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Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth

I haven’t seen the Doris Salcedo’s new work at the Tate Modern yet (I want to catch her associated show at the White Cube first), but Adrian Searle is one of the many who have, and his review on the Guardian Unlimited Blog is worth a look. Not so much for what he writes, but for the superb string of juicy comments that follow his closing paragraph:

“We are meant to think not about cracks in the floor, but about inequality and iniquity. Shibboleth risks being regarded as a banal cliché: the unblemished surfaces of the liberal art gallery riven by the ideological fissures opening up beneath. The real problem for Salcedo has been to work in the knowledge that liberal institutions absorb the shocks artists inflict by assimilation, and that Shibboleth will most likely be regarded as entertainment. That is art’s fate, and our loss.”

Here’s a handful…

  • Crayon: I dunno. The fall of art into entertainment often seems to be presented as if it works by force of gravity. Is it so one-way? I would trust some viewers at least to be able to sustain two ideas at once and to recognize that there can be sturdy, searching ambivalence that is not equivocation.
  • Daddysgonecrazy: Why shouldn’t art be entertaining? It can be whatever the artist wants it to be, surely? I would admit that to be purely entertaining would make a piece of art one-dimensional perhaps, but to deny entertainment in art is to create a closed, inward-looking, and ultimately sterile art.
  • : ‘Shibboleth’ is right. The work is designed to seperate those ‘in the know’ from the plebs. ”We are meant to think not about cracks in the floor, but about inequality and iniquity.” Only if that’s what you have been tought to think. Elsewhere I see inequality and inequity in the sweaty arse-cracks of the guys fixing the drains outside my office.
  • Dodle: i have several cracks in the concrete in my back garden, which symbolises the fact i’m a lazy sod. utter bollocks.
  • : It’s a shame that a work cannot be allowed to speak for itself, and that the audience has to be led down a particular path of interpretation by hordes of critical ushers. Tate et al have missed the opportunity to see what the great unwashed would have made of it first before issuing forth their interpretive diktats.
  • : This is what the artist says about her work: “It represents borders, the experience of immigrants, the experience of segregation, the experience of racial hatred. “It is the experience of a Third World person coming into the heart of Europe. For example, the space which illegal immigrants occupy is a negative space. And so this piece is a negative space.” I am all for artists aiming high, but I just cannot appreciate this work in the way the artist wants me to. I cannot connect the physical work with the things it purports to be about, except at the level of the most throw-away metaphor. Is the idea that we look at the crack, and simultaneously get a new perspective on the experiences of immigrants? I can’t make this jump. This doesn’t mean I don’t like Shibboleth well enough as a diverting curiosity. But like so much conceptual modern art, it just doesn’t seem to have nearly enough concept in it. Is this me being overly literal and limited or are there people on the thread who appreciate Shibboleth as a political expression, not just a three-minute amusement?

… and so on, page after page. I won’t add any comment of my own until I’ve seen the work. I might add though – Arts Council England started their own Arts Debate months ago and despite their very best efforts, they have yet to inspire such a lengthy and honest engagement with the starter-questions they offer as online discussion topics. ACE is trying to work out “how people value the arts”, and I hope in their quest they’re scouring public message boards like this one as well as their own.

One Response

  1. Maybe I’m missing the point of the Kultur Fabric article, but I feel like I have to add my thoughts about the message board itself – I believe that Shibboleth doesn’t speak for itself in the way Salcedo hopes, because how could an uninformed observer of the work possibly connect it with the specific issues she cares about? However, it is both fascinating on a practical level and a method of raising awareness about those issues through publicity – and maybe this is what she intends.

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