Friday, 15 March 2024, 24:00 | midnight

#139: Santiago Sierra

Santiago Sierra’s oeuvre stands out from the art history of the past 30 years like a massive black monolith. The Spaniard, who was born in 1966 and also lived in Latin America, knows like no other how to use the established forms and rules of contemporary art to give the violence and injustice of Western modernity a face – a face that is our own. The formal language of minimalism, in its distanced, cool way, is particularly suited to being short-circuited with the abstract economic and institutional apparatuses that bind people into the dehumanized conditions of production, migration, (self-)exploitation, and stigmatization. Those conditions, in other words, that guarantee the privileges of most of the viewers to whom Sierra’s work addresses itself in the art world. Not everyone likes that. Sierra is the living shadow in the repressed bad conscience of power and money, with which people rule over people. His work has been honored institutionally many times, and in 2003 he represented Spain at the Venice Biennale.

Santiago Sierra will show

ADVERTENCIA, Ciudad Juárez, México. Abril 2007, 3:06 min

THE MAELSTRÖM, Serrekunda, The Gambia. May 2023, 34:51 min
Europe is a garden and the rest of the world a jungle. This is the central idea, taken from an excerpt of a speech by Josep Borrell –EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy– which is repeated ad nauseam. If the gardeners do nothing, Borrell says, people will come out of the jungle and not even a wall will stop them. Against a wall or on the ground, a group of young Gambians, belonging to the local Tallinding United soccer team, repeats police arrest positions one after the other, as if it were a yoga exercise manual. We never see their faces. The “threat” of their black, anonymous silhouettes gradually turns into a visual game until it becomes a vortex, The Maelström.

People’s House, Bucarest, Romania. October 2005, 16:00 min

A black corridor, 240 meters of longitude, 120 centimeters wide and 2 meters height was built inside the house currently occupied by the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the area was previously devoted to the personal rooms of dictator N. Ceausescu (1918 / 1989). The corridor crosses through the 3 stories assigned to expositions in the building, but it crosses on the shortest possible way: going from the entrance to the stairs and then to the exit. 396 adult women were convoked to fill that space during two hours in the midnight of the 14th day of the month. Placed on both sides of the corridor, the women were ordered to repeat the phrase “Give me money”, literally and in rumanian language. For that work each women received 20 leis, about 6 euros, also allowing them to keep the earnings obtained through the beggary. The access to the public was one by one, passing through a weapon detector placed on the building’s entrance. The detector, the schedule and the unforseen fact of abundant rain, were very uncomfortable for visitors and workers.

Centrale Fies. Trento, Italy. July 2015,
Karni Mata Temple. Bikaner, India. March 2016, 15:10 min

The first part of the work featured a laevogyrate swastika placed on a black & white tiled surface surrounded by four average-height walls separating off the space but allowing the public to get up close to the lives in captivity of a group of ordinary mice. The swastika acted as a recipient containing soymilk, a trough the rodents went to for food. Moulded in this way, the swastika – this time dextrorotatory – was later moved by the artist to the Karni Mata temple in Deshnoke in Rajastan, devoted to a Hindu woman worshipped as the incarnation of the goddess Durga – ‘the invincible’, ‘the inaccessible’ – where mice are venerated.
Each element of The Trough goes beyond representation to open a dialogue with history in an interweaving of symbols that have acquired different meanings over the various eras and cultures. From the initial symbolism of the swastika that from the Palaeolithic to the modern age stood for good fortune and that in contemporary history saw its symbolic meaning inverted negatively, to the black and white chessboard pavement of the Karni Mata temple rebuilt in Dro, from the mice to the milk and its white colour.

Various mixed shelters and social dinings. Tijuana, México. February 2019. &
Madrid, Spain. November 2022, 11:29 min

A collection of teeth photographed in Tijuana that belong to migrants from Central America, South America, and the Caribbean who arrive in massive caravans of over one thousand people in their effort to traverse the entire continent and reach the United States. These mass crossings take place in order to avoid kidnappings, rape, assault, and murder, which can be encountered when travelling in smaller groups or as individuals. The caravans become stranded at the border between Mexico and the country to the north; waiting for a crossing that is continuously postponed. Migrants face veritable odysseys when confronted by the many armed forces that stand against them in every country they cross and are targeted by media-driven accusations of causing the violence and hunger they are actually fleeing from. Ultimately, they are confined under terrible sanitary conditions in shelters or concentration camps on the outskirts of Tijuana and remain in the custody of heavily armed troops.
The sound is a cumbia rebajada that has been inverted and whose tempo has been lowered even further. The cumbia rebajada—or slowed-down cumbia—is a very popular musical phenomenon that arose in northern Mexico when local DJ’s became very successful by playing Colombian cumbia music at a lower speed than in the original recordings; creating a new, thicker, and more melancholic tone. One can obtain the sound by further manipulating the cumbia rebajada, slowing it down to a greater degree and inverting it.