Monday, October 08, 2007

Mind the Gap! Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

Every year, the Tate Modern commissions a sculpture to fill the enormous Turbine Hall. Last year’s winner of the Unilever Series commission was Carsten Höller, who built five helter skelter slides. Such fun.

I happened to be passing by the Tate Modern on the day of the press opening, and got some first hand shots of the action.

(c) 2007 BBC

This year’s winner of the Turbine Hall commission is Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo who specialises in using chairs and tables as metaphors for people, particularly in war situations. But it is war rather than chairs that is at the heart of her Tate Modern creation.

So the Turbine Hall has been turned from a playground into a building site, with a huge crack in the floor running a full 167m from one end of the hall to the other. Entitled Shibboleth, “it begins as a hairline crack … then widens and deepens as it snakes across the room.” (Guardian)

Asked about the piece, Salcedo suggested

“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 ... The space which illegal immigrants occupy is a negative space. And so this piece is a negative space.”

At the Tate press conference, Nicholas Serota (Tate’s director) explained that unlike previous Turbine Hall installations, this Salcedo’s sculpture had a permanent impact:

“There is a crack. There is a line and eventually there will be a scar ... That is something that we and other artists will have to live with.”

While there’s a deliberate air of mystery about how the crack was created over the last five weeks, the Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins did uncover some of the story in an article on Saturday.

Shibboleth runs until next April when a large tub of Polyfilla will be used to fill the crack in!

Anyone needing to brush up on the meaning of Shibboleth is pointed towards the venerable Wikipedia, and reminded that how you pronounce “H” in Northern Ireland (“aitch” vs “haitch”) is an English-language shibboleth.

And whether or not you’re a fan of Salcedo’s work, the piece has certainly been a headline writer’s dream ...

  • Salcedo causes a rift at Tate Modern (Guardian)
  • Sculptor fills Tate with a hole (BBC News)
  • Latest Tate Modern installation is a yawning chasm (Reuters)
  • Sculptor opens up the floor of the Tate (Times)
  • Artist takes a crack at Tate Modern (This is London)

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