Studio HAOS

Through the Lens: From Photography to Design with Studio HAOS

Sophie Gelinet and Cédric Gepner didn’t have formal training in furniture design, but they shared a passion that led them to create their first lamp. That lamp became the foundation for a collection, and in 2017, Studio HAOS was born.

They believe in keeping things simple, using materials like oak plywood and sheet metal to create thoughtful furniture and lighting. They focus on clarity and proportions, avoiding unnecessary complexity. Now based in Lisbon, their work is recognised worldwide, and they’re represented by galleries in major cities like Paris, New York, and London.

Sophie and Cédric, thanks for being here with me. Could you narrate the journey of Studio HAOS, from its inception with the creation of your first lamp to evolving into a fully-fledged design studio?

We had the desire to work on something together, on the side of our regular jobs. We had a shared interest in photography, and that led us to a few personal projects in France and in the north of India. At some point I wanted to try something new and started working on the prototype of a first lamp, and Cedric soon joined me. It was just something we were doing for fun on the side of our regular jobs. From what was initially a single lamp we made a small series, we then reached out to the press, got some publications, started getting some orders, etc. It started like that, quite randomly. We created the studio in 2017, and a couple of years later reached the point where we could both work full time on HAOS. 

How did your previous exploration in photography inform or shape your approach to design?

Looking back at it I think it helped in three ways. The first one was learning how to collaborate on a creative endeavour, which is not simple especially when you are also partners in life. The second was that it helped us develop our understanding of what makes a good picture: just as much as in photography, design is about arranging shapes, finding harmony, playing with light, shadows, shades, textures… The third and maybe most important is that it’s usually fruitful to be exposed to as many fields as possible. It’s often at the intersection of seemingly unrelated interests that cross pollination or creativity happen. Trying to understand and replicate the appeal of pictures by Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld or Alec Soth, to name a few, that must have permeated into our practice of design in many positive ways that we don’t necessarily understand.

Your design ethos revolves around elevating humble materials such as plywood and sheet metal. What attracts you to these materials, and how do you integrate them into your designs?

One key feature of photography is that the most vernacular subject matter can be transformed into singular, poetic images. And this kind of transmutation can be achieved with the most basic equipment. All that is required is an understanding of colour, form, and composition. We believe design should work in the same way. Very intricate and time-consuming savoir-faire applied to opulent materials, that’s where craftsmen can shine. In our view the focus of designers should be on shape and form. The more accessible the materials and techniques, the better, as it is the thinking process that then takes center stage. If a piece is thought-out, it doesn’t need to be loud to catch attention. On the contrary, we believe there is a particular form of elegance that lies in the ability to express or evoke emotions with restraint and with purposely limited means. It’s not exactly a new idea, it has been exemplified by many designers and artists for more than a century, just think of Gerrit Rietveld and his crate chair, Achille Castiglioni’s floor lamp based on a car headlight, or the works of minimalists such as Donald Judd or Charlotte Posenenske. But this conversation is not over and it’s especially relevant today.

What does the concept of “slow design” signify for you, and how does it manifest in your creative process and final products?

Actually our practice tends to go in the opposite direction. We are now trying to experiment faster, because the more experiments we undertake (with new processes, new materials, etc.) the more chances we have to stumble upon something worthwhile.

How has the environment and atmosphere of Lisbon influenced your creative process and the direction of your designs?

Lisbon happened by accident. The initial plan was to relocate to Tangier in Morocco, but as the pandemy picked up again late 2021, we decided to make a stopover in Lisbon until things settled. It’s a city that’s hard not to like, and the stopover turned into a long-term installation. Being here enabled us to open a large-scale workshop, where design, prototyping and production can happen side-by-side. We can go from an idea to a finished piece in a matter of weeks instead of having to wait months for a first prototype. And we now have a lot more freedom to play with materials, processes and finishes. 

Studio HAOS is known for embracing simplicity while eschewing unnecessary complexity in design. How do you navigate the delicate balance between minimalism and functionality in your creations?

It can be tempting to free oneself from the “functionality” constraint, and make pieces that have more value as a work of art than as a functional object, and some do it very well. As for our way of practicing design, we feel it’s important to keep it because ultimately constraints are essential to the process of creation. Paradoxically the more constraints you have and the more creative you have to be, and besides functionality, we don’t have that many of them. We indeed have to balance this with quite a minimalistic approach, but they are not necessarily opposites. Minimalism for us is not about stripping everything out, it’s about achieving the desired effect with restraint, trying to be subtle rather than loud, leaning away from frivolous complication. In that sense ornament can be necessary, and functionality is not a cross to carry.

Reflecting on your journey so far, what advice would you offer to yourselves when you were first embarking on this path?

We were quite self conscious when we started, not having a product design background, and we would spend way too much time on each object. It usually doesn’t make them better, quite the opposite in fact. Looking back I would tell myself to be more confident, build more pieces, because with each new piece we make mistakes, learn, and get better at what we do. In other words, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”.

As Studio HAOS continues to evolve, what are your aspirations and goals for the future of the studio?

I hope we’ll always have the curiosity to experiment with new ways of doing things, and that we will keep doing so surrounded by a team of talented and fun people. And above all, I hope that we always get to keep the immense privilege of being allowed to spend our days making beautiful things, and be paid for it. 

In order of appearance

  1. ANTIMATIÈRE Exhibition, 2024, Paris. Photography by Depasquale and Maffini. Courtesy of CONTRIBUTIONS Design
  2. Aluminium Side Table. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  3. Aluminium Dining Table. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  4. Grid Chair. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  5. Leather Chair. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  6. Aluminium Lounge Chair. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  7. Aluminium Arm Chair. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  8. Aluminium Bench. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  9. Steel Lamp 3. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.
  10. Steel Lamp 1. Photography by Inês Silva Sá. Courtesy of Studio HAOS.

Nicolas Schuybroek

Minimalism with soul: a dialogue with architect Nicolas Schuybroek

In 2011, Nicolas Schuybroek started his own practice in Brussels, Belgium. His goal was simple: to design spaces and objects with great care, skill, and a warm feeling. Nicolas focuses on timeless minimalism and simplicity, using natural materials to bring his designs to life. His work is elegant and understated, appealing to those who appreciate subtle beauty.

Today, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Nicolas Schuybroek, the architect and designer behind the eponymous studio based in Brussels. Nicolas, thank you for joining us. What inspired you to start your own practice in Brussels in 2011?

The purpose was well defined: create and produce architecture, interiors and objects characterised by an acute sense of detail, craftsmanship and intuition, while retaining a feeling of warmth. The search for timeless minimalism and apparent simplicity have always been central in our work, as well as the love of unassuming, tactile, and raw materials. There’s no straining for effect, just a muted elegance. The essence is to conceive serene and pure, yet warm, comfortable, and authentic spaces. 

What is your perspective on the relationship between the socio-cultural system and design/architectural initiatives in Brussels? Could you share also a particular location in Brussels that holds a special significance for you?

Overall, Belgian architecture over the past few years has been enjoying a creative renaissance, thanks to a generation of talents who excel at blending earthy palettes, natural materials, and curated interiors. This philosophy has helped establish a contemporary Belgian architectural identity, which is more and more celebrated abroad.

Brussels is a city you need to discover, preferably with locals, due to the many gems hidden in a complex urban grid. Personally, I do enjoy most of the contemporary art galleries and love an early morning stroll through the royal galleries of St-Hubert in the city centre.

Your multicultural background and extensive travel seem to play a significant role in shaping your design perspective. How do these experiences inform your work?

International projects and the relationships which comes with it, deeply nourishes our work: it broadens our perspective in terms of cultural differences, languages, religion, local habits, craftsmanship etc. to name a few. Belgian remains a fairly mall country, and we feel lucky and humbled to be able to work on so many projects around the globe.

Could you discuss the inspiration and creative journey behind the Aesop Salone del Mobile project in Milan for this year?

The scenography is inspired by the Minimal Art movement from the 1960’s and 1970’s, including artists like Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Richard Nonas, whose works are reduced to the essential minimum. This movement has served as an inspiration for many years now and and shaped the base for this scenographic project for Aesop, known for its uniform and minimal packaging’s, accentuating the content of the bottles, rather than the bottles itself. The inspiration of Superstudio’s 1970s iconic grid structures is a hint to timeless Italian design. To emphasise the minimal character of the installation, we conceptualised a grid shaped screen wrapping the perimeter of the shop, only interrupted when needed for circulation.

Entirely built up with Aesop soap bars – used within a vertical brick pattern– the screen creates a soft, matte, and reflective installation. A strong serenity exhales from the design by limiting the walls to monochromatic materials and textures. The restricted use of using something simple as a soap bar – “a daily functional household item” – resonates yet to another art movement, the Arte Povera, which fits perfectly in this context. Within the screen, small rectangular cavities are shaped by removing soap bars, to generate viewing portals to small, intimate hidden boxes showcasing Aesop’s products at the centre of the installation sits a large silicon block, wrapped in a matte silicon envelope. The central island stands out without taking away attention of the soap wall and will be the centre stage to skincare performances and massages where spectators can gather around.

