Santiago Sierra (b. 1966, Madrid) is well known for his cruel and nihilistic pranks. To save myself the effort of writing very much about Sierra (whose work is tedious but simultaneously serves to illustrate the complete decomposition of the institution of art), I’ve taken the following from a Wikipedia page about him: “Some of Sierra’s most famous works have involved paying a man to live behind a brick wall for 15 days, paying Iraqi immigrants to wear protective clothing and be coated in hardening polyetherane foam as “free form” sculptures, blocking the entrance of Lisson Gallery with a metal wall on opening night, sealing the entrance of the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Biennial, only to allow Spanish citizens in to see an exhibition of left over pieces of the previous year’s exhibition… In 2006, he provoked controversy with his installation “245 cubic metres”, a gas chamber created inside a former synagogue in Pulheim Germany.”
Sierra’s cynicism and inhumanity are well illustrated by the examples above. He titillates the rich by locking them out of galleries, whereas when it comes to the wretched of the earth, Sierra delights in degrading them by providing a meagre wage in exchange for the performance of boring and humiliating tasks. Sierra’s treatment of those he hires demonstrates not just his repugnant inhumanity – his success as an artist is also based on some extremely cynical calculations about exactly what types of degradation inflicted upon the poor will most appeal to rich collectors.
As an adjunct to the Frieze Art Fair in London, Sierra’s new film No was screened last night to an invited audience at The Prince Charles Cinema just of Leicester Square. The promotion for the movie ran like this: “NO, Global Tour, 2011 A film by Santiago Sierra, Directed by Santiago Sierra, Filmed by Diego Santome, black and white film, 120 minutes. Santiago Sierra(‘s)… recent work, NO, GLOBAL TOUR, consists of the manufacture and transportation of two monumental sculptures in the form of the word “NO”, travelling through different territories on a flatbed truck. The NO, GLOBAL TOUR has resulted in a feature film that documents the passage of this large NO through various world cities… The film, full of all manner of references, does not aim for surprise but thought. Using the strict black and white that characterises his work, and with a soundtrack limited to a careful treatment of incidental sound, the film revitalises the road movie genre through a productive encounter with other languages and disciplines.”
The information that came with my invitation to the free screening was, of course, hype (as is the claim – sometimes made about Sierra – that his work is in some way ‘anti-capitalist’). Free beer and popcorn were a further enticement to attend. Rather than provoking ‘thought’, NO looked like someone had randomly strung together a bunch out-takes from one of Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit’s TV movies – and with results that were far less enticing than those achieved by this pair of London psychogeographers. I went to the screening with the intention of watching the reaction of the audience, who looked bored shitless after ten minutes. Most had walked out before the end of the movie. I presume this is what Sierra wanted and that he’s more than happy with this result. For the rest of us NO is simply a bit of a yawn. The lettrists achieved far more with their deliberately boring films of the early-1950s, and if you want to be alienated in style then stick with the output of the French avant-garde of sixty-odd years ago. Sierra is strictly for the idle rich, and hopefully they won’t be with us for much longer.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!