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A day dedicated to Santiago Sierra at the Lisson Gallery.
David Franchi – Thursday, 15th March 2012.
The day dedicated to Santiago Sierra at the Lisson Gallery, London, was a success. The last 31st January, in fact, the Spanish artist took part at the talk “Santiago Sierra in Conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist”. The event marked the opening – later in the evening – of his exhibition “Dedicated to the workers and Unemployed”. The public was numerous at both the events, composed by art experts, artist’s friends, journalists and critics, and, moreover, many young artists.
The Lisson Gallery exhibition was a retrospective of video and new works. It featured fifty-three videos framed in three distinctive groups: performance based works; video documents of sculptural projects and programmed films. New works include ‘NO, Global Tour’ (2011) a film documenting the manufacture and transportation of the three metres high monumental sculpture made in the form of the word ‘NO’ that is touring around the world since many years. The minimalistic work is thought up to be understood in as many contexts as possible stressing the artist message about the humanity forced to affirm itself.
Santiago Sierra, in fact, is well-known to be also an activist involved in the No Global movement. He is considered to be a provocative and controversial artist. He refused, in fact, to be awarded by Spanish government because he believes it is imperialistic. He does not consider himself a socialist because according to him they are posh.
His works are inspired by social subjects while he actually treat matters of exploitation and marginalisation, in which underprivileged individuals are paid for performing humiliating or painful actions. Drug addicted prostitutes received the price of a shot of heroin in exchange for having their backs tattooed as seen in ‘160 cm Line Tattooed on 4 People’ (2000). ‘Workers in a Ships Hold’ (2001) saw North African migrant workers crammed below decks in the hold of ship docks for three hours in stifling heat against the backdrop of demonstrations for changes in immigration laws.
The amazing ‘Death Counter’ (2009), a LED display mounted to the exterior of the gallery, is a real time sculpture that counts the number of human deaths worldwide since the beginning of each calendar year imitating the US National Debt Clock, diminishing human lives to random numbers.
The Lisson Gallery exhibition tackled our notions on human life related to the powers operating in society. The challenge is not politically correct and compels to question about matters such as the psychology of domination and submission, and how they relate to labour, race, gender, and class. For example, in the film ‘The Penetrated’ (2008), a forty-five minute film in eight acts filmed on October 12 2008, Día de la Raza, a Spanish holiday commemorating Columbus’ discovery of the Americas.
The exhibition comprised a large cinema screen in each of the ground floor gallery spaces. ‘No Global Tour’ was shown twice daily alongside photographic works from the project. Another screen featured two 8 hour programmes on alternating days. Throughout the first floor of the gallery monitors with headphones showed Sierra’s less linear works on loop.
When accused of exploitation and sensationalism, Sierra responds that he is simply representing the commercial conditions of our existence. With this purpose he has realised a body of work that renews Minimalism and Conceptualism, with a political charge that aim to reconsider Western art.
However, despite his critical approach to the capitalism and the institutions which support it, he is also considered a successful artist and his artworks are very well priced.
Santiago Sierra (born 1966) is a Spanish artist who lives and works in Madrid. Sierra’s most well-known works involve hiring labourers to complete menial tasks a clear argument against the nature of the labourer within Capitalistic society. His main themes are how the selling of physical labour and thus the bodies, political issues such as immigration and recurrent immigrant poverty in rich countries, the nature of work in Capitalist society, and the isolation of economic classes.
Santiago Sierra paid a man to live behind a brick wall for 15 days and Iraqi immigrants to wear protective clothing and be coated in hardening polyetherane foam to create free sculptures. He blocked the entrance of Lisson Gallery with a metal wall on opening night. He sealed the entrance of the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, only to allow Spanish citizens in to see an exhibition. Another famous project is a room of mud in Hanover, Germany, commemorating the job-creation measure origin of the Maschsee. In 2006, he provoked controversy with his installation ‘245 cubic metres’, a gas chamber created inside a former synagogue in Pulheim, Germany.
From 1st February until 3rd March 2012.
At the Lisson Gallery, 52-54 Bell Street, London, NW1 5BY.