The structure takes its form from the regimented rows of Aesop products, following the formulation-first logic central to the brand’s philosophy. Within the assembly, small rectangular cavities are created by removing soap bars, generating portals through which to enter—via film—the sensorial world of Aesop’s products. This way of working is a good match between Aesop and my office. In our office we always kick-off with concept, context, and research before digging into designing. In that way we develop a clear formulation before creating. I think this is important to avoid losing yourself in later stages of design. Of course, this formulation can change during the process, which is another important stage. But for us formulation works as a compass during a project. 

What does “muted elegance” mean to you in the context of your work?

The essence of our work is to conceive serene and pure, yet warm and authentic spaces. Muted elegance is in my perspective the true definition of luxury today.

Few years ago premiered a Signature Kitchen for Obumex at Salone del Mobile. Can you tell us more about this project and your collaboration with Obumex?

In this first collaboration with Obumex, we designed a unique Kitchen which exhales a sense of profound serenity and yet, feels warm and authentic due the singular material used throughout the concept. It is also the first contemporary kitchen design finished with tin.

As a starting point for this design, we rethought the block-like typology of a kitchen island and transformed it into a dynamic shape, resulting in carefully proportioned shifts between the sculptural blocks. The design has been conceived as derivative of our studio’s architectural typologies and grants different views and perspectives around all four elevations, reinforcing the concept of a kitchen island as a functional sculpture.

The tin cladding, wrapping the entire volume, offers a high level of tactility paired with softness, which contrasts beautifully with the minimal geometry of the island. As tin gains a unique patina, the aesthetics of the kitchen will beautifully evolve over the course of time, resulting in every kitchen to be unique.

MM House in Mexico City, completed between 2014 and 2017, caught my eye with its intriguing design. Could you delve into the details of this project and share what inspired its creation?

While the main brutalist concrete structure was kept, we transformed it by adding new layers to the house: we came up with the idea of an interior patio with a small reflecting pool and a minimal spout to add a sense of calm to the space.

The sound of the water feature echoes throughout the house, linking the floors and rooms together, as is customary in many Mediterranean countries. We tried to create a very cozy and warm scale in a house for one and relied on the lessons of the potential found in augmenting a sense of balance through proportions. The placement of artworks, such as Terence Gower’s black-and-red steel sculpture The Couple that appears to float on a reflecting pool, provided a sense of drama that conceptually and materially resonated with other elements of the house, such the exposed raw steel staircase that created a similar juxtaposition of weight with a perceived sense of weightlessness. 

Through a great transnational collaborative process, we were able to transform the house from a closed-off heavy bunker into a home where air and inspiration could freely circulate. One way we achieved this was by leaving the ground floor partly open. Alberto had the brilliant idea to extend the concrete slab that was on top of the old entrance to create a garage and a suspended garden on the second floor, allowing us to close off the house from the street and create a small, secret, and secluded landscape within. The effect was similar to what we love in Belgium, where the exterior of a building can bely, the magic found within it. Alberto also added thoughtful landscaping to ground our project to the land of Mexico with a design scheme based entirely on native plants. A restrained material palette spanning the entire house, from polished concrete floors to cement finishes on walls and ceilings, Arabescatto marble for the kitchen and bathrooms, and locally sourced Parota wood for the millwork creates a sense of timelessness to frame a contemporary art collection that celebrates ruptures with tradition.

What are some upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re particularly excited about?

We are handing over three exciting projects right now, a private house/museum for an art collecting couple outside of Antwerp, a concrete “tropical” bunker on the west shore of Bali, Indonesia as well as an extensive townhouse renovation in NY (Larry Gagosian’s former house).

Finally, what advice would you give to emerging architects and designers?

Your education in architecture has hardly begun: work, stay curious, humble and most importantly by persistent and tenacious in all your endeavours.

In order of appearance

  1. NM House, Mexico City, Mexico, 2014-2017. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Nicolas Schuybroek Architects.
  2. Aesop, Lyon France, 2023. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Romain Laprade. Courtesy of Aesop.
  3. Aesop Salone del Mobile, Milan, 2024. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Romain Laprade. Courtesy of Aesop.
  4. Obumex Signature Kitchen, Milan, 2022. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Eric Petschek.
  5. NM House, Mexico City, Mexico, 2014-2017. Nicolas Schuybroek Architects. Photography by Nicolas Schuybroek Architects.
  6. NWJ House, Antwerp, Belgium, 2015-2018. Photography by Nicolas Schuybroek Architects.

    All images courtesy of Nicolas Schuybroek otherwise stated.

Snow Strippers

Like for Andy on The Merv Griffin Show in 1965, silence is sexy for Snow Strippers. NR explores the US band’s universe, one made of sound, images, and few words.

You just got back from your very first European tour, and have ahead of you the NA one.. Are you currently recharging the batteries or went straight back into work mode?

We’re always working cause we love what we do.

During the last couple of months you had an incredibly upward trajectory: Media coverage, web exposure, some pretty big collaborations, and the tours and dates are bringing your music to a wider-than-usual audience. How are you handling it?

Doesn’t feel that much different honestly we are grateful though.

You always describe your ethos as free styling. Now you are quickly moving away from the underbrushes and more towards the spotlight: are you planning on keeping things “DIY” or are you thinking of scaling? I’ve read that you were thinking of releasing clothes, which you started doing by now, curating other artists’ images and artistic direction, and dropping films via your Label, Nice Bass Bro.

Everything we do will always be our own vision and yes we said we were going to and we did.

You seem to have a very dedicated fanbase! I did a reddit check: it was impressive, and very informative –Loads of very interesting threads deep-diving on the Snow Stripper lore. It is almost as if your fanbase aliments your myth, how’s your relationship with them? Do you think of it in terms of image-construction?

We love talking to our listeners cause we like our music too and they changed our life and we are forever grateful.

Speaking of reddit: I quote “It’s just banger after banger after banger… never knew anything like it ..Is it just me that feels that this band has more hits than any other artist ?” Which is very true, your sound is very consistent and your production very cohesive, even though you’ve been around from relatively little..You drop a lot of music, but it always stays fresh and coherent. What are your plans moving forward? Keeping the recipe as it is or thinking of experimenting in new sonic territories?

I think we’ll always experiment or try fresh shit that just kinda comes naturally why wouldn’t we wanna try and make some new shit.

Since we mentioned hits: what defines a hit, today, for you, in the midst of infinitely available content?
A song a lotta people can fuck with or even a few people fuck with it a lot idk.

I am curious to hear your take on sped up Tik Tok songs, remixes and mash-ups. There’s a parallel between the controlled-chaotic nature of your sound and how the platform allows users to sample and repack aesthetics and sounds. It is by now, becoming almost industry-defining, with some mainstream powerhouses adapting to it. Thoughts?
I love the sped up and slowed down tik tok songs

You have experimented with different stylistic coordinates and made them yours, to the point where one cannot subtract your aesthetic stances from your sound..what comes first? Music or Visuals?
We like both !


Fave style icons?
Tati

Credits

Photography · Marc Souvenir
Creative Direction · Aina Marcó, Marc Souvenir
Art Direction · Marc Souvenir, Rita de Rivera
Hair and Makeup · Venus Hermitant
Special thanks to Good Machine PR

Silt

‘Silt’ a 35 minute documentary film produced by Iida Jonsson, Ssi Saarinen and Ona Julija Lukas Steponaityte, is an exploration into the post-soviet landscape following the formation of rapidly occurring lakes in Lithuania, one of which, rests on Lukas’ family land in Likanciai. The newfound body of water is a by-product of a failed multi-decade soviet drainage project, aimed at making wetlands more suitable for agriculture. Following the collapse of the regime, the Lithuanian municipality gained responsibility of such drainage systems, but high maintenance costs resulted in the prioritisation of farmland and infrastructure. As time passed, the drainage systems started to clog and what was once a drainage pipe, became a vessel for a lake to emerge on the family’s backyard.

The documentary demonstrates the group’s interests in the rendering of landscapes and is a response to the embedded narratives within it that influence our understanding of ecological emergencies, and the relationship between the landscape and systems of maintenance. The visuals are accompanied by a sculptural sonic landscape produced by composer Alexander Iezzi, referencing the historical interrelationship between landscape and sound. The dissonant harmonies, polyrhythms and metallic growls, coupled with foley and field recordings are almost reminiscent of musique concrete styles of music, providing the perfect soundtrack to the unnamed, unmapped lake.

Following their most recent exhibition ‘November’ at Inter Public and the screening of ‘Silt’ at the Danish Film Institute in Copenhagen, I had the pleasure to talk to them about how their collaborations and inspirations inform their approach to the creative process and their relationship to the entangled landscape.

I noticed you all completed your MFA degrees at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam, is this where you first met as collaborators? How did this shared experience help you grow in your individual creative practice’s and come together with a shared artistic vision?

