Doris Salcedo’s Crack

I’m sitting in the main turbine hall of the Tate Modern, looking at a giant crack in the floor. This is the new work by Doris Salcedo.

The first thing you notice about it is it’s very obviously made. It looks quite cartoony. Not at all natural. It runs the length of the entire turbine hall, right from the door-post to the other end, and under a glass wall out of sight, maybe into some office space that we don’t know about. In fact, it runs right under Nicholas Serota‘s desk. Probably. When you look into it, it’s got bits of metal buried in the concrete. I don’t know how much concrete you’ve seen in your life, but normally concrete has stones and “bits” in it – with steel rods for re-inforcing, so it’s obviously not the real floor.

I’ve already seen some dumb student land flat on their face because they tripped over it, and I’m wondering how long it is before health and safety come and put barriers everywhere. It’s a very physical presence, and slightly disturbing (how did she do it? Did they raise the floor? Is the structural integrity of the building compromised?)

So, we’re in a turbine hall, that’s now a museum of modern art… turbine hall… power…? Dividing between those who have and have not…? Am I warm…?

On picking up the leaflet, I’m told its about racism. Huh? Well, the turbine hall was built around the time of the greatest imigration into British society (rebuilding after the war, 1947, etc.) Its called Shibboleth, because the word “Shibboleth” means “a word used as a test for dectecting people from another district or country by their pronunciation; a word or sound very different for foreigners to pronounce correctly.” Modernity is a European construct that excludes non-Europeans, etc..

Oh, and the bits of metal in the crack, are suppoesed to be like the chains of slaves.

Right. This is a particular bug-bear of mine. How are you supposed to get that? The problem is, some one at the Tate has written that as an interpretation, and it becomes the authoritative one. There’s the fascism right there. The leaflet says “Walking down Salcedo’s incised line, particularly if you know about her previous work..” Well, I don’t.

It’s a great work for people to walk around, trip over, drop things in, sit by, and so on, and so on. That’s ok. It doesn’t need a leaflet to tell you what to think about it. I’m also a bit pissed off with the security guard jackboots that have been pacing around me since I first sat down and open this laptop up. Grr.

I’m going to start a new tradition. When you see this work, come and drop a coin in it, and make a wish, like a wishing well. I’ve already dropped the first pound coin in, as you can see from the photo above. My wish is that art would get better, and that people would stop crowding work with their own interpretation. Heal the cracks, you might say.

On a lighter note, I just can’t resist a good innuedo. I’ve been trying to hold back for this entire post, but I can’t contain myself, so here goes.. I’ve been to see Doris Salcedo’s crack. Her crack was a lot of fun. Lots of other people had fun too. At the same time. It’s quite a deep gash. It’s huge. I could spout forth on her crack forever. I saw right into it. Etc., etc.,…

If you think of any other good ones, let me know.

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2 Responses to “Doris Salcedo’s Crack”

  1. You can get a podcast of the artist, from Tateshots, talking about her work in the Turbine Hall. She explains very clearly what the work is supposed to represent. I find that it adds to the work rather than detracting to know the artist’s intentions.

  2. Hi Cathy.

    I do subscribe to the Tateshots podcasts – they’re very good, and I would recommend them.

    I suppose my point is that we regularly fail to encourage people to experience these things as the physical objects that they are.

    I know that you could say that anything is “physical”, but it seems to me that the Shibboleth is primarily a game with the space in the physical and structural sense of the building – all the writing/discussion about the other things may be related or important, but are ultimately secondary.

    I think that its good that these “explanations” exist for those who want to dig a little deeper, but we would be better served by something a little more open ended that allows and encourages people to play out the possible scenarios and meanings – rather than just one monolithic meaning.

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