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Someone's Embroidered Magna Carta's Wikipedia Page

Zoe Craig
By Zoe Craig Last edited 22 months ago
Someone's Embroidered Magna Carta's Wikipedia Page
Cornelia Parker with a fragment of Magna Carta (An Embroidery) at the British Library. Photo by Tony Antoniou
Cornelia Parker with a fragment of Magna Carta (An Embroidery) at the British Library. Photo by Tony Antoniou
A fragment being stitched. Photo by Joseph Turp.
A fragment being stitched. Photo by Joseph Turp.
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Crown detail stitched by the Royal School of Needlework
Crown detail stitched by the Royal School of Needlework
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Jarvis Cocker, who stitched 'common people' on Cornelia Parker's Magna Carta (An Embroidery). Photo by Joseph Turp
Jarvis Cocker, who stitched 'common people' on Cornelia Parker's Magna Carta (An Embroidery). Photo by Joseph Turp
Detail from Magna Carta (An Embroidery) by Cornelia Parker being hand stitched by Embroiderers' Guild member Anthea Godfrey. Photo by Joseph Turp
Detail from Magna Carta (An Embroidery) by Cornelia Parker being hand stitched by Embroiderers' Guild member Anthea Godfrey. Photo by Joseph Turp
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All 13 metres of Cornelia Parker's Magna Carta (An Embroidery).
All 13 metres of Cornelia Parker's Magna Carta (An Embroidery).

You can't update this Wikipedia entry — artist Cornelia Parker unveiled a new artwork inspired by the Magna Carta at the British Library this week.

It's a 13m long embroidery of the charter's Wikipedia page, complete with immaculate blue 'links', 'references' and beautifully rendered images. At first, the idea seems bonkers — why make an instantly outdated replica of a webpage? But after the initial visual shock (it's huge; and, for those of us used to browsing Wikipedia on our phones, incredibly unwieldy, almost too large to comprehend), various brilliant threads of meaning and nuance unravel. It's a thought-provoking achievement.

Parker took a screenshot of the regularly updated and popular Wiki page on 15 June last year, the 799th anniversary of the famous 13th century treaty. After printing it onto 87 different sections of fabric, she sent the pieces off to 200 carefully chosen people to stitch the words, images and symbols.

"I liked the idea of grabbing this moment and immortalising it," she explained at the launch event. "Wikipedia is a kind of embroidery. It's very subjective and democratic, with many contributors. Anybody can add their bit."

The bulk of the work was completed by 36 prisoners from 13 different jails under the charity Fine Cell Work; the Embroiderers' Guild, alongside embroiderers from the Royal School of Needlework created the dazzling pictures and emblems in their own highly skilled style.

"I've had letters from prisoners who said they'd been happy to be involved in something historical rather than sewing cushion covers," said Parker. She explained that many of them had never seen a Wikipedia page, as they have no internet access.

Other contributors were carefully selected for their connection to civil liberties and the law. Shami Chakrabarti stitched 'Charter of Liberties', Baroness Doreen Lawrence added 'justice', 'denial' and 'delay', while Lord Judge and Lady Judge filled in 'Habeas Corpus', which had been rejected by one of the many prisoners. Julian Assange embroidered the word 'freedom' in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, while Edward Snowden added 'liberty' from Moscow.

Other famous names involved include Antony Gormley, Brian Eno, Caitlin Moran, Germaine Greer, Jarvis Cocker, Mary Beard and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Author Philip Pullman needleworked the word 'Oxford' and Jarvis Cocker added 'common people' (what else?). Parker herself claimed 'prerogative', as is her prerogative.

Look carefully and you can spot Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger's blood after he pricked his finger while working on his chosen phrase, 'contemporary political relevance'.

The creation is a remarkable thing: an ephemeral Wikipedia page about Magna Carta, an enduring cornerstone of our civil liberties, has been transformed into something beautiful, tangible, endlessly durable. There's something medieval in the media used, a throwback to the Bayeaux Tapestry, perhaps. And yet its instantly recognisable font and colour scheme anchors it firmly in the now. Will it, like its subject, be studied in 800 years' time?

Magna Carta (An Embroidery) is on display until 24 July at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB. Free entry.

Last Updated 16 May 2015