SSI: Iida and I were already collaborating, so we are used to sharing a project and practice. But yes, all three of us were studying the Master of Fine Art programmes at the Sandberg Instituut and this was the starting point for our collaborations. We had shared interests, and we just admired each other’s work. We were all interested in this idea of an accumulation of knowledges and bringing in our own experiences to our collaborative practice and approach. We were already working with similar topics, so for us, working together, was a way of making the work more rich, opening up shared discussions and accumulating these pools of knowledges.

LUKAS: We know each other’s aesthetics well and we know what we are interested in. There is definitely a process of building a shared library of references and a vocabulary of shared aesthetics that has a big impact on the work. We also have similar tastes and sensibilities, so we have a lot in common which creates a good basis to develop a shared language together.

S: We are also coming from similar professional backgrounds, but we still have different perspectives and skills we can bring into the work. For example, Lukas was working as a professional colourist, and Iida and I used to run a production studio, and I have also worked as an editor and cinematographer before. So when we talk about collaboration, we are bringing in our different skills and knowledges to our practice.

I’ve noticed that you don’t work under a collective name, but instead, you use your own individual names to credit the work. Why do you feel this is important to you and how does this impact your collaborative processes?

I: I think there is a certain openness and honesty to it which is interesting. Maybe there is a fourth or fifth name added to the collaboration in the future? So I think it allows us to expand and change shape to become different things.

S: I think to a certain degree, there is still a sense of separation within the work as I can recognise myself in the work and see the parts that have been touched by Lukas or Iida. Additionally, there is an entanglement in this; where our individual expressions are also informing each other, and we are benefiting from one another. So, there’s this intersection of aesthetics and ideas which becomes how the group work is ultimately presented.

I: We are also not crediting our individual roles within the work. It is still a shared process where we are all involved in the conversations and the various tasks that need to be executed. As Ssi mentioned before, it is really useful to bring together our individual, extensive research and knowledge that has been accumulated over several years.

You have worked together before to create the works ‘Terranium / Greywater’ and ‘June’. What do you enjoy about working together and what is important to you when collaborating? How has this facilitated the creative process for your recent exhibition ‘November’ and the production of ‘Silt’?

I: Being a fan of the people you work with is really important. You can really encourage and support people to invest in their work and their ideas by being a true fan of your collaborators.

L: A big part of our work as a collective, naturally comes down to talking. We need to find common ground on an idea or a vision which happens through communication. We spend a lot of time talking, understanding and approaching the shared vision in various ways. This also always comes with challenges, because communication is often one of the most challenging things when it comes to people.

It is also interesting, when working in a collective to see how your own individual expectations towards your production, expands. For me, collaboration allows me to do things that I would not necessarily be able to do alone. So maybe it is also about feeling more brave when you are working with people.

I: Yes I agree, because ‘Terrarium’ was a film using found footage and ‘Greywater’ was an installation, so ‘Silt’ finally gave us the opportunity to create something from start to finish, using all of our interests and skills in a complete way, giving us the opportunity to do everything we had talked about.

I’ve noticed your works are often inspired by the environment, exploring sites of environmental or urban decay. What is it about ‘landscapes in depression’ that inspires you artistically and what draws you to these kinds of landscapes?

S: I think this idea of the landscape and landscape depiction is very essential to our collective practice. Our research expands way back into landscape depiction in the 16th century, looking at the political intentions in mappings and topographies. We are especially interested in the use of landscape depiction to exercise power, focusing on how embedded ideas of nature dictates the way we should experience and interact with the landscape, creating this very essentialist view of an unchanged or static image of the environment. So I think we are working with complexifying this image and contributing to the discourse around it.

L: We aren’t looking for places where urban meets nature. For us the relationship is so entangled, there is no point in finding where one starts and the other ends. We want to talk about this crazy entanglement between the two, and the messy consequences of it.

I: What is also interesting, is, when you constitute the landscape, you also sign up to a variety of infrastructural injections such as, building bridges, maintaining trenches and constructing hiking trails. So there is an enormous number of resources and effort going into maintaining the static image of the landscape. This is specifically interesting for us, the landscape always comes with intention.

Often times, the landscape is undergoing constant change; people throw trash in the street, they create new footpaths in a field, but the government often intervenes to counteract these events, creating an interesting dynamic and tension between the ever-changing landscape and systems of maintenance.

How have your experiences, growing up, studying and living in different cities, shaped your relationship and understanding of the entangled landscape and how has this influenced your artistic process as a result?

L: We tend to work with stories and images that are accessible to us, so naturally this leads to working with images and ideas that we are surrounded by. ‘Silt’ is the most literal example of that, the film is about the sudden formation of a body of water in my family land, where I grew up. The land has been with my family for generations and naturally because of that, there is a story to tell about the soviet occupation in Lithuania and its impact on the nation and the landscape.

I: It wouldn’t have been possible to make ‘Silt’ without Lukas having this really personal relationship to the land. It is important to have a person in the process that has a strong cultural relationship to the site at hand because only they can see the various nuances that you can only understand through spending a lot of time with this culture and space.

S: Iida and I come from rural Finland, so we have a tendency to relate to those types of spaces and images. I think aesthetically this is the language that feels relatable to us because we understand it. The subjects of our films are about the entanglement of environments, and I think we are more asking the questions; what is shaping our experience and what are the signs that are given to us to navigate? We are interested in understanding and complexifying these signs.

In ‘Silt’ we were influenced by a landscape painter called Petras Kalpokas, who made a series of paintings depicting Lithuanian rivers defrosting after winter as a symbol of resistance against the soviet occupation. We were also looking at painters from the Finnish Golden Age spanning from the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century.

I: What is interesting about these artists, is that they both existed in a time of resistance, through the independence movements of Finland and Lithuania. So there is a clear inspiration for us in these two examples of how you can use art as a political mediator.

For your most recent exhibition titled, ‘November’ and the production of ‘Silt’, I have noticed that you have worked with the found materials within the landscape and incorporated these into your pieces. There’s a certain level of transparency and honesty between the subject and its representation within the art. What role do these materials play in the meanings of the pieces?

L: In ‘November’, we used disused solar panels and silt from the water, a found material that is like dust of the water. We were interested in thinking about the landscape as an event and the solar panels as ambassadors of such event, almost like how photography film is the ambassador of its subject when it is exposed to light. So, the found objects are almost like canvases, we develop them into something new as we respond to the found materials.

I: There is a honesty to it but there is also a dishonesty to it. The ways the objects are re- arranged and dealt with always becomes an interpretation of the space and the material itself. Any kind of documentary, painting or photograph is always altered and dramatised by the author. For us, there is sense of liberty in this; When we start to acknowledge the individual’s interpretation of a subject, we can start to critically analyse the tools used, start to construct narratives and create art that might have seemed untouchable before.

You often use film within your works. Why did you feel film was the most appropriate artistic medium for ‘Silt’, do you feel that film can portray something else that other mediums cannot? What is it about film you enjoy working with?

L: There is something beautiful about film being a container of many different skills and tools that can be used to tell a story. It has a duration and demands time of attention, more time than a still expression and it is important to sometimes ask for time from the viewer.

I: There is also a sense of accountability in this because you are taking someone’s time. I like the duality in this, you demand time from your own practice as well as the viewer’s.

S: We also all have previous experience making films. So it is a medium we all feel we can be very precise with and it is a medium we know how to use to our advantage. It is a craft we have invested a lot of time into learning, and we enjoy it because it creates an experience for the viewer.

I: I think it is important to embrace the crafts and the skills that you have. I don’t want to be an interdisciplinary artist, I want to be a disciplinary artist. It’s like when playing an instrument, you play the instruments that you can play. I think this is when you have the potential to say something really sharp, in a precise way that resonates with people. With film, we all have that close at hand.

Do you feel film, offers you a sense of freedom through creating limitations as it provides you with a framework to work within?

I: I think working together is a lot about this, establishing various frameworks that you can collaborate within and film has been one of those frameworks for us, like a playground.

L: There is also something very nice in letting the tools and materials you have dictate the content of the work. It creates a sense of openness which is developed through practicing the skill.

S: There is a text that compares the control over an artistic medium to weaving a basket. The shape and form of the practice is coming from the precise application and strength that you put behind each knot being weaved. It takes multiple attempts to know how much pressure to apply to a certain part and where you should be more careful. It takes time to be able to understand how to emphasise parts and how to portray a narrative through the work. When making a film, I enjoy how you can direct the way you narrate the story and you know how to guide the viewer through the narrative, when you want to do that.

What was your thought process behind the composition, script writing and assembly of the scenes within ‘Silt’ and how did this serve the narrative you were wanting to tell?

S: The film is basically divided into three different parts, and they all come from the videography styles of television broadcasting and documentation of sudden events. The first part of the film is filmed from the point of view of the cameraman. When we were devising those scenes, we were looking a lot at how sudden events are filmed by the by-standers, we were inspired by the sense of intimacy and immediacy portrayed in handy-cam footage of real-time events.

