The Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall has had an eyeful over the last seven years. Originally it housed the whirring generators of a power station. Now its vastness—five stories tall and more than 3,000 square meters (you do the math) of floor space—has been repurposed as a commission-specific exhibition space.
This month the eighth commission from Colombian sculptor Doris Salcedo was unveiled. Shibboleth is a sinuous concrete chasm that the artist has artificially created along the entire expanse of the hall’s floor. From Hebrew, a "shibboleth" is a linguistic indicator that attests to one’s social status or class. Historically these markers have been used to exclude and often denigrate groups of people. Salcedo has made a literal manifestation of these figurative splits. She stresses that the work is meant to resonate with the bitter results of much of Western colonialism as well as societal fractures such as immigration and racism that still exist today.
Salcedo’s offering is in keeping with the sharp, forward-thinking installations that her predecessors in the Turbine Hall have established. Rachel Whiteread’s Embankment (2005) saw the arena filled with white polyethylene boxes (like granules of sugar) that were stacked in piles of different shapes and sizes. Louise Bourgeois was the first artist in the hall, in 2000, and she built towering platforms that visitors could mount and then sit in the chairs provided. Carsten Höller made huge corkscrew slides for Test Site in 2006.
I’m partial to Ólafur Elíasson’s work from 2003, perhaps because days are getting shorter. The Weather Project created a sunny yet shadowy environment with hundreds of lamps that emitted pure yellow light. The hall’s ceiling held a huge mirror, and many visitors lay down on the floor and just lounged in the hazy light, waving hello to their reflections.