Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Saturday 13 October 2007


If a nickname is the mark of an impact, then Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth at Tate Modern has made it, and very soon after opening.

A shibboleth is a means of dividing people to identify those you fear or mean to harm. This "division" is an artificial crack in the floor of the main Turbine Hall. The official description points you to the divisiveness of the very concept of "modernity". But if you arrive thinking that the crack suggests that the cultural constructs this massive building houses are unstable (even if its foundations aren't), the experience of it suggests otherwise.

Despite much discussion over the supposed "mystery" of how it was built, there's no great secret or puzzle to it. The artifice isn't exactly hidden. A section of floor has been replaced by one in which cement render forms the "crack", on a deliberately visible framework of chicken-wire fence-netting: what divides also contains and supports (Good fences make good neighbours, or so I was taught).

I don't think many of the people who came for the spectacle were feeling their foundations rocked, their cultural assumptions challenged, or any particular concern to reconsider their own shibboleths.

Children played their unselfconscious games with it. Tourists assumed their standard "We were here" poses for photographs, as they must have done across the meridian line at Greenwich and outside Westminster Abbey or the Tower, recording their individual presence in the same sort of pose as millions of others. Others were putting their cameras right inside the widest parts for that God-like canyon effect.

People straddled and probed what must very soon be appearing on the souvenir T-shirts. They were imposing their presence without any visible cracks in their foundations: the consumption of modernity as spectacle went on its merry way.


  1. I think Doris should be told about her crack being on public display. She won't be pleased, I warn you.

    BTW what happened to the sausages?

  2. Depends on whether she wants to get in strife with a Colombian over whose crack it is.

    And, given the ineffable stupidity of the human race falling into it, whether she wants to be sued for a nasty gash.

    BTW, what sausages?

    And thank you for commenting. I was beginning to think I was talking to myself.

  3. I think you're "good fences make good neighbors" comment was really spot on- that's a very interesting way of looking at the role of chicken-wire in this piece. I'm writing a paper on this installation, and I couldn't quite phrase it that well myself, so I quoted you.
    PS I've got an arts/music blog as well- check it out @ under21inboston.typepad.com