Tilda Swinton, Cornelia Parker and The Maybe
“The Maybe” was a work of art, supposedly by a collaboration of Tilda Swinton, the actress and Cornelia Parker, the artist. I say, “supposedly” because the truth of the matter is that the origin of this work lay outside the heads of both of these ladies.
In the early 1990s, I conceived a performance art work called Lord Valentine the Misplaced. This was an 18th Century dandy, living in the 20th Century world. I was fully attired in 18th Century clothes and had old world airs and mannerisms. I took this work of living art, to both London and New York and it was eventually covered on CNN in 1994, NBC News in February 1995 and Reuters on 14th February 1995. There was also coverage in the Observer newspaper in October or November 1994, and Time Out magazine, of London, in November 1994. Basically, it was quite a well known work, by the mid 1990s.
Now, an odd thing happened one night, in London. I was attired as Lord Valentine the Misplaced and was to meet a journalist (one Andrew Mosby from Time Out magazine, if I recall correctly), at Beach Blanket Babylon, a rather trendy and ornately decorated bar, in Notting Hill, West London. This was in November of 1994, after an article had come out about me, in Time Out.
As I entered Beach Blanket Babylon, I saw a familiar figure, her head laying on the shoulder of another woman: Tilda Swinton, the actress. I had seen her in person, several times before, but never really spoken to her. She had been pointed out to me, at Cambridge University, when I was there, many years before – since we both attended it, though she was rather older than me (still is!).
This pair were very interested in me. They appraised me with eager eyes, thinking thoughts that would later become clear. I did wonder at their closeness, since Tilda Swinton’s head was on the other lady’s shoulder. I did wonder at what kind of relationship they had. Then again, girls are often much more touchy-feely than guys.
Both studied my 18th Century attire carefully.
I believe that Tilda Swinton introduced her friend as Cornelia, because she became so labeled in my mind, thereafter.
“What are you doing?”, one asked – I can’t remember which, though I think it was Tilda Swinton – “Are you trying to get cast?”
“No.”, I said, for my purpose was deeper than that. I didn’t explain what I was actually doing though.
The conversation was very brief, but there was something guarded about Tilda Swinton, at the end. She suddenly tugged at her friend to come away, a thought seeming to have come to her. I passed on, seeking my contact within.
It was the following year that Tilda Swinton and Cornelia Parker, collaborated on The Maybe. This was a simple piece of performance art/live art, in which Tilda Swinton slept in a glass box, in everyday ordinary clothes. Now, what I found immediately interesting about this was that it was a piece of living art – which is precisely what Lord Valentine the Misplaced was. I also thought it very interesting to note, from the pictures released at the time, that Cornelia Parker had been the lady with Tilda Swinton that night, in Beach Blanket Babylon. It was immediately obvious where the “inspiration” for this work of art had come from. I had created a piece of living art. Tilda Swinton and Cornelia Parker met me whilst I was being Lord Valentine the Misplaced – and Tilda Swinton (it seemed) had the idea of copying my idea and embodying herself as a living work of art, too. Particularly telling was the use of unattractive everyday clothes for The Maybe. Brian Sewell, the art critic, wondered why Tilda Swinton hadn’t dressed up as some kind of Sleeping Beauty (though maybe not in those words). It is clear why not. Had Tilda Swinton dressed up in any kind of beautiful period clothes, she would have revealed the inspiration for her work. She had no choice but to be in ordinary clothes, so as to obscure the original inspiration for the work.
Later on, Cornelia Parker and Tilda Swinton fell out over who “thought” of the Maybe. Both claim to have conceived the idea – though Tilda Swinton makes the louder claim that the idea was hers. It is very, very clear why this argument has arisen: because BOTH ladies met me, at the moment they decided to imitate what I was doing. The reason they can’t agree on who was responsible for thinking of it, is that NEITHER was responsible for the original thought. All they decided to do was to create a “me too” art work, based on my own prior explorations of living art. It is very telling that neither can agree on who conceived it, which indicates that they have something in common, at the moment of conception: that common point was the meeting of me as Lord Valentine the Misplaced. Had only one of them met me at that time, then only one of them would be laying claim to the idea. Their very argument points to the moment of contention: the instant they both met me, and one of them (or both of them) decided to imitate my work, in their own way.
Of course, the fact that they recognized my work as living art (implicitly, since they imitated it), does go to show the success of my work.
Cornelia Parker has gone on to produce other pieces of work, though Tilda Swinton hasn’t. Evidence of the influence of my work on Cornelia Parker can be seen in another of her proposed works. My art work was called Lord Valentine the Misplaced. Interestingly, Cornelia Parker wanted to put a meteorite back into space and used the term “misplaced” to describe this action – so the meteorite would now become a misplaced object. This seems to be a clear adaptation of the idea of misplacement as art. Lord Valentine the Misplaced, was misplaced in time – Cornelia Parker’s meteorite would have been misplaced in space. It is an analogy of my prior work.
We can see here, how Cornelia Parker conceives some of her works. They are adaptations or analogies to other people’s work. She is translating other people’s ideas into a different setting. Tilda Swinton’s The Maybe is a sleeping piece of living art, dressed in everyday clothes. Lord Valentine the Misplaced was a waking piece of living art, dressed in 18th Century clothes. Cornelia Parker’s proposed meteorite project was a rock misplaced in space. My Lord Valentine project, was a human misplaced in time. These are both analogous to each other, adaptations of the same idea in a different context.
It is important that the true origins of the work of artists and supposed artists, like Cornelia Parker and Tilda Swinton – because the art, in these cases, lies in the idea, for they are conceptual works. If the idea is not truly theirs – as it is not, in both cases, here – then the work of art is not truly theirs either. The history of art is being defrauded if we are led to believe that the origin of these works lay in either of these ladies minds. The history of art deserves better than that. The true background to each conceived work should be known – and the “inspiration” that gave rise to them, should be appreciated.
This blog is but one page in an internet Universe of trillions of pages, thus, very few people will read it. So, please help spread the word about the origin of The Maybe, as an adaptation of the ideas behind Lord Valentine the Misplaced. Tell the story of how Tilda Swinton and Cornelia Parker met me at Beach Blanket Babylon in November 1994 and recognized the artistry in Lord Valentine the Misplaced, enough to want to steal it for themselves. If you have a blog, or other website, please post a link to this article, to help people become aware of it. Thank you.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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