WPC: Doris Salcedo–Ordinary Objects As Symbols

Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct and to refrain from destruction.–Evelyn Waugh
Imagine this.  You walk into an art gallery, the size of a six football fields.  The walls are painted stark white.  The floors are dark gray.  The first room is filled with long rectangular wooden tables, one stacked on top of the other.  As you walk closer, you see grass sprouting up between cracks in the wood.
Walking Past the Graves.  From the Doris Salcedo Exhibit, MCA Chicago.  Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

Walking Past the Graves. From the Doris Salcedo Exhibit, MCA Chicago. Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

But how can that be? You take a closer look at the tables, and realize the grass is real.  It is growing from a layer of earth wedged between the tables, which are arranged to create paths.  As you meander through the aisles,  you start to feel uncomfortable, uneasy.   And then in a flash, there’s a chill of recognition.  You understand the artist’s message.  You are walking through a grave site: each table is a casket and each blade of grass is a symbol of hope.

Grass Graveside.  From the Doris Salcedo Installation, MCA Chicago.  Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

Grass Graveside. From the Doris Salcedo Installation, MCA Chicago. Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

You walk into the next room, filled with a long row of shirts–plain white, neatly stacked one on top of the other.  But each pile has a long nail driven through it.

From the Doris Salcedo Installation, MCA, Chicago.  Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

From the Doris Salcedo Installation, MCA, Chicago. Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

You take a closer look.  Again, that chill of recognition. You realize that the shirts symbolize loss.  They belonged once to anonymous victims, who are missing, killed.

From the Doris Salcedo Installation, MCA Chicago.  Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

From the Doris Salcedo Installation, MCA Chicago. Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

In the next room, you see wooden doors, dozens of them.  But they are broken, fragmented, and reassembled in odd ways.   Several have a child’s dress caught between the boards, as if it were a ghost, a memory of a loved one.

Child's Dress in the Ruins, from the Doris Salcedo Installation, MCA, Boston.  Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S 5.

Child’s Dress in the Ruins, from the Doris Salcedo Installation, MCA, Boston. Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S 5.

This is the power of Doris Salcedo’s art.  She creates installations filled with ordinary objects, which are turned into symbols of loss, of mourning, for the victims of violence:  murder, drug wars, gang warfare, terrorism.  She believes that we all have been anesthetized to violence, so she creates spaces where our loss is visualized, made tangible, as fragile as blades of grass.  She reminds us of the lives of our dead friends, relatives, leaders, frozen in memory, like their clothing still hanging in closets or the empty chairs where they once sat.

Art can only be truly art by presenting an adequate outward symbol of some fact in the interior life.–Margaret Fuller

Broken Chairs, from the Doris Salcedo Exhibit, MCA Chicago.  Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

Broken Chairs, from the Doris Salcedo Exhibit, MCA Chicago. Shot with a Samsung Galaxy S5

I was fortunate to see the Doris Salcedo exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago two months ago and was fascinated by her artistic vision, mission, and creative process.  Her installations are the result of meticulous research, interviews, and construction.  Somehow, they create the impossible–a piece of art that can be apprehended on both rational and emotional levels.  And they confound us with by bringing to life the impossible– like a pavement etched with the names of people who were killed in violent incidents in Colombia, the letters of each name filling with water that bubbles up from the ground  in individual drops, much like tears. Doris makes us realize that symbols can be drawn from ordinary objects that resonate with us in powerful ways and can bring us healing.  Like her, I believe art has the power to heal and transform and is needed more than ever–in a war-torn world filled with too much bloodshed and hatred.  We all  help spread this message of hope here on Word Press –writers, artists, photographers, musicians, visionaries–a community of creative people who are reaching out to others around the world.

To learn more about Doris Salcedo and her work, click here.

To view a video about Salcedo’s public works,  click the link below:

To see more interpretations of Jen’s symbol theme here at Word Press, click here:

Have a great week, everyone!

 

 

19 replies »

  1. I’ve always had a hard time appreciating representative art forms. Particularly large installations such as these. I don’t know whether it is the literalist thinking that causes me to struggle to grasp how a pile of used clothing made into a brick wall represented poverty in America. (Or some such high-minded concept which I saw at our local gallery.) I suspect true art aficionados despair when people like me enter the room, and ask why there is a pile of __fill-in-the-blank-incomprehensible-object___ in the middle of the floor. That said, our local art week has given me a wider appreciation than I held before. So perhaps there is hope for me yet.

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  2. Hi Kirizar! Nice to hear from you. Often, I’m like you and I end up scratching my head, wondering why I don’t get the artist’s “message” and the work leaves me emotionally “cold.” But this installation was different–very emotionally charged and powerful. If there’s hope for me, there’s hope for you! Thanks for your thoughts.

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    • Yes, it’s true, Maria. I saw an installation on the High Line in New York that totally confused me at first. It looked like pre-historic bones embedded in rock formations, but it turned out to be a sculptural work!

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  3. Must admit I’d not heard of her Patti – thanks for explaining each of the pieces. I must admit I’d have missed it although I think seeing/experiencing it in person would be quite different. Very powerful.

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