Santiago SIERRA (*1966 in Madrid, ES)
Lives and works in Madrid (Spain)
Santiago Sierra’s performances and projects are continually the object of heated debates, elicit outrage and dismay, and sometimes result in the cancellation and premature termination of individual works. But wherein lies the unsettling power of these works? In 2002, for instance, the artists paid six unemployed Cubans to tattoo a continuous line across their backs. On another occasion he paid people a small sum to sit in a cardboard box for several hours. Another project involved public masturbation. Many observers consider Sierra’s artistic approach cynical, repulsive and immoral. It is certainly deliberate and calculated provocation, but not for its own sake. Sierra understands his work as the revelation and critique of the present state of society. Upon closer examination, he transfers the mechanisms of capitalist social systems into the artistic space, and he does so in a shockingly straightforward manner. And indeed, the exploitation of human labour, the unmasking of structural violence and the representation of powerlessness and dependence are central themes of his art.
He prefers to work with homeless people, job-hunters, asylum-seekers and refugees, with the marginalised groups in our society, whose services he procures for a small sum. In the process, the seeming autonomy of the art system itself comes in for examination. 3000 Huecos of 2002 is one of the biggest projects that Santiago Sierra has produced to date. In the exhibition, three large-format black and white photographs are seen. They show a ridge in southern Spain not far from Cadiz, where Santiago Sierra had 3,000 holes dug in a 25,000 m² space, with each hole measuring 180 × 50 × 50 cm. The serial arrangement in a strictly defined grid recalls early American land art projects. However, it also makes one think of a massive graveyard. A group of African workers, immigrants from the Maghreb and the southern Sahara, dug the holes. From here, one can see the Mediterranean and make out the African coast, from which refugees drown on the way to Europe almost daily. Sierra offers no solutions with his art. But he does create striking images. They challenge us to think about existing societal conflicts, precisely because they show us the bitter reality which so many are forced to suffer.
Text: Ingo Clauß