Researching Santiago Sierra

For one of my courses I had to introduce the famous works of the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. It is not strange that I was the first one to volunteer for this artist, as I am really interested in performance art and similar practices. So here is how my research went and what I found out.

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Santiago Sierra

Santiago Sierra (b. 1966, Madrid) is an artist who has a long history of creating controversial works that explore issues of capitalism and exploitation, while also questioning the nature of the art institution. He is influenced by body art and conceptual art movements of the 1960s and 1970s, that prize ideas over the visual components of art works. Sierra became well known for his actions in which underprivileged and marginalised individuals were hired to perform pointless tasks in white-cube spaces in exchange for money. Typically, Sierra’s filmed actions include hired menial workers, illegal immigrants, addicts, prostitutes, the unemployed and other members of the lower classes of society, who enact some kind of humiliating inhuman labour for many consecutive hours. Sierra’s art often combines installations and performances, which he uses to articulate the voices of those who are ordinarily invisible or unheard.

Some works

First, I should mention the installation Sierra made for Venice Biennale (Wall enclosing a space, Spanish pavilion, Venice, Italy, 2003). He built a brick wall in the pavilion’s interior, so the gallery became inaccessible. Only visitors with Spanish passports could enter at the back door, but saw only peeling grey paint and leftovers from previous year’s exhibitions. In short, the artist wanted to show that a nation is only a political construct and you can put whatever you want into it.

The Penetrated (video, photographs, El Torax, Terrassa, Spain, 2008) This is one of the pieces I only found out about while doing this research. It really appealed to me because of the fact that sexuality is still so controversial all over the world, especially if it involves same-sex couples. But with the loss of individuality and repetitious behaviour, Sierra took away all the expected eroticism. The work consists of 8 acts, where space is occupied by multiple couples performing anal penetration. It was said that this performance shows the reality of Spain; sexually and racially diverse couples may reflect the country’s fractured society, while the act of penetration could refer to human relations and social conditions, associated with dominance and submission.

One of Sierra’s most famous works is 160 cm Line Tattooed on 4 People (video, El Gallo Arte Contemporáneo, Salamanca, Spain, 2000), which is his third action involving tattooing. Four drug-addicted prostitutes were hired for the price of a shot of heroin to give their consent to be tattooed. By turning the process of exploitation into a spectacle in a gallery or museum, Sierra causes the institution to collaborate in relations of power and economics, thus raising a number of ethical questions.

video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7P9YMwIfxc

Another known work, dealing with underprivileged is Workers Who Cannot Be Paid, Remunerated to Remain Inside Cardboard Boxes (Kunst-Werke, Berlin, Germany, 2000). Six Chechnyan refugees, seeking asylum in Germany, sat inside the cardboard boxes for four hours a day for six weeks, having to collect their salaries in secret, because of their status as political exiles.

Santiago Sierra has been called everything from being an amoral artist to exploiter (people as ready-mades). He claims to be interested in the ugliness of capitalistic society with its failed promises, but he does not deny his commercial success as a product of the same system. In his own words: “If I thought about how to give real visibility to these people, I wouldn’t have chosen the art world as a platform to do it, but rather a determined political activism … Let’s say that I do things because I think they should be included in the art world, but I don’t have grandiose dreams that I’ll actually achieve anyone’s redemption, because that’s absurd. When you sell a photograph for $11,000 you can’t possibly redeem anyone except yourself.” And “I can’t change anything. There is no possibility that we can change anything with our artistic work. We do our work because we are making art, and because we believe art should be something, something that follows reality. But I don’t believe in the possibility of change.

 

Bibliography that helped me in the research and I cited from:

Bishop, C. (2004) Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics. October 110, 51-79.
Bishop, C. (2006) The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents. Artforum, 179-185.
Church, A. (2009) Santiago Sierra. Art in America ⌈online⌋ Available from: http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/reviews/santiago-sierra/ ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
Garcia-Anton, K. (2002) Santiago Sierra works 2002-1990. Birmingham: Ikon Gallery.
Gillick, L. (2006) Contingent Factors: A Response to Claire Bishop’s “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics”. October 115, 95-107.
Lisson Gallery (2016) Santiago Sierra ⌈online⌋ Available from: http://www.lissongallery.com/artists/santiago-sierra ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
Margolles, T. (2003) Santiago Sierra. Bomb, 86: 62-69. Also available online from: http://bombmagazine.org/article/2606/santiago-sierra ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
Nikolova-Fontaine, K. (2014) Santiago Sierra, El Degüello or How Much is Enough?. Iceland Rewiev online ⌈online⌋ Available from: http://icelandreview.com/stuff/reviews/2012/02/10/santiago-sierra-el-deguello-or-how-much-enough ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
Rosero, M. and David, A. (2013) Locating work in Santiago Sierra’s artistic practice. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 13 (1): 99-115. Also available online from: http://www.ephemerajournal.org/issue/free-work ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
Santiago Sierra ⌈online⌋ Available from: http://www.santiago-sierra.com/index_1024.php ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
Tate (2006) 160 cm line tattooed on 4 people ⌈online⌋ Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/sierra-160-cm-line-tattooed-on-4-people-el-gallo-arte-contemporaneo-salamanca-spain-t11852/text-summary ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.

 

LIST OF PHOTOGRAPHS:

  1. featured image: (1999) 250 cm line tattooed on 6 paid people. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.we-find-wildness.com/2010/05/santiago-sierra/ ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  2. (2010) Santiago Sierra. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://kaldorartprojects.org.au/projects/project-22-santiago-sierra ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  3. Courtesy of Galerie Peter Kilchmann (2003) Covered Word. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://bombmagazine.org/article/2606/santiago-sierra ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  4. Courtesy of Galerie Peter Kilchmann (2003) Wall enclosing a space. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://bombmagazine.org/article/2606/santiago-sierra ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  5. Courtesy of Galerie Peter Kilchmann (2003) Wall enclosing a space. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://bombmagazine.org/article/2606/santiago-sierra ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  6. de la Barra, P.L. (2003) Wall enclosing a space. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: https://civicmediatacticaldesign.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/camping-in-the-mondrians/ ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  7. LaBelle, C. (2003) Wall enclosing a space. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://bombmagazine.org/article/2606/santiago-sierra ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  8. (2008) The Penetrated. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/reviews/santiago-sierra/ ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  9. (2008) The Penetrated. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/reviews/santiago-sierra/ ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  10. (2008) The Penetrated. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.santiago-sierra.com/200807_1024.php?key=1 ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  11. (2000) 160 cm line tattooed on 4 people. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.santiago-sierra.com/200014_1024.php?key=1 ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  12. (2000) 160 cm line tattooed on 4 people. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.santiago-sierra.com/200014_1024.php?key=1 ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  13. (2000) 160 cm line tattooed on 4 people. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.santiago-sierra.com/200014_1024.php?key=1 ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  14. (2000) Workers Who Cannot Be Paid, Remunerated to Remain Inside Cardboard Boxes. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.santiago-sierra.com/20009_1024.php?key=2 ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  15. (2000) Workers Who Cannot Be Paid, Remunerated to Remain Inside Cardboard Boxes. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.santiago-sierra.com/20009_1024.php?key=2 ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.
  16. (2000) Workers Who Cannot Be Paid, Remunerated to Remain Inside Cardboard Boxes. ⌈photograph⌋ Available from: http://www.santiago-sierra.com/20009_1024.php?key=2 ⌈Accessed 9 October 2016⌋.

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