Art Chronicles: Doris Salcedo

There are just two pieces in the current Doris Salcedo exhibition at White Cube’s Mason’s Yard Gallery [until 30 June] and both are thought-provoking and well worth time spent.

A Flor de Piel  is made up of thousands of rose petals which have been carefully sewn together to form a vast cloth or shroud which covers virtually all the gallery floor, each petal commemorating victims of torture. Look closely, and you just make out delicate veins reaching out from the heart of each rose; stand back and – nudged and pushed and pulled here and there into ridges and small clusters – and it resembles a landscape, a country viewed from above. The land burying, reclaiming, honouring its dead … roses for remembrance … new life growing from the compost of the old.

In the larger, lower gallery is another piece – a distillation of a larger instillation, Plegaria Mudo – which simultaneously acknowledges – bears witness to – those who have died as the result of acts of violence, and takes its specific inspiration from the discovery, in 2007, of the bodies of as many as 1,500 young men found murdered in Colombia.

Forty-five units – a quarter of the original – each comprising two oblong wooden tables, one reversed above the other with a thick slab of earth in between, fill the space of the gallery, leaving just enough space to walk between. Stand in one of the corners and the legs that stick up – each of different heights, different shades of wooded colour, different tones – bring to mind a crowded graveyard, a forest from which the limbs have been removed, the bare, ruined trees of Paul Nash’s paintings from World War Two; the tables are the size and shape of coffins, they are school desks placed upon one another and unused because now the children have all gone. Walk between them and you see, improbably, that, here and there, shoots of green grass have pushed their way up from the earth and through the wood. New life, new hope, growing from old.

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