Fragments Pushed Forth, Fractures Swept Along

Doris Salcedo, Colombian sculptor and conceptual artist
Doris Salcedo, Colombian artist

Aesthetica, the magazine and its website, is one of my favorite go-to places for contemporary art. Here’s a piece about Doris Salcedo sliding a crack along the floor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, Baptiste Debombourg’s sending a gallery wall cracking and tumbling toward us, and more ado about fragments and fragmenting.

Visual Inspiration: Art as Fragments (brief Aesthetica article)

Doris Salcedo’s 2007 installation and intervention piece actually fractured the floor of the Turbine Hall with a crevice of various widths and depths that had chain-link wires embedded in it. She called it Shibboleth.

In the Bible, in the Book of Judges, there’s a passage about a battle between two Semitic tribes, the Ephraimites and the Gileadites. When the Ephraimites tried to escape, denying that they, in fact, belonged to their tribe, the Gileadites put them to a test of saying the word shibboleth. The Ephraimites couldn’t pronounce the initial sh sound (they turned it into an s) and were thus exposed.

As a noun, a shibboleth came to mean a custom, such as a way of speaking, belief, or a tradition which distinguishes a group of people. It’s a marker used to both include and exclude, to differentiate between an in-group and out-group. According to her own statements, Doris Salcedo uses the notion of shibboleth in a vein close to its biblical context, as a signifier that rather than evoking benignly group differences points instead at discriminatory practices and also violence against members of out-groups, with particular reference to immigrants who come to Europe from the so-called “third-world” countries. The work is then meant to reflect both pressure and division, Salcedo says. But there is so much suggestion of struggle, too, in the work, and of calling into question, as Salcedo suggests, the direction of our gaze—toward those who struggle, toward those fallen into the cracks, toward those who push from the crevices to free themselves only to find themselves, in many cases, in circumstances which hold them in like those bits of chain-link fence incorporated into the interior sculptural walls of the installation.

Here’s more about this piece from Tate Modern and from the Khan Academy.

And here’s a photo:

Doris Salcedo, Shibboleth, Tate Modern, 2007

(Photo by Nmnogueira at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Smells of Central Park in October, in a Museum

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Central Park in the Fall. Photo by Thomas Julin [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

For its Design Triennial in 2015, the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum commissioned Sissel Tolaas, smell artist, researcher, and chemist, to create a scratch-and-sniff wall releasing various scents of Central Park. Tolaas’s work for this piece involved a week of roaming through the Park gathering samples—she chose the month of October—, which she then analyzed in order to reproduce their scent molecules. The next steps were to microencapsulate the latter and embed them in a special paint she used to coat a wall. Touching the wall would then release the scent. She titled her installation The Beauty of Decay: SmellScape Central Park, as by October plants in the park are already decaying. The wall was meant to encompass the complex experience of walking through the whole 843 acres of Central Park.

I like the idea. I can see its appeal for someone like Sissel Tolaas, who has collected and created thousands of smells, and I imagine that in the future businesses will be quite busy designing scents for movies and other leisure venues. As long as they act like Proust’s madeleine to remind people of their experiences in the real world, it’s all good.

One Cut to Insert a Future into a Past

Zsolt Asztalos came up with an intriguing proposition last fall at Victoria Art Center in Bucharest. He displayed a table with books severed in two, writing in his statement, “Each historical memory is waiting to be conceived by the future, so that a reality is formed.” He titled this work My Story—My Version/Library (2015–2016). Enjoy.

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Old Age: Suffering Takes Over

As part of the White Night of the Galleries (September 30), the alternative gallery space at Dr. Iacob Felix no. 72A hosted an installation called Road, about the road of life.

The piece that intrigued me the most, despite its simple concept, showed a family photo and a number of medicine package inserts, blisters of pills and prescriptions pinned to an old light brown overcoat. The garment was hanged from the ceiling and a side wall, and underneath it was a pile of medicine packets, pill bottles, and blister packs. The label read Bătrânețea (Old Age), by Rene Răileanu.

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The piece, with the medicine signifiers replacing the body of the person, made me think how in our old age we’re shaped by suffering and how the fact that we’re still standing under that coat is due to the many medicines we take, medicines which help numb that suffering but which, in many ways, take over our identity as we become more and more concerned with our health, talk often about our ailments, and are perceived through the lens of our illnesses by others. And then there the family portrait at the top—what most of us hold most dear in our waning years.

Rene Răileanu is mostly a figurative painter. If you want to see some more of his work, here’s his website.

Cătălin Burcea, The First and the Last Step

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Cătălin Burcea, The First and the Last Step, at Victoria Art Center in Bucharest

I visited the new exhibition at the Victoria Art Center yesterday, and, while I liked all of the pieces, I was quite impressed with one of them in particular, Cătălin Burcea’s The First and The Last Step (Primul și ultimul pas, in Romanian).

The work consists of four segments of charred wood laid upon a narrow bed of sand. First things first: why four pieces and a single log? The parts may be a reference, perhaps, to the four nucleotide bases of a DNA strand, or, alternatively, to the idea of steps—considered separately from the first and the last step mentioned in the title. Moving on, it’s easy to see why these pieces of wood, passed through fire, a step before returning to the earth as ashes (and you can see in the detail below how chips of it are already coming loose and taking that road), is the last step. But how is it the first step? Maybe the fire that consumes us is a spiritual moment that allows us to be born. Maybe we’re already charred wood when we’re born (the old idea of birth as the first step towards death). I feel it’s this second idea, tied to birth, that gives this piece its oomph. The idea that with every breath we take we die a little—just as a light breeze will eat at this charred log.

Here’s a detail.

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