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SantIago SIErra: 245 m3 Köln Synagogue Stommeln UTA M. REINDL To use a synagogue as a site of art in Germany tends to be quite a touchy challenge. To invite an artist like Santiago Sierra to such a site inevitably leads to provocation, as his art mostly grates in the wounds of all people involved in the art communication process. And the German wound is the holocaust. Santiago Sierra`s work in the Synagogue Stommeln in the periphery of Cologne makes you aware right at the entrance gate of its territory of the fact that some sign is covered with plastic foil. It is the welcome sentence “This is a house of prayers – for the people of the world”. This interventional practice reminds of the Spanish Pavilion in Venice, where the Spanish born and Mexico-based artist had covered its national plate to signalize that absence or presence of nationality was to be an essential in his aesthetic intervention and thus initiated reception. And then in front of the Synagogue Stommeln in the back yard of the town centre there arises this confusing situation: You are asked to sign a form which instructs you about the risks of the visit and the fact that you are acting at you own risk. Whoever still is willing to experience this unusual art visit is told by security personnel to put on a respirator and your visit is escorted. You feel the tightness of the respirator, you cannot escape the sound of you own heavy breathing. Under these subcutaneously claustrophobic conditions the visitor then enters the synagogue which is practically empty: the open ends of two large and six smaller plastic pipes dangle down from the windows. In fact, the space is completely filled with carbon monoxide produced by eight cars installed in the neighbourhood and transmitted through the pipes into the synagogue. 245 m3 of carbon monoxide of which only a volume of 0.1 percent causes dizziness, soon a loss of consciousness and finally death. The sound of your own breathing merges with associations of the Nazi gas chambers which may only overwhelm those visitors who are not distracted by the escorting safety personnel, by the security sign briefly flashing red when entering the space or by the small instruments measuring the density of the carbon monoxide. You leave the mortal emptiness alive, you just take with you traces of exhaust smell in your clothes. The tragic losses, the philosophical emptiness with reference to the fatal development within the Jewish history has been the subject in some of the artistic interventions by, say, Eduardo Chillida, Carl Andre, Roman Signer, Lawrence Weiner or Rosemarie Trockel –just to mention some of the 16 high-ranking list of artists having exposed in the Synagogue Stommeln. The very physical reason for this emptiness is Sierra’s theme and he confronts every visitor individually with it in a most direct and even rigid manner. Consistently the artist was neither present at the press conference, nor at the opening which for the first 112 · ARTECONTEXTO · REVIEWS

245 m2, 2006 Intervention detail on Synagoge Stommeln

time in the history of the Pulheim Synagogue took place without any speeches or representatives of the local or regional political and cultural scene. The spectator was not only left alone with the decision, but also with the experience as such. Sierra’s radicalness by which the 40-years-old artist merges sociopolitical criticism –be it historical or contemporary– with extreme individual and collective experience is legendary and has entailed equally extremely controversial discussions. The German curator-critic Christoph Tannert deplores in the monthly art paper Kunstzeitung the “Verschlingensieffung” of international art which refers to the German performer Christoph Schlingensieff and his populist events challenging all boundaries of art production and taste. On the Synagogue press conference one of the journalists criticized the blasphemous implication of Sierra’s intervention in the synagogue, no matter whether this building for quite a time is being used only as an art space: “Once a synagogue, always synagogue!”. On the opening day the Central Council of Jews in Germany publicly labelled Sierra’s intervention as an “insult to the victims” and as a “mediocre action”. But the artist should have the last word –as to be read on a black poster in white letters available at the Synagogue Stommeln. It may explain the complexity of Santiago Sierra`s message going far beyond these narrow historical readings and local references: “(…) 245m3 is meant to be a work about the industrialized and institutionalized Death from which the European peoples of the world have lived and continue to live. All of this in the conviction that this project cannot engender empathy, but only the consciousness and certainty of individual death. It is dedicated to each and every victim of the State and the Capital.”

Profile for ARTEHOY Publicaciones y Gestion SL

ARTECONTEXTO Nº10.  

Dossier: COMIC WORLD / MUNDO CÓMIC 2006

ARTECONTEXTO Nº10.  

Dossier: COMIC WORLD / MUNDO CÓMIC 2006

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