I: There is something beautiful about the ‘vlog’ video format because often, the cameraman and the cinematographer have discovered something simultaneously, so the encounter captured is very immediate.

L: In ‘Silt’ we are portraying this new body of water that has suddenly appeared as a result of a failed drainage system. Through borrowing languages from broadcasting videography, we are able to visually translate the speed at which this new lake has emerged. As a child I could run on this land, but now I can only swim there. So there is something also quite sci-fi-esque about the speed of this event occurring.

S: For the second part of the film, we approached the lake with more of a forensic lens. Focusing on what is happening under the water through the leeches and floating algae. During this part, we wanted to draw attention to the bottom of the lake, which was once part of the land. You can see the trees that were once emerging from the ground and growing on the field as if it were only yesterday. We are creating these clear images of a field that has been flooded and showing the new life that has started to emerge in this new lake. When we were writing these scenes, we were drawing inspiration from forensic discoveries of shipwrecks.

The last part of the film uses visual languages displayed in television broadcasting footage, taken from a helicopter view. We imitated a lot of camera movements from footages of volcanic eruptions, and we used these tools to portray the vastness and the scale of the lake, giving the viewer another perspective of the event.

I: A question we were exploring in our process and method was, ‘how can we capture something so serene and still while also showing the violence and rapidness of the emerging lake?’

The aesthetics of the film are cold and dark referencing the decay of the soviet infrastructure in the ‘depressed landscape’. What were you aesthetically inspired by and how did this influence the production process in ‘Silt’ and help you communicate the narrative you wanted to tell?

L: Digital colour grading possibilities are endless but at the same time the image is often dictating its own rules, so you are always adapting to the rules of the existing image. Sometimes it offers its own solutions and so, it is about attuning your eye to what the shot already has and then interpreting it further.

I: We have also talked about the false pretence of the documentary as a style, discussing this false idea of the neutral documentation of an event. Many people ask for neutral colour grading for a film, but there is no such thing, the footage and the image is always reinterpreted.

There’s also this element of horror in the film, I was reading about gothic literature at the time and I was inspired by the separation of terror and horror. Terror being something you anticipate and horror being something that’s already happened. I think the film holds a little bit of both; with horror being in the emergence of the lake and terror in the potential scale of this lake. I think the colours also help reflect this tension and emphasise the depressive state of the land.

The film music is composed by artist, Alexander Iezzi who releases music under the alias ‘33’. What was it about their work that inspired the collaboration? How did you feel their work and sound design complimented the aesthetics in ‘Silt’?

S: We work very sculpturally when we make film, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources such as 16th century cartographies, romanticist and modernist landscape paintings referencing different parts of art history and political ideologies that have dictated how spaces have been perceived. In a similar way, Alex’s work draws inspiration from a variety of genres, from metal punk to baroque music and is also assembled in a very sculptural way as these inspirations are collaged together creating both abstractions and figurations of the music. So, we could definitely see ourselves in their way of working, we could resonate and relate to their musical productions.

The textures and sounds used in the soundtrack of ‘Silt’ are also very sculptural. Do you think this style of sound design lends itself to the themes of horror and terror Ida described? How does the sound design help deliver the narrative you wanted to tell in ‘Silt’?

I: Creating a composition that embodied the history of the lake was important to us. This is a new lake, very few people know about its existence, and it is also a tragedy for the people that live with it. We worked with alarm sounds and bended them into violins and used the helicopter sound from the television broadcast footages we had used for visual inspiration for the film. So I think the textural layering of these different sounds and the sculpturing process behind the composition helped us narrate the story of the lake.

S: As with landscape depiction in painting, there is also a long history of landscape depiction in music. In Finland one of our most famous composers, Jean Sibelius, is known for having created this piece called ‘The Spruce’ about the Finnish forest. So it is interesting to relate the making of music to the portrayal of the landscape and understand how music can also feel like a painting or a portrait.

Do you think the piece almost challenges the traditional way music has interpreted the landscape in the past?

S: I think it is a response to it. Our work is also speculative, and it is a subjective interpretation of the landscape. We are interested in the traditional methods, but we also want to inject our own perspectives into the discourse. I think the landscape and our urban environments are so much more entangled and dynamic than they once were, so it feels natural that they are interpreted and represented differently.

Yes, I felt that through the dissonance of the music which seemed to reimagine the harmonious romantic way landscapes were portrayed traditionally.

I: Yeah, I think this is what is interesting about Alex’s practice. He works a lot with dissonant sounds and polyrhythms which, in the context of landscape depiction, challenges the rules and orders the classical representation of landscapes present. Especially as many landscapes we know today have been established through classical painting and music.

Credits

Silt Stills. Courtesy of the artists.
Order ‘silt ost’ here

Jalal Sepehr

Credits

All images courtesy of Jalal Sepehr from the Knot (2011) and Water & Persian Rugs (2004) series.

Jalal Sepehr (b. 1968) is a Tehran based self-taught  photographer who has been doing photography since 1994. He is known as a fine art photographer locally and internationally. His photos has been featured in many prestigious publications. He has been founding member of  the Fanoos website whose aim was promoting contemporary Iranian photography (2003-2007). He is an active member of Virtual Arts of Iran Association and Advertising & Industrial Photography Association of Iran.


spazioSERRA

Found in Transition

Since 2017, spazioSERRA has been subverting the paradigms of art curation in Milan. The unique exhibition space occupies a formerly dismissed aedicula within the Milano Lancetti train station, a site of commuting, certainly not catered for the arts.

However, over the last five years, spazioSERRA has grown into one of the most distinguished curatorial realities of the city, adopting a grassroots and collaborative ethos that revolves around a multidisciplinary collective of young personalities. They are not afraid to challenge the artistic status quo and try to democratise arts, making it a daily experience for passersby.

Its curatorial practice speaks to the present, moving within sculpture, performance and mixed media, with the now not so utopian aim of sparking a discourse on arts, culture and beauty in a suburban setting that, traditionally, was only seen for its pragmatic and structural means. 

Defying labels and refusing the conformist definition of gallery, spazioSERRA is busy narrowing the gap between art and the public sphere, growing seamlessly with the local community.

We sat in conversation with the team behind spazioSERRA.

Lorenzo Ottone: spazioSERRA aims to promote contemporary art in a suburban context. Howimportant but also challenging it is, within that specific social context, to establish adialogue with such a broad community, made of both locals and commuters, whichmay not be necessarily exposed to nor interested in art and culture and who mayhappen to find themselves by the space for other purposes? 

spazioSERRA: spazioSERRA was established to specifically cater to this audience. Our unwavering mission revolves around fostering an authentic and meaningful dialogue with the community, rendering it a matter of great significance to us. Our ultimate aim is to democratise art, liberating it from constraints both literal and metaphorical, thereby fostering accessibility, openness, and transparency. 

The challenge lies in the undeniable reality that the passersby, intentionally or fortuitously interacting with our space, constitute an immensely diverse collective. Certain exhibitions possess the power to ignite the curiosity of specific visitors, while others engender intrigue in an entirely distinct set of observers. We aspire for the passersby, who traverse the Lancetti railway station on their daily commutes, to discover something within our space that can transcend their routine, infusing it with curiosity and a touch of liveliness. 

Furthermore, cultivating a dialogue with the community holds paramount importance. The irrefutable truth remains that spazioSERRA derives its essence and purpose from this very collective. As an integral part of a bustling urban ecosystem, nestled within a public space of a train station, it finds itself intricately interwoven with the broader social fabric. Failure to maintain this vital connection would invariably result in the gradual erosion of its significance and eventual obsolescence. 

Lorenzo Ottone: The exhibitions you promote range widely, from performances to sculpture and mixedmedia. Can you please guide us throughout your curatorial approach? Within an artworld that is quite multi-faceted and fragmented, what stimulates you the most rightnow? 

spazioSERRA: We actually acknowledge and embrace the diverse and expansive nature of artistic  expression in the present era and ever-evolving landscape. We try not to confine contemporary art into a singular definition or medium and instead we aim to promote art that addresses pertinent societal issues and provokes meaningful conversations. Works that challenge established norms, promote inclusivity, and shed light on underrepresented voices resonate strongly with us. We are committed to providing a platform for artists whose practices embody social consciousness, cultural diversity, and critical discourse. We recognize that different perspectives, cultural backgrounds, and social contexts influence artistic expression. It allows for the exploration of unconventional materials, interdisciplinary collaborations, boundary-pushing artistic experiments, and the fusion of traditional and contemporary techniques. 

Ultimately, our curatorial approach is driven by facilitating meaningful connections between artists, audiences, and the broader cultural landscape. Our curatorial collective is formed by multidisciplinary individuals with diverse backgrounds, expertise, and walks of life. So we try our best to curate exhibitions that both inspire and engage, inviting visitors to embark on a thought-provoking journey through the rich tapestry of contemporary art. Over the years, our curatorial approach has evolved significantly, and we anticipate that it will continue to evolve in the future. 

