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Over the last decade, Derrida Of Grammatology , the doyen of deconstruction, has turned his attention to questions of ethics and politics. While the obtuse philosophical musings and sometimes The Work of Mourning. Jacques Derrida.

Jacques Derrida is, in the words of the New York Times , "perhaps the world's most famous philosopher—if not the only famous philosopher. But he also inspires the respect that comes from an illustrious career, and, among many who were his colleagues and peers, he inspired friendship.

The Work of Mourning is a collection that honors those friendships in the wake of passing.


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With his words, Derrida bears witness to the singularity of a friendship and to the absolute uniqueness of each relationship. Art requires that we travel a certain space in a certain direction, on a certain road. The experiences I attempt to address are not anecdotes. My work is about the memory of experience, which is always vanishing, not about experiences taken from life.

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It is the vacuum generated by forgetfulness, an attempt to grasp what is no longer present. The work of art is concerned precisely with that which is not an event. It points toward an event, or, as the philosopher Jean Luc Nancy said, in a work of art, an event and eternity coincide in the intensity of its image. Candles Approx. The only concern of my work is what happens to human beings assaulted by violence.

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In all of my work, I have addressed only one issue: political violence. Because I strongly believe that violence defines the ethos of our society, I have focused on political violence not simply because I am Colombian—which, in a way, gives me a deeper and closer knowledge of its effects—but because of its more than 60 years in constant war. The epic, mechanized scale of death that has characterized the 20th and 21st centuries has become systematically produced and thoroughly inscribed into our everyday lives.

With each life that abruptly ends at the hand of the prevailing instruments of power and capital, the industrial destruction of human beings that perpetuates endlessly expanding cycles of emotional wreckage registers the most profoundly cruel end of a person that humanity can possibly know. Art, on the other hand, can inscribe in our life a different kind of passage, that is, from suffering to signifying loss. For this reason, the experience of mourning has been the central tenet in my art for the past thirty years. During this time I have remained immersed in mourning, and my work has been the work of mourning, and a topology of mourning.

The only possible response I can give in the face of irreparable absence is to produce images capable of conveying incompleteness, lack, and emptiness. I hope for my work to perform a role similar to that of the funeral oration. Our very humanity resides within the devotion or contempt that we assign to our practices, processes, and rituals of mourning. An aesthetic view of death reveals an ethical view of life, and it is for this reason that there is nothing more human than mourning.

And it is within these boundaries that I have tried to inscribe my work, marking specific sites for remembrance where acts of mourning can take place. Through my work, I have tried to explore the relationships that can be established between images of violence and the images and memories we have of a deceased person. This encounter is both a confrontation and an embrace, and all of my work straddles this fragile line. I have tried to inscribe my work precisely at the threshold where this absence makes itself present, a threshold that simultaneously separates and unites these images.

In spite of the fact that I am a sculptor, working with solid matter, I perceive this fragile threshold as something untouchable, like an image or a wound.

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The Work of Mourning, by Jacques Derrida | HuffPost

A recent work, A Flor de Piel , is concerned with this untouchable aspect of a wound. It started with the simple intention of making a flower offering to a victim of torture in an attempt to perform the funerary ritual that was denied her. The genesis of A Flor de Piel arose when I began to wonder: how could I initiate even the slightest movement toward a tormented body, even if only to present a flower offering?

At this point I began looking for the most fragile way of touching the untouchable, and the process of making this piece pushed me to find the limits of the fragile and the most delicate within the frame of sculpture. It was at the outer limits of fragility that I encountered a vulnerable body. The realization of A Flor de Piel represented the most difficult challenge I have ever encountered: trying to preserve rose petals in a stage that is neither dead nor alive.

I treated them so they remain suspended between the animate and the inanimate. I knitted a shroud made of rose petals that are sutured to one another. To me, making this piece represented the unattainable aim of shrouding bodies torn away from life and never properly delivered to death. It is a delicate and almost insubstantial piece. Not quite an object, it stands removed from the world of objects, and in a way, what defines this piece is our gaze, our relationship with it. It is a thin, ephemeral shroud; it is an interface that allowed me to come near the broken bodies of torture.

Jacques Derrida’s (Art)Work of Mourning

The body of a disappeared, tortured person remains among us. They are well and truly in the world, in molecules or in atoms caught up in different combinations, different crystallizations; they are also in the community. A Flor de Piel makes possible the idea of coming close to touching while making evident the impossibility of a caress, of healing, and of saving from the abyss of death. The industrial production of violent death lies beyond the scope of art.

Perhaps what art can represent is the death of death. The impetus for another work, Plegaria Muda —10 , began in when I embarked on a trip around southeast Los Angeles. I researched official reports stating that over the course of a year period, more than 10, young people had suffered violent deaths on the streets of LA, and during this time, I began to wonder if art could represent a death of death. As I focused my attention on the violence caused by gangs, of particular interest was the murky relationship between the role of killer and that of the victim.

The consequences of these conditions are so profoundly tragic, that one can easily see the connection that exists between this so-called social death and the subsequent violent, anonymous, physical death that is carried out by members of these communities. In Plegaria Muda , I try to articulate a series of violent events that have determined the unstoppable spiral of mimetic and fratricidal violence that equally marks out gang violence, internal conflicts, or civil wars all over the world.

The death of each of these young men generates an absence and each absence demands that we take responsibility for those who have been forcibly made absent. Since our relationship with them does not end with their death, the only way that they can exist is within us; our relation with them does not end with their dead, it lives on as grief.

Hans-Jost Frey argues that in the face of death, the end of our hope survives as mourning, as a sign of the infinite incompleteness of our relationship with the dead. Colombia—the country of unburied dead—has hundreds of unidentified mass graves where the dead remain nameless. For this very reason, I inscribed the image of the grave within this piece, creating a space for remembrance, a graveyard that opens up a space for each body.


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Each piece has been sealed and has an individual character, as if a funerary ritual has taken place. The implacable and obsessive repetition of the tomb emphasizes the painful repetition of unnecessary deaths. I hope that my work can cross through history to make present the extreme experiences that lay forgotten in the past.

Lecture – Doris Salcedo and The Materiality of Mourning

This microsite is a collection of content developed in preparation for the exhibition Doris Salcedo , organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and on view February 21—May 24,