Santiago Sierra's synagogue gas chamber

From paying unemployed men to let him tattoo a line across their backs to paying people to publicly masturbate, Spanish artist Santiago Sierra rarely fails to outrage. But some say his latest work--inviting Germans to don gasmasks and walk through a former synogogue pumped full of car exhaust--has crossed a line: it was shut down by officials of the town of Pullheim-Stommeln after Jewish leaders protested.

The project used six parked cars to push toxic exhaust into the space. Visitors, accompanied by a fireman and wearing a gasmask, were allowed in for only five minutes at a time. While Sierra says the work's intent is the opposite of what he's charged with, "trivializing the holocaust," Stephan Kramer of the Central Council of Jews disagrees:
"Anyone who thinks it's art to simulate a 'gas chamber' via highly toxic car exhaust fumes, and in a former synagogue at that, in an attempt to convey supposed authenticity, is hurting not just the dignity of the victims but also that of the Jewish community. This has absolutely nothing to do with a culture of remembrance."
I haven't experienced this work in person, so I'm not sure how I feel about it. I see the resurgence of Nazism in Germany, and a spooky version embraced by pop culture, hip hop, and fashion at that, which makes me wonder if Dachau's "Never Again" is forever a thing of the past. On the other hand, is this really a work of cleansing? If it is, it's cleansing through spectacle.

New Art, where I found this story, tries to put a finger on this uneasiness. Is this Holocaust Porn?
If Sierra was actually after the creepy feeling that all this was real, if he wanted to "remember", he could have simply made a trip to Auschwitz. It is a horrible, horrible place. I'm still not sure if I think it is a good thing for it to exist. Its struggle for memory gets scarily close to a fascination with death, the same one that makes us look at an accident or listen to a horrible story. Yes, it makes us remember. But I'm not sure if the cost is not, well, some sort of a pornography, if you may, an indecent exposure of something that really should have been put to rest. Nonetheless, it exists - it's there to see for anyone unsure if his memory is correct, unsure if he has enough disgust for what people can do to other people. I don't think we need Santiago Sierra to remind us of that.


placeboKatz said...

My impression is that the current discussion about Sierra´s gas chamber is exaggerated. The work is plain dumb and IMHO does simply not work.
Instead, and since you mention Auschwitz, I like to point to the short by Jes Benstock, The Holocaust Tourist, that brings up some intelligent question about how to deal with memory.
The Holocaust Tourist can be seen here


Lee Mayr said...

I always thought Sierra was an asshole - especially after Boris Grois gave a eulogy to Sierra' project of ripping off illegal aliens who worked for him in Madrid (moving stones across the street and back). The synagogue project IS stupid, but since anything goes these days, I am pretty sure there will be another boris grois who will eulogize this project; it seems to me that Sierra has a serious cocaine issue.