Since the 1990’s, Spanish artist Santiago Sierra has been a prominent and controversial figure in the contemporary art scene, with a diverse body of work that tends to highlight exploitative power structures that surround us everyday yet remain largely invisible. The work he is perhaps best known for are his performances, usually done in gallery or museum spaces, in which he pays laborers very small amounts of money to do uncomfortable or degrading tasks. In Sierra’s video work that was recently included in the #04 Immaterial exhibition curated by Marina Abramovic on Paddle8.com, he paid several workers to allow themselves to be covered in polyurethane and recorded during the process; subsequently turning the performance into the video work aptly titled POLYURETHANE SPRAYED ON THE BACKS OF 10 WORKERS, 2004. Sierra has done a multitude of similar performances around the world, but these participant-rooted performances that create these exploitative relationships between the artist, viewer and subject are but one branch of his body of work.
In a current installation of a large sculptural piece by Sierra housed in the private Boros Collection in Berlin, the artist uses a medium of his that is perhaps less known, but also very visually striking. The Boros is a very unique art-viewing environment, in that it is housed in a former Nazi bunker that was built in 1941, which was then bought and subsequently re-designed throughout by media mogul Christian Boros in the early 2000’s. As Boros began filling the bunker with the first group of artists, he encouraged each artist to create or re-design a work to interact with the unique architecture of the bunker. Sierra decided to create an intervention in a room on the third floor by cutting four large square holes through the more than 1 meter thick interior walls, and then ran four large tar-coated rectangular forms through each hole; leaving the cement cut-outs on the floor. The sculpture/installation is descriptively titled Construction and installation of tar-coated forms with the dimensions 75 x 75 x 80 cm arranged in two spaces (2002/2008), and speaks to Sierra’s general themes of labor – often “excessive” or “unnecessary” – as well as his desire to occupy a space in such a way that forces the viewer to re-negotiate their relationship with their surroundings.
More of Sierra’s work will be on view from February 1 until March 3, 2012 at Lisson Gallery in London, for a major retrospective titled Dedicated to the Workers and Unemployed, which includes more than fifty video works that document his performance-based work, sculpture and programmed films. Sierra currently also has a retrospective at the Reykjavík Art Museum in Iceland until the tenth of April.
See the Dossier for Sierra’s work that was included in the recent Paddle8 exhibition curated by Marina Abromovic.