Lorenzo Ottone: At the moment we are noticing an increasing attention towards archive culture.Whereas a spazioSERRA is located in an environment that unfolds at the speed ofsound, dictated by the passing of time and trains. How can art capture the presentand the zeitgeist when there seems to be so much emphasis on the past? 

spazioSERRA: Art, with its innate versatility and capacity for interpretation, possesses the remarkable ability to bridge the gap between past, present, and future. While archive culture may be rooted in preserving and revisiting historical records, art can infuse the present moment with vitality, relevance, and contemporary resonance. Rather than being constrained by the weight of the past, art can engage with history as a source of inspiration and reflection. Artists can draw upon archival materials, cultural artifacts, and collective memory to create works that explore the contemporary human experience. By recontextualizing historical narratives, art can shed light on the enduring themes, struggles, and aspirations that shape our current reality. 

Moreover, art can serve as a catalyst for dialogue and critical examination of the present. It has the power to evoke emotions and provoke thoughtful contemplation. Artists can respond to the pressing issues, complexities, and transformations of the modern world, using their creative expression to capture the zeitgeist and stimulate collective consciousness. Moreover, the immediacy of art’s impact lies in its ability to engage with the viewer on an emotional and visceral level by creating moments of connection and reflection that go beyond the barriers of time. Through these dynamic and experiential approaches, art can vividly reflect the spirit of the present, surpassing the perceived emphasis on the past and artists can evoke a profound sense of connection to the ever-evolving world around us. In short, art’s capacity to transcend temporal boundaries and its potential to explore historical narratives in a contemporary context enable it to capture the present and embody the zeitgeist.

Lorenzo Ottone: You work with young, up and coming artists. Even your own definition of collective issomething that often hails from youth and underground culture. How is the collectiveand social dimension of spazioSERRA shaping your identity? 

spazioSERRA: The majority of the artists we have worked with are in fact relatively young and emerging; we also had the chance to work with artists who are well established and belong to a different generation. We do want to provide a platform for emerging artists to showcase their talent, share their perspectives, and gain exposure within a supportive community. It is truly needed in the current art world. 

By embracing the essence of youth and underground culture, we shape our identity. We also find our distinct character and purpose through our commitment to fostering a collective spirit and creating a vibrant social space. The social dimension of spazioSERRA is equally significant. Our space is designed as a gathering place, where diverse individuals can converge, engage, and experience art in an inclusive and dynamic environment. By facilitating interactions and dialogue between artists, visitors, and the community, we cultivate a sense of shared ownership and participation. Our identity is driven by the collaborative energy that permeates spazioSERRA while fostering a sense of belonging. We strive to remain receptive to emerging trends, societal changes, and the ever-changing landscape of contemporary art. By engaging in ongoing dialogues, we ensure that our identity remains relevant, vibrant, and in tune with the aspirations of our artists and audience. 

Lorenzo Ottone: Last year, your call for artists was titled “Un posto impossibile”, an impossible place,which is what a gallery within an underground railway station may look like at first sight.Have you found an answer to your question? How utopian is spazioSERRA’s visionnow, 5 years after its opening? 

spazioSERRA: It depends on the question to be answered. Our aim is not to necessarily provide answers but more so to create an environment that could potentially generate questions. Every visitor can have their own answer or simply reflect on the questions they personally perceive. spazioSERRA is a peculiar place situated in an underground train station but it is not really a gallery and this is why the expectations from a space like this can be somehow unusual but certainly not entirely impossible. We never set out to have a utopian nor a dystopian vision. While our vision continues to evolve, we find that spazioSERRA’s essence remains firmly rooted in serving the community. The journey of the past five years has allowed us to realize that the vision itself is an ongoing pursuit—a continual exploration of possibilities and a quest to defy limitations. By seamlessly integrating art into this dynamic urban environment, we seek to reduce the boundaries that traditionally separate art from the general public sphere. Yet, we acknowledge that the road to achieving our vision is ever-unfinished. As we navigate the complexities of operating within a train station and engaging with diverse audiences, we continuously adapt, learn, and refine our approach. We try to promote art as an integral part of people’s daily lives. Art has a transformative power. The diverse voices that have graced our space, and the connections forged between artists, visitors, and the broader community determine spazioSERRA’s impact as an exhibition space. The fulfillment of the vision also depends on its ability to sustain its operations over time. These factors can shape the overall vision and determine the extent to which it aligns with the initial starting point.

Shauna Summers

Secret Sunshine

Team

Production · Shabatura
Photographer · Shauna Summers
Photographer assistant · Julia Lee Goodwin
Fashion stylist and art director · Camille Naomi Franke
Fashion assistant · Antonio Chiocca
Creative producer · Yelyzaveta Krysachenko
Production assistant · Samo Wong
Hair · Peggy Kurka using Oribe
Hair assistant · Fabienne Hoppe
Makeup stylist · Susanna Jonas
Models · Eline Bocxtaele via Ulla Models and Loni Landua via SMC management
Casting · Hien Le via Dillerglobal
Set designer · Matthew Bianchi
Nail · Oksana Zavora
Retoucher · Cristina Farrarons


Shubostar

Between ‘Altered Egos’ and Virtual Realities

In the neon-lit alleys of Berlin’s music scene, Shubostar is a name that resonates like a pulsating beat. From the pixelated realms of computer games to the rhythmic cadences of cosmic disco, her journey is a symphony of contrasts. But what’s the thread that ties her gaming roots to her musical prowess?

Dive deep into Shubostar’s past, and you’ll find a young game designer from South Korea, exploring the world accompanied by the sound of early computer games. With just one guitar, one kick, and one snare – oh, Cakewalk, you beautiful music crafting beast – she produced tunes that echoed the minimalistic charm of MS-DOS classics and latter. Her favorite games? Princess Maker and World of Warcraft. Fast forward, and while her music has evolved towards cosmic disco, that simplicity remains. It’s not about complex configurations; it’s about a melody that lingers. Shubostar’s journey from a game designer in South Korea to a Berlin-based music sensation is a tale of two worlds: reality and virtuality. At the heart of it lies the concept of the ‘altered ego’. Altering the ego to be with peers and friends; altering your self-perception when entering the virtual environment of a second life promising game or an experience-engaging rave; but never altering her minimalist street style in fashion, that she lately embraced with the newest fashion collab of A Better Mistake and Telekom Electronic Beats: Altered Ego. 

Marcus Boxler: I am very happy to talk to you again, Shubostar, after we met in Montenegro during the Summer of Joy” festival by Electronic Beats. Last time we did not have a chance to dive deeper into your roots: computer games. You graduated in computer game programming and created music for virtuality. How would you describe the music you produced back then? 

Shubostar: Ooof, that was already 20 years ago! Maybe you remember the first computer games, their design, the feeling. The music was only one simple melody. 

Marcus Boxler: Does this have an impact on your musical style today? 

Shubostar: Probably yes, now that you mention it. Even today, I am way more interested in creating a melody, rather than a complex configuration. Even for the sound. Nowadays, I use a pre-set, when I create music. But, I often change it, because I know how it works. So the roots in computer game programming left their mark, haha. 

Marcus Boxler: Do you still play video games?  

Shubostar: Nooo, I had to stop! It was too dangerous for me! I had been so into computer games, it became like a drug for me. I nearly dropped out of university, because I was missing some lectures. 

Marcus Boxler: Ok! We will talk about derivatives for being addicted a little bit later, but before I want to dig deeper into the connection between computer games and your approach to producing music today. 

Shubostar: When you’re gaming you’re alone in the physical world. Of course, there are multiplayer games and even gaming rooms or tournaments. But mostly, you are playing alone. You’re alone on your laptop, but you are not alone in the virtual world. You are connected to others. It’s like being in control of a different reality, where the connection to others surpasses the physical reality. That’s the idea I pursue with my music. To expand the connection between people on an unspoken level – virtually. 

Marcus Boxler: Did you know that the term ‘virtuality’ actually comes from theology? When Christians talked about virtuality, they meant a non-physical environment that you can only reach via preaching or meditation. 

Shubostar: I know this state! I sometimes go into this state shortly before I fall asleep. It’s like trance. 

Marcus Boxler: Blending the virtual with the real. Speaking of blending, your music combines italo disco and electronic synthesizer sound in a very unique way. For your inspiration you mentioned the likes of Daft Punk, Air but also Alexander Robotnick and Daniele Baldelli in earlier interviews. Tell us more about that.

Shubostar: I’ve always been intrigued by things that feel real but aren’t present. Like space. It’s there, but we don’t really feel it. The universe is expanding every second we exist, but we don’t feel any of it. At least, not in a way we can articulate, yet. It’s a reality, but it’s not tangible.

Marcus Boxler: And the Italo Disco influence? 

