Santiago Sierra / The brutalism of reality

The role of Art and the Artist in a modern society. Spanish multidisciplinary artist Santiago Sierra in conversation with Maria Abramenko about his artworks and beliefs.

What is the main concept behind Santiago Sierra’s work?

The practice of an art that is contemporary. This implies supporting my work in relation to contemporary artistic practices in the acceptance of their linguistic contributions as well as setting foot in the real world in which they are developed. That world is far from being the best of all possible worlds. On the contrary, it could be defined as a nightmare both socially and environmentally. To capture the brutalism of reality in a contemporary language leads me to employ an aesthetic of shock and to treat harshly an audience to whom I ask more than expectation. I do not aspire to universal acceptance of my work and I am aware that in each show I win over a lot of detractors, including some friends. The art that I practice is one of confrontation with reality and the individuals that socially compose it. I speak of the freedom invoked by its absence and of a world from which, as Hank Williams would say, we will never escape alive.

What would be more important to you, the process of making or the result and why?

Art, as I have already said on some occasions, is produced in the head of the spectator. The steps taken to create a work of art are usually to solve the problems of birth that it generates until it exists in the mind of the audience. Art as I understand it is deeply manipulative and even demagogic because it does not have a space for slow rationalisation as we have in literature or science. Art enters with a sudden glance and there is the capture of attention as well as the transmission of its semantic contents. It then acts as a quick poison and as a slow balm. A book written and kept in a drawer does not exist, it only does so when it operates in the reader’s mind.

In your performances and installations you use to create a strong contrast with their audience. Why?

The audience comes to see a work of art in their free time. The audience is not working at that moment, at most they are acquiring new enriching experiences or not. This distinguishes the audience from the mass of workers that populate our environment, and also from art centers like an army of cleaners, ticket sellers, hall monitors, assemblers or other employees. The contrast would then be taken from the environment and simply not forgotten on the way to the hall where the work of art is finally exhibited. Seeing reality as a harmonic entity produces art in pastel tones, like an intellectual candy, like glucose. I understand reality as a problem and therefore the work of art also ends up being one.

In your opinion, how much of an influence does art have on the society?

Only a small part of society has access to art or even knows that it exists. But the entire population is subjected to the hammering of capitalist propaganda. So the influence is less than miniscule. The indoctrination apparatuses of the State and Capital are universal and all-powerful. We artists barely whisper amidst the deafening shouting of power.

What are you working on these days?

We recorded the queues of hungry people, a phenomenon that had not occurred in Spain since the end of the civil war that devastated the country in the 1930s.

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