50th Venice Biennial – Spanish Pavillion – Italy, 2003

Santiago Sierra

Cutaror: Rosa Martínez

Venice June 15 – November 2 , 2003

Santiago Sierra’s work belongs to a set of critical operations which call into question the belief that art is an autonomous, sublime and unselfish activity. Reviewing his works over the last twelve years, what stands out is the persistence of certain subjects – recurring lines of action which end up pointing to a basic obsession: that of deconstructing minimalism as the hegemonic language, associating it with the dictatorship of production and profit.
In his actions, people become ‘performative ready-mades’ that shape ‘situated stories’, extending the classical idea of site specificity. Connecting the semantic charges personified by his actors to socio-economic and geopolitical conditions is an effective way of linking the personal to the political, the local to the global. Some fundamental lines of his poetics converge in his projects at the Spanish Pavilion in Venice – obstruction, linguistic provocation and the reflection on work as punishment.

Wall enclosing a space points to the technologies of mediation and restricted access posed by borders and by limits, whether visible or invisible, which place people in different geographical, social or ideological territories. The wall polarises the Biennial spectators on either side of a hypothetical stage and formalises physical and political tensions evocative of that strange territory of sealed cities and countries defined by contemporary exclusions. Unlike Beckett’s absurd existentialist ‘wall of nothing’, Sierra builds walls that show how frontiers have not been abolished but reinforced. Inside the Pavilion, by staging the remains of construction work on the wall, disorder and abandonment, he proposes an exercise in denuding reality and refers to other remains and other twilight zones.

Covered word is a simple sculpture made of poor materials. Here, Sierra acts by omission. By covering the word ‘España’, he momentarily truncates its multiple historical and symbolic connotations, thus prefiguring a controversial emergence of sentimental reactions, ideological interpretations and aesthetic assessments.

The action, Hooded woman seated facing the wall took place in the physical location of the Spanish Pavilion interior, with no audience, on 1 May 2003. For an hour, a woman wearing a black hood remained seated, still and in silence. This work, which the artist documented in photographs and on video, dwelt on the idea of labour as a technology of domination and punishment, bearing witness to the violence of disciplinary processes and the objectualising power of money. The iconographic connections with Goya’s works, and with torture by the Inquisition, link up with many other contemporary iconological references.

Rosa Martínez Curator of The Spanish Pavilion / Venice Biennale 2003

Excerpts from the essay Merchandise and Death, in Santiago Sierra catalogue. Spanish Pavilion, Venice Biennial 2003. Publishers: Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores. Dirección General de Relaciones Culturales y Científicas / Turner. 2003.

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