The inaugural exhibition at Lisson’s new gallery at 29 Bell Street was an installation by Santiago Sierra, entitled Space closed by corrugated metal, which denied visitors any access to the space during the private view and the duration of the show.
In 'Part 2' of the 2002 exhibition he showed Group of people facing a wall in which participants were instructed to stand in silence with their heads bowed for one hour a day during the course of the exhibition.
While still working with a marginal individual Sierra’s action Person remunerated to say a phrase (2002) attempts to present a succinct summary of the objectives behind the artist’s practice. In this performance, Sierra pays a homeless person who was found begging in the shopping thoroughfare of Birmingham, to repeat the phrase: "My participation in this project could generate profits of $72,000. I am being paid £5". The figure of $72,000 was arrived at by calculating the potential income should the limited edition of photographs and videos, usually made to document the action, be sold in their entirety. Characteristically this work exemplifies the artist’s struggle to establish connections between socio-political concerns and the aesthetics of action. His use of people as ready-mades in the series of remunerated activities pushes at the limits of sculptural possibility.
The artist’s performances operate as expanded sculptures, structured by the geometry and the logic of minimal and conceptual practice. It is no coincidence that Sierra holds in high esteem the 1970s and 1980s conceptual actions of Isidoro Valcárcel Medina. Born and still living in Madrid, Medina has made works ranging from investigations on the aesthetics of emptiness, such as a 1970s piece which recorded the sounds produced by cars travelling at various speeds, to a one day performance in which he summoned an audience to relate to them from memory, non-stop, his entire life’s learning. Nor is it surprising to discover that Sierra went to study in Hamburg in the early 1990s to follow the teachings of artists such as Stanley Brouwn and FE Walter. The latter’s interest in the aesthetics of behaviour within a minimal sculptural framework was of particularly significance to Sierra, despite its marked idealist stance.
Sierra’s early works in Madrid were sculptures involving industrial processes and materials, exploring the Minimalism of Richard Serra , Walter de Maria, Carl Andre and Robert Morris. Sierra has since favoured working with minimal objects, geometric grids, lines and units in the aesthetic composition of his performances. He has also serialised his actions, in the sense that they function within a standard numerical formula, time/money. As well as employed tautological structures in some of his projects, such as the recent Person paid to say a phrase. He noted, “Minimalism is the best syntax for making work, this is why I use it as a formal basis.” Such is the case of the rectangular expanse of the white trailer truck in Obstruction blocking the vertical flow of the motorway; the monumental human grid formed by the women in Lima; the segments of tattoo forming a continuous line on the backs of Salamanca prostitutes, to cite a few examples.
Katya García-Antón, ‘Buying Time’, Santiago Sierra: Works 2002 – 1990, Ikon Gallery, 2002