Every time I make a piece, and looking back on it, I think how much more intense and overwhelming it is compared to what I’ve made before, and then I start seeing a bunch of art and think I’m haven’t even begun to make the kind of work that needs to be made right now. There is such an urgent need for art that simply eviscerates the vacillating and dissembling language of politics and media that takes words like genocide and makes them palatable by twisting their meaning and weight, leaving us with ethnic cleansing, like it’s an exotic blend of herbs and spices face wash. Art should be a kick in the guts, every time. It should be so powerful and unequivocal in its damnation of inhumanity it causes governments to be overthrown. It should be like this installation, but most of the time it’s just spineless, timid watery shit.
Santiago Sierra is known for his provocative performances, which have included paying refugees from Chechenia to remain inside cardboard boxes, giving money to young Cubans for the priviledge of tattooing their backs, dying the hair of Africans blonde to make them look European, and spraying 10 Iraqis immigrant workers with insulating foam. But the Spanish artist provoked outrage among Jewish groups in Germany yesterday with his latest installation – a homemade gas chamber set up in a former synagogue.
The artist has parked six cars outside the synagogue and attached their exhaust pipes to the building using plastic tubes. It is then filled with deadly gas. Visitors are invited to go inside one by one wearing a gas mask, escorted by a firefighter. Before being allowed in, they have to sign a disclaimer stating they realise the room is full of carbon monoxide.
The project opened to the public on Sunday, creating huge queues, and runs until the end of April.
Sierra says the installation – entitled 245 cubic metres – is a protest against the “banalisation of the Holocaust”.
However, Jewish leaders in Germany are furious. They described the installation in the Pulheim as “an abuse of artistic freedom”.