Research

Doris Salcedo on pain and trauma

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.

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.

The Tate Summary

Thinking about how my clay pots are disintegrating into the water I think about this summary of Salcedo’s work using a handcrafted wooden wardrobe, and how the cement fills the voids within the wardrobe to speak of death and silencing. The dissolving pots speak of the same themes, as the water forces the clay to change, women’s voices are forced into invisibility. The pots no longer resemble pots to look at.

Salcedo grounds her art in intense research, which includes prolonged fieldwork and extensive interviews with those who have experienced violence and loss. Seeking out direct accounts, or obtaining physical evidence from victims or their relatives and friends, she becomes what she calls a ‘secondary witness’. To articulate catastrophe visually, she has consistently resorted to techniques of eradication, disfiguration, blockage and especially removal. The last of these offers a particularly effective way to represent trauma – not only because disaster literally annihilates people and things, but also because when attempts are made to recall it, there is often a failing of memory, since trauma has the effect of obliterating its own recollection.

Voice of the invisible, by Madeleine Grynsztejn
1 September 2007
Tate Etc. issue 11: Autumn 2007

Trauma having the effect of obliterating its own recollection is evident in my work, similarly through techniques of eradication and disfigurement with the introduction of water to the unfired pots.

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