15 May  – 23 Jun 2013


Over the past twenty years, Santiago Sierra has exhibited widely in Europe and the Americas, and has been the subject of numerous solo presentations in museums and galleries, including London’s Tate Modern; Mexico’s Museo Rufino Tamayo; Magasin 3 Konsthall in Stockholm; Hannover’s Kestnergesellschaft; Belgium’s Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens; the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria; the Kunsthalle Wein; Birmingham’s Ikon; and at Kunst Werke in Berlin. His work has garnered him international acclaim, and in 2003 he represented Spain at the 50th Venice Biennale. 

Destroyed Word
This two and a half year project, saw the spectacular destruction of a giant word –KAPITALISM- referencing the potential demise of the global economy. 

Each letter (3.5m high, the same height as the Berlin Wall) was constructed out of a material significant to 10 different locations around the world and then destroyed by fire, guns, chainsaws and even pigs. GAGPROJECTS assisted with three of the ten letters, ‘K’ and 2 x ‘I’s. The materials used in the letter ‘K’ symbolise Australia’s agricultural history. Setting it aflame highlights the significant and sometimes tragic role the element of fire has had on Australian life and history.

A wooden letter ‘I’ was hacked with an axe in the jungle of Papua New Guinea, referencing the deforestation occurring in the country, while a second ‘I‘ was made from human excrement in India and knocked over later to be used as fuel for cooking. Other letters included an aluminum ‘L’ destroyed in Reykjavik to represent the growing aluminum smelting industry in Iceland. Two of the more inventive destructions were to the letter ‘S’, made up of fruit and vegetables, being eaten by a group of pigs in a muddy field in Holland, and in New Zealand, cartons of milk shelved in an ‘A’ being shot to pieces, milk projectile flying everywhere.

Throughout his practice, Sierra has investigated systems of social, political and economic power that assert their dominance through exploitation and marginalisation. He is most famously known for his works of the late 1990s where he paid underprivileged people to undertake mundane or humiliating tasks. Sierra based these works on the logic of business practices that employ the poor for menial labour with little remuneration. In doing so, he re-enacted the logic of such exploitative economies within an art gallery context - a powerful but intentionally problematic artistic gesture that resisted the simplistic morals of activism and implicates the subject, audience and the artist himself.

A self confessed anarchist, Sierra is also an avowed anti-capitalist. He famously contributed the giant “NO” sculpture to the Occupy New York movement last year. He believes the approved avenues of governmental lobbying are futile, and is a passionate advocate of social agitation. “I think that to ask for help from the government, to go to a person wearing a suit and tie, is like going to the Virgin Mary to ask to be cured of cancer” he says.

160cm Line Tattooed on 4 People, from 2000, Sierra recruited heroin-addicted prostitutes from the streets to have their backs tattooed in exchange for one shot of heroin; this saw the artist criticised for exploitation. Sierra’s description of this piece is eerily clinical:

Four prostitutes addicted to heroin were hired for the price of a shot of heroin to give their consent to be tattooed. Normally they charge 2,000-3,000 pesetas, between $15-$17 for fellatio, while the price of a shot of heroin is around 12,000 pesetas, about $67... People need money, people have to work, and I’m looking for strong images to express this,” he says in a Tate Modern interview.

“How are we to interpret this statement in relation to 160 cm? Is it an act of charity that instead of having to give 6 blow jobs for a shot of heroin all these women have to do is get tattooed? Or is it an act that reinforces existing structures of domination and submission? It’s no new revelation that drug-addicted prostitutes devalue their body, but to be reminded of this fact in the context of art makes us feel uneasy. The role of the artist as perpetrator forces us, the privileged viewers of the art, to be complicit in this act of charity and /or violation” are the questions posed by Anelise Chen in the Tate interview.

Veterans of War, is an ongoing project that began with the 11 Rooms, Manchester, 2011, the visitors entering the white cube discover a middle aged man, alone, quiet, standing with his face in the corner. He is a veteran of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. We can sense the breathing body of this soldier but as he turns his back on us, we cannot see his face. The immobility of this scene, like an uncanny tableau vivant, displays an experience of a reflective time that allows us to think about the past and the future of this man. Why he is facing the wall? Why has he agreed to participate in this kind of inquisitorial ceremony? Are we witnesses to an act of punishment? Is he remorseful or penitent about something done in the past? Veterans from several conflicts in different countries have now participated in this project, each time a single life size image is printed in black and white to document the performance; in 2011 two Australian Veterans from the war in Vietnam added themselves to this work at Greenaway Art Gallery. Recently an extension of this project was shown in 13 Rooms, a Kaldor Public Art Project in Sydney 2013, curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist.