We went to the Lisson Gallery in London for the “Dedicated to the workers and Unemployed” exhibition, a major retrospective which, featuring over fifty-three videos, but also photographs and sculptural projects, allowed us to delve into a journey through the work by Santiago Sierra, a Spanish artist worldwide known for his inspired and rigorous research into the most burning and vexed social issues of our time. We met him last January 31st during a lunchtime talk, that is “Santiago Sierra In Conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist” – in front of a dense crowd of art experts, journalists, friends of him, and, most of all, many young artists – , and we could ask him three worthy questions by three distinguished art curators who, due to their particular insight into the Latin art world, know well Sierra’s work:
Antonio Arévalo, Teresa Macrì and Raffaele Gavarro.
SANTIAGO SIERRA, Dedicated to the Workers and Unemployed, Installation view, Lisson Gallery, London 2012
Antonio Arévalo: You stage all your frontal critic and the whole debate is the total sum of your quotations; you play on the margins of dignity, you highlight the contradiction raised by the mechanics of power, which charges directly on the bodies or the subjects, who are exposed because part of the show. By cruelly manipulating these subjects, through the power of art, you pay them to perform some forced and absurd labour, and you show their remuneration: a silent agreement between art and social subject. What do you want to highlight? Maybe that art is not possible in the face of the borderline between social and politics, declaring its unfeasibility? And therefore, that it doesn’t exist?!
Santiago Sierra: After reading your introduction, I believed it was an interview to Josef Mengele. Actually, in art as well in the written media, if you use tricks or rhetorical effects in order to manipulate reality for your own ends, only some aspects of the same will be highlighted, while others will remain ignored. Reality is one, but it can be told in several ways. The Black and White, the selection of the images or of the headlines move along these lines: they take the beholder where they want to. On the other hand, I sincerely think that only those people who are completely outside the world of work can be surprised about the abjectness that working entails. The worker gives his/her own body, his/her own time and his/her own intelligence to serve the interests of a third party, his/her boss. Moreover, the only thing which makes sense to the worker is being paid, is that (do you think) less absurd than working as a bricklayer? This, in many of my works, is clear as water. On the other hand, there is no use in waiting for the hoi polloi outside the theatre toexchange words with them, which happens only in outlying hamlets, where people know nothing of (theatrical, EN) representation. I don’t know, I don’t distrust art, it is a good form of expression, at least it is so for me.
Teresa Macrì: Europe and USA are experiencing a serious economic downturn: atthis particular moment of severe economic and cultural crisis and in such eclipse of values, a great social – oftentimes popular and also populist – revolt is starting to rise. In Spain with the Indignados, in Italy with the corporate protests that have taken place in the last few days, in USA with the Occupy Wall Street movement: rallies driven by specific and sensitive issues… What is your opinion, based on your intellectual sensitivity, about the current scenario of global popular uprisings, where art seems to be sitting on its hands, unable to take part in such historic moment?
SS: I believe that taking to the streets to ask a man in a suit and tie to patch something up is the modern version of the processions to ask it to the Virgin Mary: they are both there not to change the situation, they are there to preserve the status quo. I would prefer a global movement that turns its back on it, a self-organization of the people in order not to end up occupying the jobs you are offered, not buying in their shops, not joining their armies, their religions, etc. You know, the Spanish M15 (the Indignados movement,EN), as a result had a high turnout of fascists at the elections, and now the country is in their hands. We know that some groups shamelessly infiltrate these movements. My proposal is the libertarian proposal: the self-organization of the society without rulers.
Raffaele Gavarro: According to you, can art change the world?
SS: Our art cannot do it: it is under the authority’s power and it stirs millions of consciences. The government on people is based on art and is very similar to a livestock farming, it doesn’t castrate the youths in order to kill their desire, but it pours their energies into work, as with a bull. What happens is that literature is exploited to tell them that sex is bad and to instil feelings of shame from the early childhood, and for this reason painters, sculpters and musicians take action. Today, any western new broadcasts is like a Hollywood script. Hollywood: yes, these artists have changed the world, but they did it to fill it with marines.
photo portrait by Giulio Mazzarini for DROME magazine
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