Monday, November 26, 2007

Cracking Up

There's an exhibition at the Tate Modern at the moment called Shibboleth 2007, by Doris Salcedo.

It's a big crack in the floor, stretching the length of the Turbine Hall, wider in some places than others.

I confess I didn't know what a Shibboleth was, or is, and it is "a custom, phrase or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a certain social group or class." It is, by definition, used to exclude those unsuitable to join this group.

So if I went round saying things are "wicked" I'd be trying to prove I was young, cool and trendy but both my use of the word "wicked" and my use of the word "trendy" would prove I'm not really suitable to be the kind of person who IS young and cool. If the word cool's still cool. Which it probably isn't. Groovy, baby.

But this crack in the floor is actually supposed to be more about racism and colonialism: here's what it says in the blurb:

In breaking open the floor of the museum, Salcedo is exposing a fracture in modernity itself. Her work encourages us to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves with absolute candidness, and without self-deception.

Now I'm not sure about what I think about all that, except that I wish people wouldn't write things in quite that way, because they make me want to take the piss, and then I feel bad for not seeing the artwork before I start muttering darkly about "pretentious, moi?"

What concerns me more is today's full-page article in The Times about how people keep falling down the crack and injuring themselves. Fifteen, so far, and rising. The crack is, in some places, "large enough for a toddler to fall into". The museum's thinking they might have to Do Something About It.

Dennis Ahern, the Tate's head of safety and security, says

"Such options could include, but are not limited to, higher levels of control of entry, barrier or demarcation lines, Perspex bridging over certain sections or other physical interventions which may become required."

Which makes me worry about the future of our species. And also, to ponder our past.

If we go to visit a very large hall with a very big crack in the middle: and we know that the purpose of visiting the very large hall is the very big crack in the middle, and we still fall into the very large crack, or even permit our toddler to fall in the very large crack - - well, what kind of a useless species are we? How on earth did we ever manage to get as far as making a bit of flint into an axe? How have we possibly survived for this long?

How on Earth did we come to be put in charge of the future of the planet? I mean, would you trust us to do anything right?

But hey - - perhaps I've been encouraged to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves with absolute candidness, and without self-deception, see above. You decide.


Anonymous Siegfried said...

Hehe, I laughed when I read this. I've also read about it in the paper recently and totally agree - how can people visit this gallery to see the star attraction - only to then fall in. Crazy! I'm reminded that many people need protecting from themselves. Frightening.

7:11 pm  
Blogger John said...

so shibboleth in linguistic terms is "jargon" fair enough, but it's a horrid word to say. Elbow, now there's a nice word to say' you start with a smile and end with a kiss.

9:38 pm  
Blogger Silverback said...

Oh John you old romantic, you.

If this exhibition ever comes to NY, people will be lining up to throw themselves into the crack with a phalanx of lawyers on the other side helping them up, out and straight into the civil court system.

Followup question : if a lawyer becomes a crack dealer, is this a step up or down the social ladder ?

11:00 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Yes, the degree to which some people need protecting from themselves is indeed startling, Siegfried.
John, I agree - "Shibboleth" is a deeply unpleasant word rivalled only for unpleasantness by "Moist". As for elbow - - aaaah - - like it - -
Ian: I think the crack dealers are all those making money out of this piece of artwork (yes, terrible pun, sorry. But not very sorry).

11:13 pm  
Blogger AmyTree said...

I laughed at the story - muesum installs crack, visitors flock to crack, visitors fall into crack. Like you're surprised it's there or something?
I learned about Shibboleth on an episode of The West Wing - they talked about it in relation to a bunch of Christian refugees - because they could quote relevant chapters and verses, they were recognised as 'real' Christians and given asylum...

8:16 am  
Anonymous helen said...

I was there yesterday! The hall is in fact full of people gazing and leaning over the crack trying to work out how people are managing to fall in, waving their feet over the crack while jesting with their mates about falling in and striding over the crack time after time just to prove that they aren't stupid enough to fall in. I can see how the accidents happen.

12:42 pm  

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