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details of the artwork.

details of the artwork.

Imagine an embroidery c. 12.5 m long and 1.5 m wide. The British artist Cornelia Parker has done just that. Commissioned to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015, she has created a major new artwork “Magna Carta (an Embroidery)” exhibited at the British Library (May – July 2015 ). The piece replicates in stitch the entire Wikipedia article on the Great Charter as it appeared on the document’s 799th anniversary in 2014 and has been embroidered by over 200 individual contributors. The bulk of the text was stitched by prisoners, supervised by Fine Cell Work (a social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework undertaken in the long hours spent in their cells to foster hope, discipline and self-esteem.) The more complicated imagery was stitched by members of the Embroiderers Guild amongst other organisations for embroidery. Whilst some specific words were embroidered by judges, barristers, diplomats, artists, musicians, civil rights, political and human rights activists etc. all people who amplify different aspects of the document and its legacy. Some of the names starting with J are: Jarvis Cocker, Jeremy Deller, Jon Snow and Julian Assange who each have stitched a word or two. The artist says:

“Echoing the communal activity that resulted in the Bayeux Tapestry, but on this occasion placing more emphasis on the word rather than the image, I wanted to create an artwork that is contemporary interpretation of Magna Carta.”

Magna Carta means ‘The Great Charter’ and is one of the most famous documents in the world, and it remains a cornerstone of the British constitution. Issued by King John of England, it established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Today, almost all the clauses have been cancelled, except for three clauses of which one gave all free men the right to justice and a fair trial. One we must never loose…

The connection made between Wikipedia, the Internet and the Magna Carta is interesting, and the contemporary interpretation of the artist deals with issues of collaboration, justice, fairness and equality.  The ethos of the internet, invented by Tim Berners-Lee is that everyone should have the freedom to connect, to innovate, to program, without asking permission. But is this still the case? And where are we heading? Contemporary concerns over privacy breaches, mishandling of data and issues of security from cyber terrorism are all threatening this freedom. Also, some wealthy corporations are now able to stifle competition and gain more power over access to our data and soon make us pay.

Just as the Magna Carta charted the principle that everybody was subject to the law, so must we act to keep the Internet open. Keeping the web democratised and egalitarian is by safeguarding net neutrality, which means a web that is open, decentralised and universally accessible. The battle over net-neutrality is already being lost in the courts of law in the USA. Yet in the EU there is still hope. Cornelia Parker’s piece is both tangible and conceptual as it oscillates between the digital and the analogue, between past and future – where the notion of the Magna Carta is captured in a moment in time, stitched together by hand. Here is a film about the artwork.


“A forest in Norway is growing. In 100 years it will become an anthology of books.” (Katie Paterson)

future library_14

The other day, together with a couple of friends, we set out on a mission to find the place where saplings have been planted to supply paper for a special anthology of books from the Future Library that will be printed in one hundred years time. In the woods north of Oslo we followed the instructions on the map provided alongside the documentation about the first book Scribbler Moon written by Margaret Atwood.

This artwork conceived by Katie Paterson captured my imagination when I heard about it a year or so ago. The Future Library (2014 -2114)  is a conceptual piece that deals with time. At the present, only parts of the work can be experienced such as the growing forest and soon the ‘silent room’ – a specially designed space by the artist for the new Deichmanske Public Library (ready in 2018) in Oslo. Here each of the annually commissioned manuscripts by writers will be held but cannot be read for the coming century, only their titles indicate their contents. What I like about this artwork is that it grapples with the notion of ‘deep time’ where we have to extend our imagination into a larger, temporal context – a hundred years away –and as such forge a connection with a future reader of the texts. As an ancestor I am curious and excited by how the readers of the anthology will receive it? And if?…

The future is uncertain… and we didn’t find the exact spot in the forest despite following the indications. However we saw a clearing where we imagined the saplings growing and decided that perhaps next year we will endeavour to set out on a pilgrimage to see the trees of the future library again.

Watch a film about it here.