By car, Chicago is about fourteen hours from New York City; a trip that can be done in a day, but doesn’t come personally recommended. Skyscrapers give way to tall, sweeping mountains and fall flat as states change – corn fields. The Windy City is hard to grasp; huge buildings feed into an elaborately planned city. Take note that nearly every building is a flawless achievement of engineering and architectural excellence. The city oozes excitement and exudes artistic and aesthetic greatness. A busy street can quickly change. Take a quick corner and the body becomes absent.
Enter Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, where currently mounted is Doris Salcedo’s first retrospective to date. Salcedo may not be a name you know. Let’s change that. A profound thinker, humanitarian, and maker, Salcedo and her retrospective knocked me out! Take the elevator to the fourth floor, the door opens and suddenly there’s a smell. Wet soil settling, and budding blades of grass grow through tables. Daily life becomes, strangely unfamiliar here. Doris Salcedo’s is a world of totally commonplace objects completely fabricated and reimagined.
Salcedo is totally dedicated to her practice and communication with others. Her hands-on approach with fabricators and designers extends beyond her studio. Salcedo has dedicated herself and her art to the victims of atrocities around the world. The objects and practices are ways of visually reconstructing and raising awareness of international crimes. Salcedo’s works are as much about breaking apart as they are about mending; a presence of hand and humanity is never totally erased. The work is politically charged and stands as an ode to the future of individuals who have “lost.” There is no surrender in the work, not when there is so much rebuilding to be done.
Most surprisingly, the work reflects in to memory; something temporal and intangible. At times the works seem right at hand but then fade back in to themselves. Or perhaps the works allow the viewer to reflect into themselves. Moving through the rooms on the fourth floor I find myself looking back, stopping, looking at other people, watching their bodies move. Suddenly everything is interwoven and we are connected by way of these objects and the space they allow us to inhabit. Salcedo is no mere poetic fabricator, she is a story teller as much as she is a poet. Sometimes these pieces seem taxing and overwhelming. They are taxed by their labor and not their aesthetic. It is their mystery and humanity that shines through. In the end, they reward.
Fourteen hours back home with one thing on my mind. “I can’t wait to see that show again at the Guggenheim in New York!”
Efrem Zelony-Mindell is an artist who lives in New York. For more of his work click here …
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