Because sierra receives payment for his act ionsas an

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Unformatted text preview: Arts 228 (May 2003), p. 41. 54. 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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