Shibboleth, Doris Salcedo
Tate Modern, 9 October- 6 April 2008 by Soledad Garcia
Placed in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern, Doris Salcedo’s exhibition is one of several shows that are included in the current Latin-American art programme. One of the distinguishing features of this exhibition is the intervention of a Colombian artist inside the venue, which overturns and replaces the classical and well-known retrospective of the Latin-American artist. This shift of perspective, from the legitimization of Latin-American artists through their historical artwork in the museum context to the opportunity of an artist to work with the legitimization of a modern museum, apparently opens a democratic interaction between centre and periphery; postcolonial concepts that are involved in Shibboleth, Salcedo’s large and sinuous crack that fractures the floor of the Turbine Hall.
Starting from the entrance of the Hall, a tiny and insignificant crack begins to separate the concrete floor. With a non-rigid and jagged shape, this broken path contrasts with the orthogonal order of the Hall, intensified by being on the middle of the building where the crack becomes a wide gap following a zigzag course. This allows us to see the inside reliefs: the traces of the museum foundations. At the end, the crack doesn't finish in the opposite wall, on the contrary, it continues along the other side of the wall. Indeed, the crack acts as a weak antagonist of this strong and impressive modern building. The Tate Modern becomes a symbol of hierarchies and classifications, due to the understanding of history. Reinforcing this idea through the title Shibboleth, the crack disrupts the criterion of identifying groups, which confronts this discomforting “Modern Shibboleth”.
Spectators crossing the unlineal crack, implicitly subvert what has been defined and fixed in eurocentric and colonial discourses, from differences based on race and territory to the fantasy expressions of otherness. Using only a simple gesture of form in the floor, Salcedo attempts to reveal imposing narrations that remains marginalized from the heritage of the Modern project. The confrontation of her artwork in this illustrious institution, commits the predictable risk of staying in the absolute silence of history, due to the recognized process of the Tate, i.e. their root foundation in the main Enlightenment heritage: this suggests a lineal reconstruction of the nation (art, history, identity) as well as the current assessment of the museum under the recognition of this still singular dominion. The Museum attempts to open its doors to pluralism and welcomes equality, while its nature on the contrary, attracts organizing contexts, knowledge and power relationships. At least this aspect is corroborative since Salcedo is curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume, curator of the Tate Modern.
The answer to these issues, as Salcedo knows, hasn’t been found, but at least her initiative explores and raises questions that confront our self-deception.