Untitled (1998) Wood, cement and metal. 2140 x 1495 x 570 mm. (Tate)
Salcedo’s work gives form to pain, trauma, and loss, while creating space for individual and collective mourning. These themes stem from her own personal history. Members of her own family were among the many people who have disappeared in politically troubled Colombia. Much of her work deals with the fact that, while the death of a loved one can be mourned, their disappearance leaves an unbearable emptiness.
Untitled, 1998 is one of a large group of Untitled sculptures combining domestic wooden furniture with cement that Salcedo created during the 1990s. The first series was exhibited as a large group at the Carnegie International, 1995 in Pittsburgh before being dispersed. Tate’s work was part of an installation in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral during the first Liverpool Biennial in 1999. The sculptures, mainly comprising cupboards, chests, armoirs and wardrobes, alone or combined with chairs, bed frames, tables and other chests, resonate in a variety of ways. The level surfaces of the poured cement combined with more or less visible sections of steel armature have industrial associations allied with minimalist sculpture, which the blocking of space – either filling openings or creating actual blocks on and under chairs – enhances. These sculptures recall such works by British artist Rachel Whiteread (born 1963) as Untitled (Nine Tables), 1998 (T07984) and Untitled (Rooms), 2001 (T07938) in which empty space – the space under a table and the negative space of a room – appears solid. In contrast to the rough, heavy cement with its blank, impassive flat surfaces the wooden furniture in Salcedo’s work appears fragile and mortal. Made by craftsmen, by hand, the sculpture’s wardrobe and chair have a history of relationships with human bodies – those that made them and those for whom they were created. In relation to the cement, they stand in for bodies; although as their openings are closed they are bodies that can no longer function; they are sealed and silenced in a manner that powerfully evokes death and entombment. As well as uncomfortably fusing two or more pieces of furniture, Salcedo’s Untitled series often incorporates clothing into the layer of concrete filling the openings in the cupboards, drawers and cabinets suggesting even more poignantly the remains of people who are no longer alive.