Stronger than the scar of Shibboleth – Doris Salcedo at White Cube

5 Jun

Whatever I thought of Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth at Tate Modern, it is certainly the most enduring of the Turbine Hall installations.  Enduring because traces of it remain in the Turbine Hall and one can still walk down the scar that people once hopped across or tripped into if they weren’t looking where they were walking.

Doris Salcedo, Shibboleth. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

This is the first time since the crack that we have seen Salcedo’s work in London and, passing Mason’s Yard on the way back from a meeting, I decided to take a look.  I wasn’t sure what to expect of Salcedo’s latest exhibition at White Cube and I was more than pleasantly surprised.  The exhibition only includes two works – both large-scale installations – but they demand more time and respect than lots of the shows I have seen recently.

Doris Salcedo, A Flor de Piel. Image courtesy of the artist via www.whitecube.com.

Filling the ground floor gallery, A Flor de Piel is a huge shroud made from thousands of rose petals.  From a distance the medium is indistinguishable.  It was only when I read the press release that I realised what the shroud was made from.  Salcedo has used the solid and substantial wilted petals that remain after the beauty and intoxicating smell of the rose’s initial bloom has faded.  The work is about the simple but impossible task of presenting a floral offering to a victim of torture.   It is both an offering and a symbolic representation.  Like victims of torture, these petals still exist but they have changed from their initial form.

Doris Salcedo, detail of A Flor de Piel. Image courtesy of the artist via www.whitecube.com

A Flor de Piel is a work in flux that will change throughout the exhibition.  By using the rose, Salcedo has tried to push the limits of fragility, amazingly sewing the petals together to resemble a fluid, skin-like surface.

Downstairs, her work evokes a mass graveyard where each sculpture is the approximate size of a standard coffin, consisting of two oblong tables formed from aged wood.  Yet, despite the seemingly uniform nature of the coffins, each is individual, the wood coloured and cut to be distinctive.

Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda. Image courtesy of the artist via www.whitecube.com. 

The work was triggered by the murder of 1,500 men in Colombia (Salcedo is Colombian).  These men were innocent, lured with the false promise of a job in the army and then taken to remote areas of the country where they were killed.  The gallery is a silent memorial.  Even though there were only two of us, we found ourselves speaking in whispers, showing respect to the work around us and grieving the terrible rationale for this piece.  On the surface of the uppermost table, shoots of grass push their way through – a reminder of life amongst death.  There is hope in these works; the grass is a poignant message that life continues against all odds.

Doris Salcedo, detail of Plegaria Muda. Image courtesy of the artist via www.whitecube.com. 

This piece is a maze of sculptures yet this installation includes only 45 units out of the 162 that make up the full Plegaria Muda.

Both works are very private, intimate portrayals of loss, grief and suffering.  Salcedo’s sculptures are beautiful and graceful despite the horrors of which they speak.  They are troubling but peaceful.

This is a meditative show that forces us to engage with the political troubles in Colombia without being overtly-political in format.

Outside, London was preparing for Jubilee weekend with excitement and celebrations everywhere.  I left the gallery in a contemplative silence, really surprised by how touching and provoking these works are.

Although Shibboleth may still have a physical imprint on one of London’s most famous galleries, it never really had a profound effect on me when I visited and I felt it was lost in the cavernous space.  These two works at White Cube could not have been more different to that and I found the exhibition very moving.  I only hope that London will see more like this from Salcedo before too long.

Doris Salcedo is at White Cube, Mason’s Yard, until 30th June 2012, www.whitecube.com.

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4 Responses to “Stronger than the scar of Shibboleth – Doris Salcedo at White Cube”

  1. Molecules of Emotion June 6, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    The new grass is truly touching.

    • chloenelkin June 6, 2012 at 9:53 am #

      Agreed – it’s a very moving work. Truly beautiful.

  2. orioncontemporary June 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    Hope to dash past it next week. Perhaps on my way to the New Masters Exhibition at the Piacentis.

  3. Mr Wildstomp September 10, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    The pieces look, and the concepts behind them are, exquisitely mind–blowing. I wish I could have gone to see such breathtaking art!

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