Monday, 17 January 2011


Frieze 2010 again. In my quest for white objects I came face to face with a white plate displayed on a plinth.  I was of course wondering how such a common and plain object made its way to Frieze.

Picture Isabelle Busnel

The label was not helping either: “Teresa Margolles. Plato de fruta. 2004. Ceramic object, each different shape 1/5 + 1AP + Workshop proof”…

Picture Isabelle Busnel

Some words sounded however familiar:
Each different shape…
Workshop proof…

I was wondering what kind of game was played here? Was the artist borrowing discourses from the Craft world? Claiming the authenticity of the hand made, the unique, the value of the material (ceramic)?

I started to do some research on the internet about the artist Teresa Margolles. What I found didn’t help at all and was even increasing my already high level of perplexity.

Margolles work stands in close connection with the everyday realities of her home country Mexico, which has been dominated for years by drug wars between enemy cartels and where thousands of people fall victim to violent crimes every year. Her art can be viewed as an act of solidarity towards those who have died, as a vehement struggle against forgetting. In the last ten years, her art has revolved around the issue of what happens after a person dies and what death leaves behind. The artist deals with the social dimension of the dead body as well as the physical remains after autopsies, and the treatment of this subject as a taboo. Margolles uses substances such as blood, body fat or even water used to wash dead corpses not only symbolically, but also palpably, attacking human beings’ fears of contact in a subtle way.” (

What on earth can be the connection between those statements and the white plate shown above? I then wrote to the gallery to ask them and they very kindly sent me an explanation: the work “Plato de fruta” was made in 2004 in collaboration with a ceramic studio in Mexico and the ceramic was mixed with water from the morgue….”

The artist had already used water from the morgue in several different projects. A text by Anthony Downey “Teresa Margolles and the Aesthetics of Commemoration” brilliantly describes the work of this artist. (Text by Anthony Downey).

In her project, En el Aire (In the Air; 2003) she used a machine for making bubbles that filled the entire gallery (see picture below).
Here is how A. Downey describes the scene: “Upon entering this space the viewer was greeted with an air of enchantment, the transient playfulness of bubbles being a reminder, perhaps, of childhood pursuits. The bubbles floated, descended and burst against the walls, floor and, on occasion, the viewer. The effect was beguiling and not without pleasure. Again, however, the accompanying text brought us up short:
Bubbles made from water from the morgue that was used to wash corpses before autopsy.
The dead are here present in the very water that cleansed their bodies before autopsy, the very same morgue water that now (albeit after disinfection) bursts against our skin. In blurring the distinction between the living and the dead – they both inhabit and to some degree interact in the same time/space continuum – Margolles repeatedly draws our attention to the pervasiveness of death in life and their oppositional symmetry: the fact of life in the face of death.”

Picture Google Images

Knowing the work of this artist, this “Plato de fruta” reveals now its whole dimension and its powerful message. 
But the display at Frieze was so non-explanatory that I had to do a lot of researches myself to understand what it was about. And I regret it because I think I would have received a punch in the stomach at the fair imagining using this plate made with water from the morgue to display my fruits... 

And it is why this piece is so strong in drawing our attention to the pervasiveness of death in life: we are facing a very common and comforting white ceramic plate which is in reality a disturbing object to commemorate death…    

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