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Doris Salcedo Exhibition Review – White Cube Bermondsey

28 September 2018 – 11 November 2018



The experience of an individual is always my point of departure. But during the process of making an artwork, I must maintain a distance in order to leave that person intact, untouched. And from there, as soon as I begin working, everything enters into the paradoxical terrain of art.’ – Doris Salcedo, A Work in Mourning, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Chicago University Press, 2015

Within the walls of the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey sits Doris Salcedo’s latest exhibition of works. Split between the North Gallery and the South Gallery, this public space shows two installations: Palimpsest (2013-17) and Tabula Rasa (2018). To engage with Salcedo’s interest in individual experience, I focused on immersing myself within the gallery space to understand the poignant feelings and tensions that attached themselves to each work.

Taking over the largest room at the White Cube, the South Gallery holds Palimpsest (2013-17), an installation of large marble slabs with over 300 names spelled out in sand and water. This transformed the space into an immersive memorial, paying respect to the victims who died during the migrant crisis in Europe over the last 20 years. As the water glistened under the ceiling lights, a more sinister meaning shone through in relation to those who drowned whilst fleeing from Africa and the Middle-East.

Before entering into this space, you were instructed not to work through the names but to walk around them. Watching people carefully step around this invisible maze was a moving experience. A large room that looks visually empty was bursting with the memories of those who had lost their lives. Salcedo noted that her work “is about the memory of experience, which is always vanishing, not about experiences taken from life.” This is increasingly relevant within the fast paced society that we live in, where traumas are often quickly forgotten. Salcedo’s intention was to represent society’s inability to mourn collectively over these tragedies.

In contrast, the North Gallery holds a new series of sculptures titled Tabula Rasa (2018). Scattered across the space were five wooden tables, which looked whole from a distance yet at a closer glance were broken and cracked where they had been carefully destructed and reconstructed. Walking around the exhibition space, I didn’t initially infer Salcedo’s connotations to the theme of sexual violence. However, her representation of the fractured sense of self one feels after being subject to abuse is sensitively conveyed through the tables appearing whole but similarly never being the same as they once were.

Absence and grief act as common themes between these two works. Through absence, these galleries are transformed into a commemorative space to grieve in and Salcedo uses her sculptures to infer wider political and metaphorical significance. Salcedo appreciates the process of making the works as an integral part of adding meaning and by researching the stories of those who suffered, the artist could explore the victim’s experiences and pay her respects through her work.

A sculpture by Anselm Kiefer is also on display in the 9 x 9 x 9 gallery at the White Cube, featuring his work For Vicente Huidobro: Life is a parachute voyage and not what you’d like to think it is (2018). Kiefer’s installation consisted of a large parachute hovering above an old bicycle on a cracked bed of earth. Across the back wall reads the quote stated in the title of the work, inferring similar connotations to the themes of mortality and human experience shown in Salcedo’s installations. The feeling of the White Cube changes every time I step foot into the space and between these two artists, the atmosphere in the White Cube felt quite eerie as these exhibitions brought incredibly important issues to light.

Breaking down the barriers of the exclusive art work, the White Cube acts as a perfect location for Salcedo and Kiefer's exhibitions. As a free and inclusive gallery you can enjoy the works in your own time, not worrying whether it was worth the hefty admission fee. It reflects the artist’s objective to allow all kinds of people to experience art and its collective meaning, and it will leave you with a feeling that resonates both inside and outside the gallery walls.

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