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Santiago Sierra


Edificio iluminado, calle Arcos de Belén nº2 México. August 2003 (2003 (Lighted Building, Arcos de Belén StreetNnumber 2 Mexico. August 2003), 2005 
Photograph | b/w
246 x 150 cm

The photograph Illuminated Building documents an action Santiago Sierra did in 2003: lighting a building in the old quarter of Mexico City with large spotlights and from the outside. The building was empty and in a ruinous state because of the earthquake that had shaken the city in 1985. Since then it has been used as accommodation for beggars and a store for street vendors. By lighting it he points out an outstanding element of social conflict in Mexico City marked by the coexistence of classes with high purchasing power and huge pockets of poverty and growing social strife.

Since his arrival in Mexico in 1996, Sierra has incorporated elements of the social and urban reality of the city into his works, but from ideas that come from minimalism and conceptual art and return to his earlier sculptural practice. And so Illuminated Building is formally related to other earlier works in which he used blocks of cement like Cement Wall Measuring 300 X 300 cm and Facing Upwards (1992) which used the minimal tradition. Also with later public interventions like 50 kg of Plaster in the Street (1994). And lastly with conceptual works like Gordon Matta-Clark’s cut buildings or Hans Haacke’s documentation of buildings submitted to speculation in New York. However, the strictly descriptive title is a constant in his work which originates, precisely, from conceptual strategies in art.

In that sum of recovery of conceptual elements plus the introduction of elements of social conflict, Sierra is following a strategy similar to the one used years before by Félix González-Torres, who took formal elements of minimalism (repetition or accumulation of the same object) which were searching for an absence of meaning and endowed them with personal and sexual significance in relation to the AIDS virus. In that sense, Sierra uses conceptual (the descriptive title, documentation, etc.) and minimal (large regular volumes) strategies, but designed to highlight social problems.

As always in Sierra’s works the documentary photograph of the action, Illuminated Building, is large size and black and white. Thus he follows the standards of quality photography in art. Added to the use of conceptual strategies, what he accomplishes is the introduction of social and conflictive elements (especially in the works in which he uses marginal people paid to take part in the action) in the middle of the territory of art, often alien to or distant from realities that are tolerated socially, economically and politically.

Without taking refuge in a distant or anthropological gaze, he introduces social problems using elements that denote the formal and conceptual elitism of art.

David G. Torres


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