Shubostar: It comes with the synthesizer. It’s danceable, it’s uplifting. It came naturally…

Marcus Boxler: Speaking of things that come naturally: You are also the founder of a record label: uju records. Can you tell us the story of how you became a record label owner? 

Shubostar: Yes, I founded “uju Records.” It’s Korean and it means ‘cosmic’. However, the journey is way less impressive than you probably think. When I used to live in Mexico, I produced an abundance of music. Like, really a lot! The one percent of my favorite record labels that I reached out to and that – at least – replied, did not want any of the music. During that time I was living with my best friend who advised me to found my own record label and release the music myself. Easier, faster. He helped me with the logo and artworks and this is how the romantic story goes. 

Marcus Boxler: Is there a greater goal to the label? Do you want to sign other artists maybe? 

Shubostar: It’s all about me (laughs). The label was really just an entity to release my own music and not be dependent on another label. Also, I don’t want to put too many different artists into one shape, being the label. What I do consider, is to do a cosmic disco compilation. That would be with other artists as well. 

Marcus Boxler: Your style isn’t just limited to music. Your fashion sense is quite iconic. Last time we met, you were wearing a bandana top, wrapped around your body, combined with a – Id call it – mediterranean pearl look. What drives your style choices?

Shubostar: Yeees, I remember that look. It was a piece from the newest collection collab of A Better Mistake and Electronic Beats. It’s called: Altered Ego. I believe in expressing myself fully, whether it’s through music, art, or fashion. Usually, I love street style. But at the same time, I can say with a certainty of 100 percent: That I’m minimalist. 

Marcus Boxler: Really?!

Shubostar: Absolutely. I don’t like to buy many clothes. But whenever I choose something, I need it to be wearable for a week and not have it feel boring. That’s my measurement. It has to feel comfortable and I have to be able to wear it for a show or if I go to the supermarket. Wear it for ten years and exchange it, only if it’s ‘broken’.

Marcus Boxler: That is the core of Minimalism. I think we grasped a little bit of the real Shubostar”. Is there also an altered ego of yours, that you would like to share about? 

Shubostar: Altered me? I think every version of me is altered as soon as I leave the doorstep and interact with other people. No? 

Marcus Boxler: Indeed, but its the same you. Or, are you changing your behavior in the presence of other people? 

Shubostar: Freaking, yes! Don’t you? I mean I love to socialize with my peers and I love to bring an uplifting vibe and happy mode to the group. But sometimes, after a few days of interacting, I need some time alone. To recharge the battery. And then run the game again. 

Identity is representation, transforming communication into community. Picking up the phone with a colleague or with a friend sets a completely different tone, and therefore creates different narratives throughout all social entities. Though alone at her computer, Shubostar was always part of vast communities. Either online or on the dance floor. This duality of being physically alone but virtually connected influenced her style and sound. 

In essence, Shubostar’s music is where her real self meets her ‘altered ego’, creating tracks that resonate both in clubs and in the hearts of those who listen. 

Credits

Photography · Marvin Jockschat for Telekom Electronic Beats 
Shubostar is wearing Telekom Electronic Beats x  A Better Mistake 


Tak Sugita

Tokyo One Day

Team

Photography · Tak Sugita
Styling · midori at W
Hair and Makeup · Katsuyoshi Kojima at Tron
Model · Kanon Hirata at Tomorrow Tokyo

Designers

  1. Full look MSGM
  2. Full look MSGM
  3. Full look KENZO
  4. Dress STELLA MC CARTNEY, shoes ACNE STUDIOS
  5.  Dress and Sandals ACNE STUDIOS, necklace JUSTINE CLENQUET
  6.  Top and Skirt SPORTMAX, Sandals STELLA MCCARTNEY
  7.  Full look VALENTINO, ear-cuff ±BALANCE
  8.  Dress STELLA MC CARTNEY, shoes ACNE STUDIOS
  9.  Dress JENNY FAX, sandals ACNE STUDIOS and necklace JUSTINE CLENQUET
  10. Full look FERRAGAMO

Santiago Sierra

Santiago Sierra (b. Madrid, Spain, 1966) is a contemporary conceptual and performance Spanish artist whose oeuvre continues to be widely recognised and exhibited in major art institutions around the world. Known for his provocative and politically charged artwork that often addresses issues of social and economic inequality, labour exploitation, and human rights. Sierra’s work spans a variety of mediums, including installation, video, performance, and photography, and often involves the use of controversial materials such as blood, human hair, and excrement.

After graduating in Fine Arts at Madrid’s Complutense University, Sierra continued his artistic training in Hamburg. His artistic career began with exhibitions that marked a before and after in his work, such as the Minimal Art from the Panza Collection at the MNCARS in 1988 in Madrid and Zeitlos at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, curated by Harald Szeemann. There, Sierra found minimalism useful due to its syntactic character, which allowed him to incorporate reality into pure forms. In Mexico, Sierra’s work was influenced by the dense reality of the country, and their oeuvre began to weigh more heavily on reality than the history of art itself.

Sierra’s work serves as an outlet for critical thoughts surrounding the forms of violence imposed by the socio-political conditions of our time, engaging with marginalised groups, highlighting their struggles and drawing attention to their plight through his art. Sierra also often pushes the limits of what is considered acceptable, highlighting the presence of societal rules and limits.

He believes that dealing with those unpleasant themes surrounding hierarchies of power and classes and the exploitation of individuals is essential to defining society and the environment His connection with actors in that environment provides a necessary and engaging corridor for exploring these themes. 

Indeed, PAC (Contemporary Art Pavilion) in Milan presented in 2017, Santiago Sierra. Mea Culpa, the first extended Italian anthology dedicated to Sierra’s work. It became clear that there is no art without a call for action, an appeal for individual responsibility. The title of the exhibition ‘Mea Culpa’ reminds us of that indelible debt. There is no specific definite answer but various meanings and observations foster a conversation. The mea culpa serves as a conscious push towards not only understanding ‘on paper’ where it went wrong but assessing our responsibility in the way power structures engage with the marginalised. When asked about the future, Sierra expresses distrust of the proposed future, emphasising the importance of the present and the consequence of our actions.

Santiago, it is truly a great pleasure to interview you, thank you for taking the time to participate in this issue of NR. 

Could you tell us about your beginnings and your artistic training?

What was the catalyst element that prompted you into making art and diving deep into thematics such as nationalistic fanaticism, intolerance, war and racism?

What marked a before and after between my student exercises and my first works are exhibitions such as the one on the collection of Minimal Art in the Panza di Biumo collection at the MNCARS in 1988 in Madrid, the ‘Zeitlost’ at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, curated by Harald Szeemann (with whom years later I had the pleasure to work), or the ‘Anti-Forma Norteamericana’ in Madrid by José Luis Brea around the same time. That year I went to Hamburg where I spent two years. I found minimalism useful because of its syntactic character, and its lack of references to reality gave me something to do with its pure forms, which was to stain that minimalism with reality. So, for example, I placed a cube on the wall as Donald Judd would do, but the skin of that cube was an old and dirty truck tarpaulin taken from the port of Hamburg. Politically I was also clear about my side in the class struggle, but I would begin to develop that more in Mexico in 1995. In Mexico, it was like starting my artistic career again, but now taking into account a dense reality like the Mexican one, which begins to weigh more in my work than the history of art itself. This is why my work begins twice, first when it is linked to art history and then when the surrounding reality comes to the forefront. So my beginnings are linked to those two journeys, one to the north and the other to the south. We could place a third moment in my career at the beginning of the century when I started to work all over the world. From working in little alternative spaces with great difficulty, I then started to work a lot and with means in environments with a lot of visibility. 

“The catalyst is the environment. The work emerges from the environment where it is made and/or where it is exhibited. On the other hand, the work of art is produced in the spectator’s head, so it is the subject matter that the public brings from home that we play with or manipulate.”

It is not the same to exhibit a war veteran in the U.S. as it is to exhibit it in Germany. The audience ends up making sense of a work of art with what they bring in their heads. The environment and the connection with the actors in that environment would be that corridor that leads us to deal with the unpleasant themes that define our society.

You have spent considerable time in Mexico (1995-2006) and Italy (2006-2010). Why those two locations and how did those aliment your work? Is there anywhere else in the world you would like to settle in?

