New York

Doris Salcedo

The relatively recent international success of Colombian artist Doris Salcedo, who has been exhibiting since the mid-1980s, seems to have led her in a reflexive direction: Increasingly embraced by institutions, she has gradually dedicated her work to exploring the repressed violence and power of institutions. The 167-meter-long fissure the artist produced in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2007 is exemplary of the antimonumental conceptual and physical aggressiveness she is capable of conveying. In her recent New York exhibition, though, Salcedo returned to the type of domestic objects that were the basis of her first known works—poignant readymades pierced by the violent narratives of her local context. Here, as in earlier works, she produced dislocations rendering pieces of furniture dysfunctional and impenetrable: mute witnesses unable to signify trauma faithfully.

Two large, similar works, which function more as one installation than as discrete units, occupied the central space of the gallery (both Untitled [all works 2008]). The first is an assemblage of five pieces of furniture (the most identifiable being a large wooden table) that penetrate one another, creating a mammoth sculpture. Various other pieces of wooden furniture (cupboards and simple armoires) have been attached to the table and to one another, sutured by concrete; if metal bars or nails actually hold the piece together, they are not visible. The second work echoes the scale and materials of the first one, and is made of three pieces of furniture. Side by side in a rectangular configuration, the elements evoke silence and death, seeming to have been at once rendered useless and made into huge, awkward-looking coffins. Most significantly, the furniture has been forced into a state of anonymity, as the individual elements have lost their identities and, through an act of subtle but vigorous distortion, been obliged to abandon their roles as symbols of the self and repositories of personal history. This fierce disruption of the comfort afforded by domesticity, by the objects that reflect our space and memories, is Salcedo’s greatest artistic accomplishment.

If some of Salcedo’s works from the ’90s cultivated a certain aura of nostalgia for intimacy through a painstaking craftsmanship that was awe-inspiring, these more abstract and minimal works repress narrative in favor of producing a sense of indetermination, in which, as the artist once said regarding her work, “silence is all there is.” No doubt this was already suggested in earlier pieces incorporating chairs, dressers, and cabinets, the spaces of which she filled with concrete. But the effect then was more expressive and the result more sculptural, especially when the juxtaposed pieces created massive, solid, idiosyncratic shapes. The new works, due to the simplicity of their rectangular forms, are more insistent on a materiality from which meaning has been evacuated. The concrete is present not as imposing sculptural masses but as patches that articulate the joints between the individual pieces, which project a respectable awkwardness.

If, from a psychological and sociological point of view, our domestic objects and spaces are meant to reflect notions of selfhood, these domestic disjointed objects insist on the quality of suture as foundational to identity and memory, and on reacting to still-visible wounds with only implacable stillness.

Monica Amor