Monday, 19 November 2007

CRACKING UP!

So, what was going on in those strange pictures of shocking disasters which I published on yesterday's blog?


GILL was the first reader to correctly guess, e-mailing to ask: "Are these from the famous 'crack in the floor' (can't remember what it is really called) in the Tate Modern?"

Following which ANDY J LATHAM commented: "Those tragedies CRACKED me up Brian! Speaking of tragedies, that wouldn't happen to be the Tate Modern would it? Oooooooo!"

While PHIL was bold enough to say what, doubtless, many have thought: "Isn't that the rather silly crack in the floor of the Tate Modern, which is being passed of as art? And which several people have rather foolishly fallen into?"

Well, yes, Phil it is; and, yes, Andy it would; and, yes Gill, they are!

In fact, these iconoclastic additions to a modern work of art were temporarily (and somewhat impertinently!) added to Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth (that's what it's really called, Gill): a lengthy crack that has opened in the floor of the Turbine Hall of London's Tate Modern like a localized earthquake...


Here's how the Tate's exhibition-notes describe this installation - or, perhaps, 'intervention' would be a better word:
Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth is the first work to intervene directly in the fabric of the Turbine Hall. Rather than fill this iconic space with a conventional sculpture or installation, Salcedo has created a subterranean chasm that stretches the length of the Turbine Hall. The concrete walls of the crevice are ruptured by a steel mesh fence, creating a tension between these elements that resist yet depend on one another.

By making the floor the principal focus of her project, Salcedo dramatically shifts our perception of the Turbine Hall’s architecture, subtly subverting its claims to monumentality and grandeur. Shibboleth asks questions about the interaction of sculpture and space, about architecture and the values it enshrines, and about the shaky ideological foundations on which Western notions of modernity are built.

In particular, Salcedo is addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. A ‘shibboleth’ is a custom, phrase or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.

"The history of racism", Salcedo writes, "runs parallel to the history of modernity, and is its untold dark side". For hundreds of years, Western ideas of progress and prosperity have been underpinned by colonial exploitation and the withdrawal of basic rights from others. Our own time, Salcedo is keen to remind us, remains defined by the existence of a huge socially excluded underclass, in Western as well as post-colonial societies.

In breaking open the floor of the museum, Salcedo is exposing a fracture in modernity itself. Her work encourages us to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves with absolute candidness, and without self-deception.
Yes... Well, I'm not altogether sure I understand some of that, but I really like the way Shibboleth begins as nothing more than a hair-line crack - scarcely more than a scratch on the surface - and then splits open and widens and deepens as it snakes down the length of the Hall.


At first glance it looks like a candidate for such comments as Phil's observation (above) or "Is it art, demolition work, or Act of God?" But what is fascinating about Shibboleth is that it really does look as if it were a crack that has split open and even though quite a lot of flooring material has been removed in order to create the fissure, the edges of each side of the excavated area are so perfectly matched - from the tiniest wriggle to the most sharply-angled bend, as to suggest that if the two edges could somehow be pushed back together, they would fit with jig-saw precision.

Like many installations, Shibboleth is also about the relationship between 'art' and 'spectator' and much of the fascination with viewing the work is in terms of viewing how people react to it: lying down to peer into its depths, stepping back and forth across it as if they were giants passing to and fro over the Grand Canyon, even now and again - as Phil noted - falling into it under the mistaken assumption that must be painted onto the floor rather than carved into it!

And, of course, there's always a chance that you might be able to photograph a curious little fellow...


...photographing Dinky cars, LEGO men and assorted plastic wildlife in scenes of Lilliputian tragedy!


Images: Brian Sibley & David Weeks, © 2007

11 comments:

Suzanne said...

Good grief! How pompous! Yaaawwwn!

Boll Weavil said...

I think someone playing with Dinky cars might be of more benefit to society. Whilst not disputing the thinking behind the art, which is really quite valid, the connection between it and a ruddy great crack in the floor is slightly dodgy. In fact,its seriously floored ! Call Health and Safety and get some filler on it...

Brian Sibley said...

As 'Shibboleth' is sponsored by Unilever, you may wish to pass on your complaints to them since no doubt the cost of digging up the floor of Tate Modern (and later repairing it) will eventually be reflected in the shelf-price of washing-up liquid! ;-)

Andy J. Latham said...

While it does make an interesting change to the architecture of the museum, and I am impressed with the attention to detail that has been put into it, I fail to see its message of "confronting uncomfortable truths". I particularly can't make the link between a crack in the floor and racism in society.

I know the "is it art?" debate has raged on and on over the years, but I thought I'd share my own definition of art. Being from a background in science, I like things to be well defined! I think the purpose of art is to communicate an idea or emotion from the artist to the audience. A successful piece of art will cause an observer to feel or think what the artist felt or thought. With a lot of modern art though, different people see different things in any particular piece. This to me is a failure of art.

Indeed language is an often overlooked art form. It too is the communication of ideas from one person to another. If we all took home different messages from any particular speaker, we could hardly think of it as a successful speech could we?

Eudora said...

For me that is not art. Is funny, of course, is peculiar... etc., but not art. If you need a handbook, a "user`s guide" for understand that kind of... work, with fifficulty I can see art on it.

Brian Sibley said...

ANDY - I've been thinking about your comment for a couple of days now... You say: "A successful piece of art will cause an observer to feel or think what the artist felt or thought..." I'm not sure this is necessarily always the case. When I look at Van Gogh's furious painting of crows over a cornfield, I see a picture that either relates to something I've seen in real life or a mood or state of mind that I've felt; but it is surely impossible to know how far any of that actually relates to what VG was seeing or feeling...

I think the strength of great art (figurative, romantic, modern, abstract, whatever) is that it makes you feel SOMETHING towards it or about it and I think every person who looks at a work of art will see something different, because we view things (including art) through our own experiences of life and project onto them our own emotions...

EUDORA - Perhaps art (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder...

Andy J. Latham said...

Ah but Brian, wouldn't that mean that a beautiful sunset is a work of art? While some might argue that the greatest artist is God, I think it would be wise to limit the argument to things created by mankind.

While it is true that you can never know what Van Gogh was feeling when he painted his crows, wouldn't he have wanted to stir some particular emotion in his audience? I too can relate the painting to imagery I have witnessed in life, but our comparisons may not be wildly different from each other.

I should clarify my earlier comment a little by saying that the artist doesn't necessarily have to feel what he is creating. Someone might feel depressed, but want to create a painting that inspires happiness in it's viewers.

Also (and I'm not talking about VG in this argument) a technically skilled artist is not necessarily capable of creating art. Take one of the many drawings I have made of hands. The purpose of the drawings were not to create a piece of art, but rather to learn the skills necessary to make my art better. Now people might look at the hand drawings and derive some feeling or emotion from them, but that was not my intent and so they are not art in my opinion.

Brian Sibley said...

This is going to take a bit more thought!

Andy J. Latham said...

Think away! As strong as my opinion currently is on the matter is, I enjoy debating it and gladly consider other viewpoints.

David Weeks said...

Where. I wonder, do the performing arts fit into this definition of art?
Is credit for creation of 'art' to be shared equally between an actor and the playwright?
Is the film director the artist, and the rest of the team his tools?
Should the plastic arts aim to be more than decorative?

Write on one side of the paper only!

Andy J. Latham said...

I would say that the entire creative team are all working on a single piece of art. I guess it could be thought of a collection of different artwork being brought together to make something that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is assuming that a particular play/film is considered art at all!