Sam Jacob

With art galleries and museums closed all over the country, and indeed all over the world, I am using this as an opportunity to go through my photo library and dig out images of exhibitions and installations I visited but didn’t get round to writing about. The first piece to get this treatment is Cornelia Parker‘s installation ‘Transitional Object (Murder Barn)’, originally commissioned for the roof of the Metropolitan in New York and was shown at the Royal Academy at the end of 2018.

‘Inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper and by two emblems of American architecture—the classic red barn and the Bates family’s sinister mansion from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho—comprises the fourth annual installation of site-specific works commissioned for The Met’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden.’  The Met, 2016

House by the Railway, Hopper
‘House by the Railroad’ (1925), Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper’s painting ‘House by the Railroad‘ was the initial inspiration for the sinister looming house created for the Hitchcock masterpiece ‘Psycho’. The railway tracks in the foreground of the painting create a visual barrier that seem to block access to the house, which is isolated in an empty landscape. Hitchcock reinterpreted the setting, perching his ‘murder house’ on the top of a hill, again setting it apart both visually and physically just like the original.

Psycho House
The Bates Family House, Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock, 1960.

The other inspiration for Parker were the ‘red barns‘ that are as American as apple pie. Found all over the US these barns were originally unpainted. By the late 1700s farmers had began to use a recipe consisting of skimmed milk, lime and red iron oxide created a rusty-colored mixture. It gained popularity because it was cheap to make and lasted for years.

Parker’s sculpture is fascinating – a recreation of the original installation that references a scaled down homage to a studio-lot facade based on a painting. In playing with scale and deliberately revealing the scaffold structure behind it, Parker’s piece is simultaneously both authentic and illusory. The scaffolding that holds up the realistic facade is a direct reference to the filmset and is another representation of the dichotomy of the real and the unreal. The wholesomeness of the barn is tied to the foreboding evil of the Bates house, and indeed Parker has described the piece as confronting the ‘polarities of good and evil’. As in so much of her work, the starting point is the found object. Parker has dismantled an actual ‘red barn’ and reassembled it as something far more intriguing and sinister.

‘A vision of archetypical America seen through the double vision of an English film director, then a British artist. An architecture that itself was a hybrid of European architectural elements and styles deployed to legitimise colonial power through half-remembered European nostalgia remade in the heart of a Britain whose own sense of identity, shape and place in the world is in a state of extreme flux, and that is itself heading into an officially titled transitional state.’  Sam Jacob

I loved this installation. The images do not do justice to the sheer unsettling oddness of ‘Transitional Object (Murder Barn)’. If it is ever recreated, try and get to see it.

Text and images © Jonathan Dredge.

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