Critics’ Picks

Teresa Margolles, Sutura, 2018. Performance view, the French pavilion, Zagreb, 2018.

Teresa Margolles, Sutura, 2018. Performance view, the French pavilion, Zagreb, 2018.


Teresa Margolles

French Pavilion
Savska cesta 25
January 18–February 24, 2018

World’s Fair pavilions are designed to create a lasting impression of monumental (though ultimately momentary) grandeur. As such, their architects rarely account for an afterlife. Take Zagreb’s French pavilion, a striking cylindrical building that alternately suggests a birdcage and a zoetrope. Designed by architect Robert Camelot for the 1936–37 fair, the structure was consigned to an ambiguous life as “storage space” up until its recent renovation. This phrasing strategically obscures the building’s brief turn in 1941 as an impromptu detention center for Croatia’s fascist-sympathizing Ustaše government, where prisoners would wait for trains to camps such as Gospić, Jasenovac, or Auschwitz under the pavilion’s proud inscription: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.”

Last September, while visiting the edifice (today part of the University of Zagreb’s student center), Teresa Margolles discovered a line of abandoned train tracks, barely visible within the grass outside. The artist meticulously cleared the weeds from the rails, revealing this iron scar. Expanding the gesture for her new commission, Sutura, 2018, she intertwined the building’s history with that of three transgender prostitutes who were brutally murdered in Ciudad Juarez in the past three years. Margolles traveled to the murder sites and used damp canvas—itself reminiscent of the coverings thrown over corpses—to mop up what little remains of the crime might still bear witness: dust, hairs, or tiny shards of glass. She then brought these cloths to Zagreb, where she invited members from the city’s LGBTIQ community to sew them together into a single shroud while sharing and recording their own personal histories. During the exhibition opening, these volunteers lifted up the conjoined canvas—its stitches rough and hedged, like train tracks—in the middle of the French pavilion, while a set of towering speakers broadcast their stories into the space. Effectively suturing past and present traumas, this fleeting act felt nothing less than monumental.