• A Month in the Country

      Cornford, Matthew (2003)
      This commission called for a response to a historic photographic archive; we decided not to make new photographs but to hire existing ones, and appropriate them to focus attention on their ownership and control. Stock photography images may be understood as commodities in themselves, as signs produced in speculation of market demand. Such images are grouped in generic categories, which aim to ‘reflect current trends and aspirations’. The Corbis Corporation holds 70 million images, and is acknowledged as the world’s largest collection. Corbis is owned by the richest man in the world: Bill Gates, co-founder and chairman of Microsoft. We used our budget to hire images for one month, according to the conditions set by Corbis. Our picture search, ‘East Anglia Landscape’‚ yielded four images. Corbis permits its clients to produce prints of an image, whilst retaining ownership and control of the image’s appearance. After the contracted month, we kept the photographs on the gallery wall, but whitewashed over them. A Month in the Country trapped the image within the photograph, transforming the prints into abstract conceptual objects. During the Reformation, whitewash was used to obliterate paintings in Catholic churches, transforming them into austere places of worship. Today, a legacy of Modernism is the use of white painted walls as the defining visual statement of the art gallery. Within capitalism, whitewashing shop windows denotes bankruptcy. ‘A Month in the Country’ is the title of the novel by JL Carr, in which a young man attempts to recover from the trauma of the First World War. He spends his summer days in a mediaeval country church, meticulously revealing a biblical scene of damnation painted on the wall, which had been hidden by whitewash.
    • Camelot

      Cornford, Matthew (1996)
      For a group exhibition titled City Limits, we chose to invite reflection and debate on the physical and social boundaries which often determine the patterns of city life — in this case by denying people access to some small, neglected fragments of public urban land. Although the site we chose marks the entrance to Hanley town centre, it was defined only by three irregularly shaped patches of grass, flanked with sloping brickwork and cut off by traffic on either side. Rather than using a public art commission to superficially enhance the site, we decided to make an intervention which would engage with the very conception of ‘Public’. By reinforcing the boundaries of these grass verges with an excessive display of authority in the form of steel security fencing we allowed the public to see, but not to walk on the grass, raising the status of the land through its enclosure. In the context of the contemporary debate around security and access within town centres, Camelot explored the political notion of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ in which resources not under private ownership fall into neglect. The project title, Camelot, refers to the phenomenally successful United Kingdom National Lottery, an institution on which many artistic and cultural projects are becoming increasingly dependent for money. The Lottery organisers’ choice of ‘Camelot’ evokes a mythical ‘golden
    • Childhood’s End

      Cornford, Matthew (2000)
      Anarchy symbol with smoke in the sky. This was filmed from a cine camera mounted on the weapon platform under the left wing, and from a miniature video camera inside the cockpit. The duration of the piece is about six minutes, being the time taken to complete the manoeuvre, and the length of one uncut roll of film. Aerobatic displays apply the skills and manoeuvres developed for aerial combat to create public spectacles; the demonstration of technological power and technical prowess serves to pre-empt critical thinking and popularise militarism. Cinema has rich associations with conceptions of utopia: the medium depends on and fuels people’s desire to be mentally ‘transported’; it offers dramatic possibilities to explore utopian and dystopian alternatives to existing social conditions, and it plays on the tensions between individual and collective fantasy. Flying and filming have been historically bound up with militarism on many levels, from the development of related gun and camera technologies to the strategic and cultural implications of new ways of seeing space and movement. ‘Childhood’s End’ is the title of a novel by Arthur C Clarke, which envisions a future where humanity undergoes the loss of innocence or the attainment of maturity, and becomes subject to forces that acknowledge no distinction between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Inscribed by a fighter jet on the optimistic space of blue sky, the ambiguity of the Anarchy symbol is heightened, its utopian ideals of universal understanding and autonomy becoming enmeshed with the implied threat of violence. Simultaneously, the order and discipline of a militaristic activity is co-opted into displaying the transgressive impulse that lies beneath its urge to destroy.
    • How buildings learn / Civilization and its Discontents

      Cornford, Matthew; Cross, David (2004)
      Two site-specific installations, “How Buildings Learn” and “Civilization and its Discontents” were created for “Values - 11th Biennial of Visual Arts”, Pancevo, Serbia. The context of the Biennial was the degraded economy, polity and culture of former Yugoslavia, following a civil war of ethnic cleansing, nationalist dictatorship, economic embargo and a NATO bombing. The installations advanced knowledge by stimulating public debate on the relationship between art, the social contract and the limits of political obligation. These ideas have subsequently reached a wider audience through photographic documentation of both works. For “How Buildings Learn”, Cornford & Cross made use of ready-made material in the form of documents and books from the Public Records Office to block a doorway within the actual building. The tight-packed book surface belied its dense mass of material, and the labour that produced it. “How Buildings Learn” acted as a paradoxical sign: both for the futility of all effort, and for the painful work yet to be done in relating history to memory. “For Civilization and its Discontents” the artists signalled a call to anarchy, from a position of security as foreign nationals. The flags, five feet square, referred to Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings, which relate to his interest in Islamic art. By flying them from civic buildings throughout the city, the artists questioned the split between the philosophical ideal of anarchy and its political associations with destructive chaos.
    • Inside Outside

