Maria Williams-Russell Art Blog
I recently read the article in The New Statesman ___Too Much Information___ about the current installation at the Tate Museum entitled "Shibboleth" by the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo. Shibboleth is a large, open crack in the cement floor of the Tate resembling lightening or a fissure in the earth one can imagine encountering during an earthquake. I haven__™t seen it in person, but from the picture I can imagine I would like it. I like conceptual art in general and would appreciate contemplating the possible meanings or connections this installation might elicit.
However, Alice O__™Keefe, author of the article ___Too Much Information___, has an interesting complaint with Shibboleth:its title and the explanations both the artist and the Tate give to viewers about the piece. O__™Keefe argues too much is being told about the artist__™s intention rather than letting the artwork stand on its own and allowing viewers to take from it what they will.
According to the Tate, ___A shibboleth is a custom, phrase or use of language that acts as a test of belonging to a particular social group or class. By definition, it is used to exclude those deemed unsuitable to join this group.___ Salcedo extends the explanation by telling reporters that Shibboleth is about ___borders, the experience of immigrants, the experience of segregation, the experience of racial hatred. It is the experience of a third world person coming into the heart of Europe."
The question I find intriguing is where is the line (pardon the pun) between too much explanation and not enough when it comes to conceptual art? In this case, a good crack in the floor could mean many things to many different people. Does the explanation take their inherent connections to other meanings away and therefore diminish the piece?
In one of my earlier blog posts, I wrote about a show at the MassMoca by Spencer Finch in which I encouraged viewers to make sure they got the ___guide book___ or they would be lost without it. In turn, I have recently been writing a series of poems in response to the Finch exhibit where I have come up against the problem of describing the artwork exactly or allowing my response to it to be enough. My poet friends advise more explanation on some of these poems and less on others, which makes me believe the issue is not so much a philosophical point of view as it is an aesthetic one.
I agree with O__™Keefe in the case of Shibboleth. The crack is extremely strong on its own and has the power to live outside of the artist__™s original intention. But, the Spencer Finch exhibit becomes stronger when explained, and once explained can extend it__™s meaning through each viewer__™s experience.
Another critical element to this question is the artist him/herself. My personal opinion is that an artist needs to be able to separate his/herself from the finished product, no matter how intense and meaningful the intent and the process of making it was. It appears as if Salcedo could not separate herself from her piece and therefore added to it through her use of a title and explanation. Somehow, aesthetically, she has isolated her viewers. In contrast, the Spencer Finch pieces with their high level of explanation pull the viewers in in an attempt by the artist to share his experience fully. One thing is clear: once explanation is given, it cannot be taken away.