My years in Mexico began with artworks on the street or in alternative spaces. My mission was to develop an artistic work as powerful as the reality I intended to describe. What I came out with, looking back, is a dirty minimalism that some have described as third-world minimalism. The role of the worker in society, or the painful lives of the urban grey masses, took centre stage in my work. From those years come my paid series where the work is activated by the intervention of salaried personnel. Around those years I did a lot of works bordering on vandalism such as GALLERY BURNED WITH GASOLINE [Mexico, November 1997], or OBSTRUCTION OF A FREEWAY WITH A TRUCKS TRAILER [Mexico, November 1998] and other forms of mimesis between my work and the monstrous Mexico City. In Italy, I came more as an artist applying the methods acquired in Mexico to another context, but my work never became centred on the Italian reality alone as it was in Mexico. Italy was a base from which to attend to international projects and a respite after my last year in Mexico spent in Ciudad Juarez making the work SUBMISSION (formerly word of fire) [Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México, October 2006/ March 2007]. The violent reality of Ciudad Juarez made me long for the calm I would find in Tuscany. It was 2006 when I moved to Italy and that year I had also made 245M3 [Pulheim, Germany, March 2006] in the synagogue of Stommeln, Germany, a work that caused great controversy for the clarity of its statement, with which I was looking for in my place of residence. Also a place of rest and escape from a work whose density caused me considerable uneasiness because of the strong contestation caused by its exhibition. This polemic charge of my work was something that I never thought would be so strong, since at the end of the day, my work dialogues with the history of art as much as with the environment. My work arouses very passionate reactions and I attribute this to the change from alternative spaces where one works with little public and resources, but with great freedom to consecrated art spaces with great visibility and therefore subjected to the scrutiny of my detractors. At the end of the day, this was just the result of showing everyone what I used to show to a few friends and colleagues, and I got used to it. 

I could live elsewhere than in Madrid where I now live, and I may have to decide where in a hurry if the European sociopathic politicians do not lower the atomic testosterone they bring with their damned lucrative war. I am not sure where I would go if I left Madrid but I have always loved working in India where I did pieces like 146 WOMEN [Vrindaban, India, 2005], 21 ANTHROPOMETRIC MODULES MADE FROM HUMAN FAECES BY THE PEOPLE OF SULABH INTERNATIONAL, INDIA (India, 2005/2006, London 2007)] or THE THROUGH (PART 2) [Bikaner, India. September 2016]. It is a place I like to frequent.

You’ve mentioned in an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist at the occasion of the opening of your exhibition ‘Dedicated to the Workers and Unemployed’, on show at Lisson Gallery in 2012, that one of your heroes and inspiration is Isidoro Valcárcel Medina, the pioneer of conceptual art in Spain. He’s said before “Art is a personal action that may serve as an example, but can never have an exemplary value”. For him, art only makes sense when it makes us aware of and responsible for our reality. Would you agree?

Do you have other artists or people in mind that have inspired you?

Isidoro has good phrases but the ones you mention seem to me to refer to a posture before the world, beyond art. We could change where it says ‘art’ and put ‘life’ and the phrase would work the same. Sometimes when we artists say art we mean the art we make. Evidently, art is an extensive phenomenon in the history of mankind and therefore it has been given an infinite number of uses. Leni Riefenstahl or any king painter from the Prado Museum is also art. Art also ignores reality as does minimalism for example. Art is diverse as is the human being through time. Perhaps the most obvious generalisation is that art will be owned by those who can pay for it. So the relationship between the work of art and its final owner determines its contents since the origin of human civilization, having been for millennia another instrument of the powerful. Isidoro is one of those people, and nothing links him to the final owner of his work because it is simply not sold as it lacks material existence and because the artist makes a living from something else.

It is easy to see the artists whose work I build mine off because I quote them constantly. For instance, the aforementioned work 245M3, in which long black pipes collected the smoke from car exhausts and introduced it into a disused synagogue, was a tribute to the German post-war artists who have influenced me the most. That work was built from a mixture of J. Beuys’ ‘Honey Bomb’ and Gustav Metzger’s Mobbile. The staging was reminiscent of Wolf Vostel’s decollages, the arrangement of the pipes inside the church was intended as a quotation to Eva Hesse, the documentary photos with pixelated pictures referred to G. Richter and so on. Not only contemporaries. Casta paintings (or mestizo paintings) were an artistic phenomenon that existed in New Spain and the Viceroyalty of Peru in the 18th century and inspired ECONOMICAL STUDY ON THE SKIN OF CARACANS [Caracas, Venezuela. September 2006] or Goya whom I frequently quote for example in THE WALL OF A GALLERY PULLED OUT, INCLINED 60 DEGREES FROM THE GROUND AND SUSTAINED BY 5 PEOPLE [Mexico City, Mexico. April 2000] is a version of an engraving by Goya in which the dead come out of their tombs. In general, I like to walk through places already travelled by others. In NO, GLOBAL TOUR [Various locations, 2009] for example, the NO belongs to everyone, I can’t keep it or attribute its authorship to myself and that’s why I use it because of its lack of originality and in spite of that, a singular work appears. I use asphalt or cement that people see every day, or cars that are ubiquitous icons, or I show people to other people. My work does not pretend originality because I do not believe in it, nor do I believe in creativity, which seems to me a monotheistic category, a quotation to the Creator. In reality, we all build our work on that of our predecessors by re-contextualising it and appropriating it to formulate something different.

Your work shines a light on the limitation of space for freedom. Occupation and definition are two functions in your work, mirroring our reality, juxtaposing freedom and constraint, individualism and community, nature and culture. Could you talk more about these elements and what they mean to you? As an artist, do you feel free to think? Have you ever felt limited?

On February 3 an exhibition of mine closes in Madrid. It has two floors. The exhibition on the ground floor is open to the general public and the one on the second floor is a private exhibition which is by invitation only. This is explained on the room sheet:

‘On the first floor of the gallery — where the exhibition entitled ‘?’ is on display — the right of admission is reserved exclusively to those who have received a personal invitation. The contents of this exhibition will remain hidden until it has ended by means of a non-disclosure agreement aiming to protect it from those who might be offended; gearing it solely to individuals known to be open-minded independent thinkers. In this way, we hope to avoid those who are outraged by anything that has not been curated for them by an algorithm.’

On that floor we exhibited SPANISH NATIONAL FLAG SUBMERGED IN BLOOD [Madrid, Spain, October 12th 2021] and SPANISH NATIONAL COAT OF ARMS STAMPED WITH BLOOD [Madrid, Spain, October 12th 2021], two works that if exhibited to the general public would not only run the risk of having to cancel the exhibition but could attract violent elements to the gallery, putting at risk the integrity of its workers so we proceeded preventively.

We all know that freedom is a word that defines something that does not exist. To be free is an aspiration, not a reality. I like that you ask if I feel free to think, not if I feel free but free when I think. There you hit the nail on the head because it is not so much the freedom of expression that is denied us but the freedom to think. Millions are spent every day to appropriate our thoughts by filling our minds with irrelevant content, garbage or fears and this makes it clear that it is freedom of thought that we should be concerned about. I don’t know if self-diagnosing myself in this regard would have any value, I imagine I have come a long way in my own emancipation and art has helped me in this but being a freethinker is also just an aspiration. We all bring a reactionary inside during the educational processes, during the consumerist leisure or through the mass media and we have to get it out.

I have always felt limited but this is not an anomaly, even in the freest and most egalitarian society it would be because from physical to human laws the world will always have rules and therefore limits. In my work, I often point to those limits by placing myself on the edge of what is acceptable.

I would like to talk about a performance work of yours: Line of 160 cm tattooed on 4 people, Salamanca, Spain, 2000 which saw four prostitutes addicted to heroin, consenting to be tattooed at the price of a dose. Two heroin addicts were shaved with a 10-inch line on their heads in exchange for one dose. I found it to be two very emotionally charged pieces, because to me it says a lot about the state of our society and how far the system has gone into surrendering people to accept certain things. I think it might have been easy at first for the audience to think you were exploiting these four prostitutes or these two heroin addicts, but the intention was to unmask the exploitation that exists outside. Why did you want to tackle these particular thematics?

Has there been a governmental action taken after the making of these artworks? Do you think the situation has evolved in these areas in which heroin was at the time heavily used? Do you think the audience was receptive to these series?

Is Picasso’s Guernica a painting that honours Nazi aviation for its success in the annihilation of the civilian population? No, it is not, even though during the recent NATO summit in Madrid, where we saw the Prado Museum used as a picnic area for murderers, we could also see a group pose in front of Guernica by the couples of the warlords. That the directors of the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia National Museum used Goya’s Disasters of War or Picasso’s Guernica as a photo call of neo-Nazis does not mean that Goya or Picasso was. The betrayal of these institutions with art and their intentions is very clear. I cite this case because it is well-known and easy to understand rather than to compare myself to these authors. I have never read in the press to ask the head of the Prado about the merendola of genocides or the Reina Sofia for this matter, or directly for having directed a Museum that bears the name of the Queen that Franco left us, the same one that went to the German aviation to raze Guernica to the ground. Guernica is like Montezuma’s plume; it is a spoil of war and it is exhibited so that it is not forgotten who defeated whom. I say this not to evade the answer but because here there’s no confusion and everything seems transparent while something as pristine as saying how much a model charges in the urban lumpen of Puerto Rico is an unacceptable act of exploitation and you don’t know how many times I have heard it. So amazing that we even have a book of interviews where I keep responding to that accusation from the most disparate angles. Almost every city has a school of fine arts with models posing. I was in one like that in Madrid. If you paint a picture in which you portray them you can call it a thousand things, but if you call it Young Romanian Girl Posing Nude and motionless for four hours a day at 9 euros an hour, you will be accused of being exploitative, just for saying how things are in your local fine arts school. Now step away from that school and tell us what you see, is the exploitation still there or is it gone? 