      Cornford, Matthew; Cross, David (Taylor & Francis, 2004)
      Cornford & Cross were invited to contribute a paper for a special edition of “Third Text” focused on collaboration. The article explored the limits of collaboration and the tolerance and intolerances of institutions in the wake of the museum’s incorporation of post-conceptual practice. Writing about their art practice and nature of collaboration in relation to the institution, Cornford & Cross questioned the privileging of the art object, and the role of artists primarily as being either to produce such objects for consumption, or to facilitate community involvement in urban regeneration. Cornford & Cross do produce objects, installations and images, and they do engage in a range of interactions with various organizations and groups. However, the distinguishing aspect of their practice is ‘action research’, a process of creative and critical collaboration, which may transform social relations.
    • Unrealised: projects 1997 – 2002

      Cornford, Matthew; Cross, David (Routledge (Taylor & Francis), 2005)
      With radical changes happening in arts over the past two decades, this book brings us up to date with the social and economic contexts in which the arts are produced. Influential and knowledgable leaders in the field debate how arts education - particularly in visual art - has changed to meet new needs or shape new futures for its production and reception. Opening up areas of thought previously unexplored in arts and education, this book introduces students of visual culture, peformance studies and art and design to broad contextual frameworks, new directions in practice, and finally gives detailed cases from, and insights into, a changing pedagogy. (Routledge)
    • Utopia, 1999

      Cornford, Matthew (1999)
      Bournville once offered a model of economic and social relations based on Quaker values, ‘benevolent patriarchy’ and the enforced stability of the British Empire. The codes of conduct have gone which once governed relations between the men and women who worked for Cadbury, although the gendered division of space is still visible. Today, Bournville is marked with Cadbury’s corporate purple on signs, doorways, lamp posts, and railings. On our first visit, we became interested in the ornamental pond which had been the focus of George Cadbury’s ‘Women’s Recreation Ground’ in the period when the Suffragettes used purple in their identity. Despite being in an architectural conservation area, the pond had suffered years of neglect; it had been drained and was being used as a tip for garden and builders’ waste. We had the pond repaired, the paving replaced with newly quarried stone, and new fountains installed. Cadbury’s filled the 37,000 gallon pond by diverting their factory water supply one night. We worked with their Food Scientist to formulate a solution of food-grade purple dye. The dye blotted out the light, preventing photosynthesis in a suffocating extension of the corporate identity. The water in the pond grew dark, translucent so that it was impossible to judge as to depth, and reflective so that its surface mirrored the surrounding garden and the viewer. Utopia played the part of a high profile and popular ‘gift’ to Cadbury’s. This drew the company into a situation whereby the pond — symbol of old time philanthropy — could not disappear without considerable loss of face. To a corporation poised between the pressure to conserve its tokens of benevolent paternalism, and the demands of its shareholders in today’s ‘free’ market, we hope this gave pause for thought.
    • Where is the work?

      Cornford, Matthew; Cross, David (2005)
      For “Where is the Work?” the artists produced photographs and texts, which explicate and attempt to stabilize a body of ephemeral, context-specific work. Cornford and Cross acted as artists, curators, instigators, designers and authors. The exhibition site itself is the work, the transgression is found in the decision to critically articulate and institutionally validate this work through a touring exhibition, publication and website. The touring exhibition and website constitute a key development of investigation by Cornford & Cross into the relationship between artistic collaboration, social engagement and site-specific installation. Their art practice leads from the proposition that a key function of contemporary art is to test concepts, assumptions and boundaries in everyday life. The touring show made visible the widest range of projects by the artists and included realized and unrealized projects, with the intent to engage a variety of audiences in reflection and debate.
    • Why Read the Classics?

      Cornford, Matthew (2005)
      Why Read the Classics? is a work made around a damaged classical statue in the Villa Aldobrandini, a public garden in Rome. A flight of stone steps leads past ancient ruins up to palms and orange trees, in a garden, which though beautiful, is rather used and neglected. Near the top of the stairway stands the marble figure of a young woman, on a pedestal in an alcove in the wall. Like so many statues in Rome, the head of the figure is missing. Behind the space of the figure’s head we hung a golden disc, of the kind used to reflect light onto the faces of actors and models. Opposite the figure we installed a powerful film and television lamp, so its beam of light reflected onto the disc and created an aura or halo. Visitors to the garden where confronted by the dazzling light shinning from the iconic vision of a mythical woman. Yet the lamp and electrical cables that produce the light anchored the scene firmly in the present. Later, the work will exist as a pair of still photographs which will formulate a relationship between the fragment and its setting of loss and decline. In Why Read the Classics? three conceptions of femininity converge: the classical goddess, the Christian Madonna, and the contemporary film star. ‘Why Read the Classics?’ is the title of a book by the great