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    Best, Susan
    The trace and the body / Susan Best
    Trace : the international exhibition of the Liverpool Biennal of Contemporary Art. --- Liverpool, England : Tate Liverpool, 1999
    Book/pamphlet article – Essays
    Best, Susan. "The Trace and The Body." In Trace: the international exhibition of the Liverpool Biennal of Contemporary Art. Exh. cat., Liverpool, England: Tate Liverpool, 1999.
    Salcedo, Doris, 1958-; Whiteread, Rachel

Susan Best, the North American researcher and art critic, suggests that Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological reflections on perception and aesthetic experience are especially well suited to interpreting (non-representational) contemporary works of art such as those at the exhibition. According to Merleau-Ponty, in addition to visible marks left by the past, there are other imperceptible signs that the body remembers. The traces are corporal as well as optical. Merleau-Ponty posits that these traces indicate an intertwining of the subjective and the objective, interior and exterior, and objects and body. In his opinion, objects are presences, not representations, in the body’s memory. And, the aesthetic experience of works like those by Paul Cézanne bring to light the interconnected nature of the body and the world. As seen from the perspective of this philosophy, art is not conceived as imitation but as an experienced reality. Based on these ideas, Susan Best reviews contemporary works such as House (1993) by Rachel Whiteread and Sin título [Untitled] (1998) by Doris Salcedo. In Best’s opinion, both artists express the sense of banishment and uncertainty that defines our times by appealing to corporal memory while simultaneously frustrating the body’s expectations.    


This article is from the book published on the occasion of the exhibition Trace that was presented in Great Britain (1999). Participants in this exhibition, other than Doris Salcedo (b. 1958), were: Adriana Varejão (b. 1964), Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons (b. 1959), Liu, Shih-Fen (b. 1964), Nicola Constantino (b. 1964), Miroslaw Balka (b. 1958), Rivane Neuenschwander (b. 1967), Sutee Kunavichayanont (b. 1965) Luis Camnitzer (b. 1937), Vik Muniz (b. 1961), Dorothy Cross (b. 1956), Amanda Ralph, Julie Gough (b. 1956), Juan Muñoz (1953-2001), Susan Norrie (b. 1953), and Erwin Wurm (b. 1954).


This article provides a rich frame of reference for contemporary works and sensibilities by creating an awareness of the difference between “optical” and “corporal” traces, by drawing attention to a basic perceptual tool for analyzing the work of Salcedo, the Colombian artist, and by acknowledging the range of indexing signs in her work and in the work of other Colombian artists such as Oscar Muñoz (b. 1951) and Beatriz González (b. 1938). Susan Best suggests an interesting interpretation of Salcedo’s Sin título [Untitled] (1998) as a work that appeals to the body and stimulates a simultaneous sense of violence and tenderness; in other words, objects are seen as bodies that commemorate and embody lives. 

Margarita Malagón
Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia
Courtesy of Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, UK