Doris Salcedo, Shibboleth

Artvehicle 25/Review

9th October 2007 — 6th April 2008

The eighth Unilever Series commission for the Turbine Hall sees Colombian artist, Doris Salcedo realise the phrase 'less is more'. Rather than adding to the cavernous space in Tate Modern, Salcedo has carved a 167m long sculpture into the existing concrete floor of the former Bankside power station.

The work appears to begin at the foot of the sloped entrance to the Tate Modern, as a barely visible hairline fracture and widens into a crevice that runs the entire length of the hall, disappearing under a glass part of the wall at the far end of the space. The work draws close boundaries between being 2D and 3D, as from the upper floors of the gallery Shibboleth could be a drawing that is carefully etched into the concrete floor. At its deepest point however, the line is about two feet deep, where opposing sides overlap to restrict your view into the supposed void. The crack splinters at certain points, leaving subsidiary fissures which tale off and disappear. The work geographically runs parallel to the nearby River Thames, and it similarly divides the space in two, as the river does to London.

On first impressions, Shibboleth could be the result of some kind of disaster but the opposing sides of the crack appear to fit too neatly; the floor looks as though it has been prised apart and there is no carnage from devastation. The concrete is carefully polished with barely a scratch on it. It gives the impression that something has happened but without anything actually having happened, and thus reminds me of the rides at Universal Studios that demonstrate special effects, where the rocks rumble from side to side to create illusion of movement.

I have visited the work on several occasions, and each time I became fascinated with how people interacted with it. The fracture subtly determines the flow and direction of movement of the viewers through the space and bizarrely very few stray from it - some walking directly on top of it, others straddling it with one foot on either side; they follow the line like a trail of breadcrumbs. In the same way that tourists pose with Big Ben and the leaning Tower of Pisa, I was witness to numerous visitors posing with parts of their body strategically wedged into the crack as though someone had pressed the pause button in a cartoon. This interaction gives the work a humorous element and prevents it from being too bogged down with ideas of social, political and guerrilla warfare.

The method as to how the work has been made is something that Salcedo refuses to reveal, and I spent a while in the space trying to figure it out logically. It continues to puzzle me, as once I'm convinced I have it figured out, then realise I am wrong. As a result I left the Turbine Hall feeling unsatisfied and slightly frustrated, however this is a necessary strength to the work because it keeps it lingering in your mind.

See AV23 for the review on Doris Salcedo's coinciding exhibition at the White Cube, Hoxton Square.


Tate Modern
London SE1 9TG

Daily, 10am-5.50pm

Doris Salcedo, Shibboleth —