7 forms measuring 600 x 60 x 60 cm constructed to be held horizontal to a wall
20-28 November 2010. Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. Photo Ray Fulton
The Anarchists, 2006. Rome, Italy
If you need to feel distressed and embarrassed watching marginalized people remunerated to perform degrading tasks then you might want to head to Bell Street in London. The Lisson Gallery is holding a retrospective of over 50 films that document Santiago Sierra’s work. The Spanish artist doesn’t do light and subtle.
Black, illegal street vendors in Venice are paid to get their hair bleached blond. Couples are geometrically arranged according to the colour of their skin and asked to have sexual intercourse. Junkies have a line shaved on their head in exchange of a shot of heroin. Drug addicted prostitutes have a black line tattooed across their back. Asylum seekers spend hours inside cardboard boxes. Veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq face a corner. Others are paid to remain tied down to a block of wood, stay in a ditch, block a museum entrance, hold an object against a wall, etc.
10-Inch Line Shaved on the Heads of Two Junkies Who Received a Shot of Heroin as Payment, 2000. San Juan de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico
Last act: 10 black race men penetrated 10 white race men. El Torax, Spain, 2008
As a viewer, you might (or should?) feel much more ashamed than the people ’employed’ by Sierra. You are the voyeur, the privileged one who goes to a gallery to be reminded how unfortunate some people are, to be lectured about punishment, structures of power, dignity, the value of labour, etc.
I wonder if Sierra’s works have ever had any impact on the life of his ‘workers’, all i can say is that there’s someone who feels even more embarrassed than the gallery visitor: it’s the blogger who saw the show and decides to write about it. I believe it’s an exhibition worth visiting. Sierra is an internationally renowned artist and it’s the first time i had heard of a retrospective of some of his most controversial works. Maybe this accumulation of affronts made me finally realize that his work has far more provocation than real, biting and sincere activism.
Santiago Sierra, Eight people paid to remain inside cardboard boxes, 1999
Santiago Sierra, 68 people paid to block a museums entrance, Korea, 2000
Santiago Sierra, 133 personas remuneradas para ser teñidas de rubio (133 persons paid to have their hair dyed blonde), 2001. Installation view, Venice Biennale
Santiago Sierra, Linea de 160 cm tatuada sobre cuatro personas remuneradas (160 cm line tattooed on four people), 2000. Installation view, El Gallo Arte Contemporáneo, Salamanca, Spain
Lisson is also showing photos and sculptures accompanying the No Global Tour – a film documenting the manufacture and transportation through cities of a monumental “No”. Conceived to be understood in as many contexts as possible; and unchanging in form and immediate meaning, the “No” gradually assumes a complex semantic load during a journey full of eventualities, accidents and unexpected events.
Santiago Sierra, No Global Tour, Bernburf, Germany, 2010
Dedicated to the Workers and Unemployed remains open at the Lisson gallery in London through 3 March, 2012.
And a video for the road: TateShots interviewed Santiago Sierra about one of his works. He had homeless women stand in front of a wall while visitors of the Tate Modern gaped at them. They were paid the price of a hostel night for their performance.