Saturday, January 05, 2008

Santiago Sierra is a controversial figure, his critiques of money systems and labour are often accused of exploiting the same individuals whose lives he aims to highlight. Sierra’s art exposes in its most raw form the continuing issues of prejudice and exploitation of those due to their class, race and sex. In previous works he has paid people to sit hidden inside boxes during the course of an exhibition, one of his most arresting and alarming works involved paying prostitutes the price of a fix of heroin for consenting to being tattooed along their backs. The initial shock at the exploitation of these young women should be no more shocking than the exploitation that they suffer in their everyday working lives however for some Sierra’s actions take this one step further, we weigh our judgements based on our concept of price paid and degradation suffered.

In the Lisson Gallery’s exhibition space at 29 Bell Street Sierra exhibits 6 previous projects of differing scale including a series of photographs investigating the wealth of a variety of inhabitants of Caracas, Venezuela and a 72 hour recording detailing the names, place and date of death or disappearance of 1549 known men and women who have succumbed to political violence in Mexico between 2 October 1968 and 2 December 2007.

In Sierra’s exhibition at the Lisson’s main gallery at 52-54 Bell Street he has produced a series of modules constructed using human faeces and a plastic binding agent. The faeces are formed into the units by being allowed to dry in wooden cases, three years later the cases have been opened and they now reside in the gallery, a biologically inert cast material, opened to view as if just delivered. It is not the form we reflect on but the manner in which this material has been collected, Sulabh International in India sponsored the project to highlight the plight of the workers who remove the faeces from public and private latrines everyday. It is estimated that one million people in India are employed for this task and the working conditions and health implications of such work are obvious. The Indian government has prohibited the use of non-flush toilets and the employment of scavengers but this work still continues.

The moral difficulties we face as viewers or participators in Sierra’s works are ones that we could consider every time we embark on a transaction purchasing services, labour or products, the further from home those services or products are enacted or produced from the more detached are our moral considerations, it is within that moral quandry that the dark beauty, aching pain and political necessity of Sierra’s art lies, for those of us most detached from the true value and cost of life the more difficult the moral issues.


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