Shibboleth , by the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo, is a deep earthquake crack cut into the concrete floor underfoot. It begins just inside the entrance, as a tiny meandering crack. Gradually, as it proceeds, it opens and deepens and begins to zig-zag wildly across the floor, moving like forked lightning, with branching cracks splitting off here and there. It runs under the mezzanine, and into the rear section of the Hall, and continues to the very end, where, still going strong, it seems to disappear under the back wall. It certainly does sound like it’s a well-achieved effect. Apparently it really does look like the crack really had just appeared, overnight.
Salcedo claims the work, made elsewhere but installed over the past five weeks, took her over a year to construct. "What is important is the meaning of the piece. The making of it is not important," she said. Asked how deep the fissure goes, she replied: "It's bottomless. It's as deep as humanity."According to the artist, the piece is a statement about racism, with the crack representing the gap between white Europeans and the rest of humanity.
Wire mesh is embedded within the exposed opening, used, she said, because it is "the most common means of control used to define borders and divisions. It represents borders, the experience of immigrants, the experience of segregation, the experience of racial hatred," she said. "The space which illegal immigrants occupy is a negative space. And so this piece is a negative space."
Curator Achim Borchardt-Hume said the work aims to be an interactive experience. "It is something you should engage with close up," he said. "You have to walk the line." But perhaps not too close: Tate confirmed that staff will be on hand to warn visitors about the dangers of tripping and falling. The installation will be removed in April next year when the crack will be filled in.
Hmm what will I see when I next go to the Tate Modern? Will I see a statement on the division between white Europeans and the rest of the world or something that looks like structural damage? Knowing me I will probably see the latter.