Press Release

The Unilever Series: Doris Salcedo

Tate Modern
9 October 2007 – 6 April 2008

Tate Modern today unveils the latest commission in The Unilever Series. Shibboleth, by Doris Salcedo, is the first work to intervene with the fabric of the building. Dramatically breaking open the floor of the Turbine Hall, Salcedo has created a striking yet intricate subterranean sculpture that runs the length of the building. The work raises questions about the historic and current divisions that exist in society.

Shibboleth, Salcedo’s first public commission in the UK, begins as a hairline crack at the west entrance to the Turbine Hall, and gradually widens and deepens as it runs 167 metres to the far end. Wire mesh, the most common means of control used to define borders and divisions, is embedded within the exposed opening.

The word shibboleth commonly refers to a test of membership to or exclusion from a particular group or social class. Its meaning originates from an Old Testament story which describes the largest massacre recounted in The Bible. The Gileadites, having defeated the Ephraimites in battle, challenged any survivors to pronounce the word ‘shibboleth’. The Ephraimites were identified by their inability to form the discerning ‘sh’ sound and 42,000 were killed.

By making the floor the principal focus of her project, Salcedo shifts the perception of the Turbine Hall’s iconic architecture and subtly subverts its monumentality and aspirations towards grandeur. Questions are raised about how we read architecture and the values it enshrines, and by extension the ideological foundations on which western notions of modernity are built. These notions are rooted in Enlightenment ideas of nationhood, progress and civilisation.

The highly crafted sculptural cavity of Shibboleth reveals a negative space, which represents the area occupied by those that have been left out of the history of modernity and kept at the margin of high Western culture. ‘The history of racism’, Salcedo writes, ‘runs parallel to the history of modernity, and is its untold dark side’.

Widely recognised as one of the leading sculptors of her generation, Doris Salcedo was born in 1958 in Bogotá, Colombia, where she continues to live and work.

The Unilever Series: Doris Salcedo Shibboleth is curated by Achim Borchardt-Hume, Curator, Tate Modern.

There will be a fully illustrated catalogue published by Tate Publishing in October, with contributions by Paul Gilroy, Antony Giddens Professor of Social Theory at the London School of Economics; Eyal Weizman, Director of Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College and Mieke Bal, Academy Professor at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.

This is the eighth commission in The Unilever Series. Unilever recently renewed their sponsorship of The Unilever Series for a further five years. After the work is de-installed in April next year, a permanent scar will remain in the Turbine Hall.