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Unformatted text preview: Arts 228 (May 2003), p. 41.
Since Sierr a moved to Mexico in 1996, t he major it y of his act ions have t aken place in Lat in
Amer ica, and the “realism” of their outcome is usually a savage indictment of globalizat ion—but this is not
always the case. In Elevat ion of Six Benches (2001) at the Kunsthalle in Munich, Sierra paid worker s to hold
up all the leather benches in the museum galler ies for set per iods of t ime. The project was a compromise,
since the Kunsthalle would not let Sierra tear out a wall of their new Herzog & de Meuron galler y for worker s to hold up, but Sierra st ill considered the outcome to be successful “since it reﬂected the realit y of
labor relat ions in Munich. Munich is a clean and prosperous cit y, and consequent ly the only people we
could ﬁnd to perform the t ask at hand were unemployed actor s and bodybuilder s who wanted to show off
their physical prowess” (Sierra, “A Thousand Words,” Artforum [October 2002], p. 131). Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics 71 Santiago Sierra. Left: 250 cm Line Tatooed on Six Paid People.
Espacio Aglutinador, Havana, December 1999. Right: Worker s Who
Cannot Be Paid, Remunerated to Remain Inside Cardboard Boxes.
Kunst-Werke Berlin, September 2000. Courtesy Lisson Galler y and the artist. Interpret ing Sierra’s pract ice in this way runs counter to dominant readings
of his work, which present it as a nihilist ic reﬂect ion on Marx’s t heor y of t he
exchange value of labor. (Marx argued that the worker’s labor t ime is worth less to
t he capit alist t han it s subsequent exchange v alue in t he form of a commodit y
produced by this labor.) The t asks that Sierra requires of his collaborator s— which
are inv ar iably useless, physically demanding, and on occasion leave permanent
scar s— are seen as ampliﬁcat ions of t he st atus quo in order to expose it s ready
abuse of those who will do even the most humiliat ing or point less job in return for
money. Because Sierra receives payment for his act ions—as an art ist—and is the
ﬁr st to admit t he cont r adict ions of his situat ion, his det r actor s argue t hat he is
st at ing the pessimist ic obvious: capit alism exploit s. Moreover, this is a system from
which nobody is exempt . Sierra pays other s to do work for which he get s paid, and
in turn he is exploited by galler ies, dealer s, and collector s. Sierra himself does litt le
to contradict this view when he opines,
I can’t change anything. There is no possibilit y that we can change anything with our art ist ic work. We do our work because we are making
art , and because we believe art should be somet hing, somet hing t hat
follows realit y. But I don’t believe in the possibilit y of change.55
Sierra’s apparent complicit y with the st atus quo does raise the quest ion of how his
work differ s from that of Tiravanija. It is worth bear ing in mind that , since the
1970s, older av ant- garde rhetor ics of opposit ion and t ransformat ion have been
frequent ly replaced by strategies of complicit y; what matter s is not the complicit y,
but how we receive it . If Tirav anija’s work is exper ienced in a major key, t hen
Sierra’s is most deﬁnitely minor. What follows is an attempt to read t he latter...
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