No Lone Zone

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'Score Settling (Score 11)', 2008, by Teresa Margolles

Away from the crowds coming down the Turbine Hall ramp or funnelling up the escalators, Tate Modern's Level 2 gallery has been quietly hosting some of this modern art behemoth's most studied and provocative exhibitions of recent years. Ironically for a space dedicated to showing art from far-flung parts of the world, Level 2 is also somewhat marginalised from the institution as a whole, having only a discreet entrance and precious little signage. Still, at least Tate has one eye trained on the wider global scene, even if the current offering is enough to scare off any visitors straying from the mothership.

'No Lone Zone' is a small survey of current Latin American art co-curated by a gallery in Mexico City and takes its ominous title from a military term for a region deemed too hostile to be patrolled by a single soldier. The implication is that there are still places in the world where contemporary art has no business poking its nose, seen in two films of uncomprehending audiences in a Peruvian hilltown and a Mexican backwater. The viewers are unsure what to make of either a performing interloper or a concrete slab of public sculpture deposited in their neighbourhood, the latter being brilliantly repurposed as a platform for workers' rallies, somewhere to store building materials and even an impromptu hairdressing salon.

This show also ponders the truly menacing connotations of the army's 'No Lone Zone' – so you might want to take a friend along. For starters, the limp rag hanging from a pole inside the door is actually a horrifically potent banner, 'Flag I' by Mexican artist, Teresa Margolles. Its ruddy colour comes from the blood found at execution sites in her country's ongoing, self-inflicted drug wars, being fought between rival cartels of narcotraficantes, or narcos for short.

A sign on the floor reads 'Please do not touch', but the cloth exudes such an antagonistic aura that you couldn't pay me to lay a hand on its gruesome surface, covered in nodules of earth and the stain of human remains.

Accompanying her dye-of-the-dead fabric is a display of jewellery by Margolles, custom-made and inlaid with shards of broken glass collected from the scenes of drive-by shootings. The gleaming trinkets resemble either the kind of ostentatious bling favoured by narco gang-bangers or else a Mayan treasure worthy of museum display.

At the Mexican Pavilion in the 2009 Venice Biennale, Margolles presented these powerful objects alongside a performance in which relatives of the slain continuously mopped the floors, again using a solution tinged with the blood of their loved ones. Although absent here, the image comes flooding back when watching Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle's video projection, which focuses on eddies of muddy water being furiously swept into the middle of a room by some unseen hands.

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