Synopses & Reviews
Doris Salcedo, a Colombian-born artist, addresses the politics of memory and forgetting in work that embraces fraught situations in dangerous places. Noted critic and theorist Mieke Bal narrates between the disciplines of contemporary culture in order to boldly reimagine the role of the visual arts. Both women are pathbreaking figures, globally renowned and widely respected. Doris Salcedo, meet Mieke Bal.
In Of What One Cannot Speak, Bal leads us into intimate encounters with Salcedoand#8217;s art, encouraging us to consider each work as a and#8220;theoretical objectand#8221; that invitesand#8212;and demandsand#8212;certain kinds of considerations about history, death, erasure, and grief. Bal ranges widely through Salcedoand#8217;s work, from Salcedoand#8217;s Atrabiliarios seriesand#8212;in which the artist uses worn shoes to retrace los desaparecidos (and#8220;the disappearedand#8221;) from nations like Argentina, Chile, and Colombiaand#8212;to Shibboleth, Salcedoand#8217;s once-in-a-lifetime commission by the Tate Modern, for which she created a rupture, as if by earthquake, that stretched the length of the museum halland#8217;s concrete floor. In each instance, Salcedoand#8217;s installations speak for themselves, utilizing household items, human bones, and common domestic architecture to explore the silent spaces between violence, trauma, and identity. Yet Bal draws out even deeper responses to the work, questioning the nature of political art altogether and introducing concepts of metaphor, time, and space in order to contend with Salcedoand#8217;s powerful sculptures and installations.
An unforgettable fusion of art and essay, Of What One Cannot Speak takes us to the very core of events we are capable of rememberingand#8212;yet still uncomfortably cannot speak aloud.
and#8220;After illuminating the work of Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Louise Bourgeois, Balthus, and other modern artists, Mieke Bal again demonstrates her extraordinary flair for cultural criticism in taking on the work of Doris Salcedo, exploring the philosophical and aesthetic stakes of this committed political art and the relation between beauty, violence, and memory.and#160;A tour de force.and#8221;
and#8220;Seen against Baland#8217;s magnificent oeuvre, Of What One Cannot Speak
is the next innovative and brilliantand#160;book that will once again push the field of visual studies into unexplored areas. A fusion of monograph and theoretical essay, the book is best described as a demonstration of Bal teaching.
She crucially teaches her audience how to make an encounter with an artwork productiveand#8212;not by applying theoretical ideas, but by working through the objectand#8217;s resistance, by allowing the object to speak back to you. Bal does not simply take Doris Salcedoand#8217;s work as her starting point, and neither does she argue that the violence of the political is somehow merely and#8216;reflectedand#8217; in it. Instead, she embarks on a much more ambitious and originaland#160;projectand#8212;initiating a discourse by allowingand#160;a work of artand#160;to take the lead.and#8221;
and#8220;Of What One Cannot Speak
offers a brilliant theoretical challenge to our understanding of the political in art after Adorno and after trauma theory. Mieke Bal gives us the most insightful and comprehensive reading to date of the work of Doris Salcedo as a new kind of and#8216;world artand#8217; that cannot be relegated reductively to local color or to thematic dimensions such as memory and violence. Equally attentive to Salcedoand#8217;s materials as to her handling of metaphor and figuration, space and time, Baland#8217;s book stands as a model work on the threshold between art criticism and interpretive analysisand#8212;truly interdisciplinary in the best sense.and#8221;
and#8220;Bal is a leading cultural critic, known for her engaging writing style and clarity, even when dealing with difficult theoretical concepts. Bal also has incredible respect for Salcedo and her work, as this book models a process of investigation akin to a dialogue with art, rather than a clinical dissection of it. Essential.and#8221;
andldquo;Gives readers an inspirational look at this seminal artist. . . . Recommended.andrdquo;
andldquo;[Salcedoandrsquo;s] first major retrospective . . . is an important one for American audiences, collecting as it does decades of sculptures that explore dark psychic places.andrdquo;
andldquo;Salcedo presents an important, even essential, means of thinking about memorializing incomprehensible suffering, about speaking of and to loss, about remembering what victims are no longer present to remind us of.andrdquo;andnbsp;
Bertolt Brecht once worried that our sympathy for the victims of a social problem can make the problemandrsquo;s andldquo;beauty and attractionandrdquo; invisible. Inand#160;The Beauty of a Social Problem
, Walter Benn Michaels explores the effort to overcome this difficulty through a study of several contemporary artist-photographers whose work speaks to questions of political economy.
Although he discusses well-known figures like Walker Evans and Jeff Wall, Michaelsandrsquo;s focus is on a group of younger artists, including Viktoria Binschtok, Phil Chang, Liz Deschenes, and Arthur Ou. All born after 1965, they have always lived in a world where, on the one hand, artistic ambition has been synonymous with the critique of autonomous form and intentional meaning, while, on the other, the struggle between capital and labor has essentially been won by capital. Contending that the aesthetic and political conditions are connected, Michaels argues that these artistsandrsquo; new commitment to form and meaning is a way for them to depict the conditions that have taken US economic inequality from its lowest level, in 1968, to its highest level today. As Michaels demonstrates, these works of art, unimaginable without the postmodern critique of autonomy and intentionality, end up departing and dissenting from that critique in continually interesting and innovative ways. and#160;
A mountain of chairs piled between buildings. Shoes sewn behind animal membranes into a wall. A massive crack running through the floor of Tate Modern. Powerful works like these by sculptor Doris Salcedo evoke the significance of bearing witness and processes of collective healing. Salcedo, who lives and works in Bogotandaacute;, roots her art in Colombiaandrsquo;s social and political landscapeandmdash;including its long history of civil warsandmdash;with an elegance and poetic sensibility that balances the gravitas of her subjects. Her work is undergirded by intense fieldwork, including interviews with people who have suffered loss and endured trauma from political violence. In recent years, Salcedo has become increasingly interested in the universality of these experiences and has expanded her research to Turkey, Italy, Great Britain, and the United States.
Published to accompany Salcedoandrsquo;s first retrospective exhibition and the American debut of her major work Plegaria muda, Doris Salcedo is the most comprehensive survey of her sculptures and installations to date. In addition to featuring new contributions by respected scholars and curators, the book includes over one hundred color illustrations highlighting many pieces from Salcedoandrsquo;s thirty-year career. Offering fresh perspectives on a vital body of work, Doris Salcedo is a testament to the power of one of todayandrsquo;s most important international artists.
About the Author
Mieke Bal is Academy Professor at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and a cofounder of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. Her many books include Loving Yusuf: Conceptual Travels from Present to Past, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
1 Metaphoring: Singularity in Negative Space
Metaphor and Negative Space
The Insistence of Metaphor
The Act of Metaphoring
Metaphor as Skin
Atrabiliarios as Political Object
2 The Politics of Anthropomorphism
The Anthropomorphic Imagination
House Without Spouse
Theaters of Gender
On the Move
Negations of Place
No More Bones
4 The Agency of Space: Installation
Listening to Time in Space
Abduction into Pain
History and the Event in the Present
5 Acts of Memory
An Act in Search of an Agent
Perception and Memory for Witnessing
Shibboleth of Past and Present
Conclusion: Political Art Takes Place