Being paid for being a worker is essential. For whom? For the worker. People are perplexed when they find out because we move among people who do not work. If you tell them how much they are paid, you will see what faces they make, like in a movie. And if it is because of drugs, it is funny that living in a narcotised society we have to remember that the junkie, the one that everyone looks down on, is a person. I don’t know if there is anyone left in our society who sees it that way with so many zombie movies. Now in the U.S., there is a plague of Fentanyl which is 60 times more potent than heroin. Maybe the gentlemen visiting NATO museums know more about this than I do.

Your use of skin or humanity as a canvas recurs in other works such as Line of 30 cm tattooed on a remunerated person, Regina Street # 51, Mexico City, May 1998, Line of 250 cm tattooed on 6 remunerated people, Espacio Aglutinador, La Habana, Cuba, 1999. Why was it necessary to disclaim that these people were paid?

It would be hiding the reason why it was done from the worker’s point of view. So it was very necessary to say it and to do it in the title. The person paid so much to do this other thing, because that’s how you sum up what it’s all about, clearly, without embellishment. The more money you put in, the longer the line you can tattoo. A few years ago I did a book in which the participants were long-term unemployed. I hired them to write over and over again as if it were a school punishment, a sentence that said: Work is a dictatorship. Obviously, for those who do not have to offer their body, their time or their intelligence on the market for the benefit of a third party and earn enough to replenish their energy and return to work, this is not a dictatorship. But for those who have to work, it is. Everything is a matter of perspective and the essential thing in perspective is the point of view.

Do you think that your work only gets completed with the audience’s active participation in it?

The work of art is produced in the head of the viewer. Sometimes actively and sometimes passively. In the end, this equates to art and demagogy, but it is so, art is a story and the human being is built with stories. We do not have hundreds of pages to explain ourselves, sometimes it is only an image that conveys everything, so the work must be a quick poison and a slow balm. Perhaps that is the reason for my interest in minimalism because, with a visual stroke, you understand the whole work with admirable effects of presence and evidence. There are pieces that also function as pure stories without anyone seeing them. For example, in 100 HIDDEN INDIVIDUALS [Calle Dr Fourquet, Madrid, Spain. November 2003] that nobody except the organisers saw. The public took that piece home and didn’t even see it, because the work of art is produced in the spectator’s head.

90 cm Bread Cube, Mexico, 2003 is a 90cm bread cube, specifically baked in the format indicated in the title and gifted as a charity in a shelter for homeless people in Mexico City. Could you talk about the installation, the message behind and its reception?

This work showed an outline of a work of charity. It was to feed the hungry. A large bucket of bread was made and delivered to a soup kitchen. The curiosity about the large edible object was at times very Kubrick in 2001. Charity is a form of social intercourse that especially bothers me because it is always a public relations operation in which the funder is seen as a good person. The bread didn’t pay for any service rendered, it wasn’t a salary, it was a given. Then it was about filming this and I asked Artur Żmijewski to do it, that’s why it is one of my few colour videos. When the action took place the participants were the audience as well. The general public only knew the video.

I have used food a lot as a generator of action. In the trilogy of PIGS DEVOURING PENINSULAS [Various locations, 2012/2013] or in CUBE  OF CARRION MEASURING 100 x 100 x 100 cm [Coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, September 2015], where this time it was vultures satisfying their hunger. Hunger is something very basic, very primary, and it makes actions with food always very simple to organise, because the end is clear; they eat it. In these works, he spoke of the need and hunger as what attracted the homeless of central Mexico who came that afternoon to the social centre, in hunger and tiredness. Those were simple actions that justified the portrayal of that extreme world we can end up in if we are not careful. It is the social panic of zombie movies that were also shown in THE CORRIDOR OF THE HOUSE PEOPLE [Bucarest, Romania, October 2005].

Could you talk about your piece Teeth of the last gipsies of Ponticelli, Ponticelli, Naples 2008, a series of photographs of the teeth of the last two gypsy families of Ponticelli, Naples? A few days after, their houses were burned. What made you take those photographs?

In Naples and other parts of southern Europe, attacks on Gypsies have been occurring in a similar pattern; they are accused of stealing a child and the mob goes after them. During the work of approaching the Gypsy people, we came across a house burning and were able to film it. The gypsies that show my teeth in my piece were the last ones left in the area. I was curious to see up close how their famous gold teeth in many cases are painted with glitter. We took these photos with the gypsy people who had not yet fled and paid them for their services as models. There is a standard treatment towards the victims to generate tenderness, and it is not considered as a seed of hatred that is getting into society. An abused person is a person who is going to show you his teeth. And I liked that idea of not just showing them as a passive mass, but as people who show you their teeth. I love the effect because it’s an effect that has to do with the animalistic. An animal understands this piece. An animal that shows you its teeth knows perfectly well what you want to say. 

With these photos, we did a small campaign in Naples because we didn’t have much money [CAMPAIGN OF THE TEETH OF THE LAST GYPSIES OF PONTICELLI, (Naples, Italy. May 2009)]. And there we exhibited these teeth. The result is that the whole city seemed to have teeth. The windows became eyes. Using their teeth seems to me a very good method to portray cornered masses. It is a method that we have repeated, which in fact is the basis of the exhibition that we are closing right now at Galería Helga de Alvear (December 2022 to February 2023, Madrid). It is a collection, this time larger, of teeth taken at the borders of Tijuana. They are teeth from groups of migrants who cross in caravans of 1000 or 2000 people all together to avoid being assaulted. They arrive in Tijuana and stand there. I have a large collection of photos and also of the eyes of all these people, which was part of the exhibition “2068 Teeth”. This presentation of the Tijuana dentures included a sound piece. The sound on the first floor is CUMBIA REBAJADA LOWERED AND INVERTED [Madrid, November 2022]. Cumbia rebajada (lowered cumbia) is a very popular musical phenomenon that occurs in northern Mexico when DJs discover the success of playing cumbia from Colombia at lower revolutions per minute than the original recording, creating a new sound that is denser and sadder than the original. By manipulating this lowered cumbia again, lowering it even further and inverting it, we get the sound we hear on the ground floor.

The Penetrated, Terrassa, Spain, 2008 is a film that shows men and women of different skin colours performing the sexual act of penetration and being penetrated. As in the binary system, the partners change until they went through all combinations of sex (male and female) and skin colour (black and white). Could you talk about this work and its allegory not only to domination but as well to sexual exploitation?

“Que te den por culo” (Fuck you in the ass), is a phrase that is not used to describe a pleasant, consensual sexual relationship, but as a threat of rape. It synthesises the desire to get hurt, to have a bad time. So, sodomy comes in popular culture or in popular expressions, associated with doing harm. ‘Joder’ also in Spanish has a double meaning. To fuck can be to make love, to fuck, but it is also to be hurt. ‘Me jodieron’ means that they ‘hurt me’. Around this phrase and also taking into account the ‘unproductive’ sex, I brought in my head a phrase by Jorge Luis Borges who said that he hated copulations and mirrors because they reproduce people. That’s why the place where we shot LOS PENETRADOS [El Tórax, Terrassa, Spain. October 12, 2008] was all covered with mirrors. They were all copulas and mirrors, but without reproduction. Of course, he also spoke of the relations of domination, of the male/female relationship, of the black/white relationship. All these tensions that have to do with this so-called ‘melting pot’ we live in, which is nothing more than a constant class struggle, mirrored and reflected in a thousand ways: with reflections in sexuality, with reflections in the colour of our skin, with reflections in the way we talk. It is the pornographic work with the largest number of participants ever filmed in Spain. But nevertheless, it was all very orderly, all very repetitive. There was such order that it didn’t really call for excitement. It is a tremendously anticlimactic work in spite of everything. I was very struck by the amount of public that came to the show. There were lines of people every day. But I was even more surprised when we showed it in New York, at Team Gallery, because normally in New York we might have a percentage of the population of African origin that is maybe 30 or 40 percent of the total public. When we showed this piece in New York, there was about 60 percent of the public of African descent. And I think this was because of the ending. In all the series that were there, it started with the whites penetrating the blacks, but the last scene of the film was the blacks penetrating the whites. In the sequence of events, finally, they were the ones penetrating. Black men anally penetrating a white man. Suddenly it takes on a tone, if not emancipatory, at least of a certain revenge, of a certain aesthetic revenge, which I think attracted many people to see it.

We had difficulties shooting in Spain. Just when we were shooting, they had passed a law in Barcelona that criminalised the practice of prostitution in the street. This doesn’t sound strange apparently, but the problem is that the police see a black woman and think she is a prostitute. So they were fining black women just because they wanted to, because the policeman wanted to. So they were intimidating black women in Barcelona during that period. It was very difficult for us to get close to the black women of Barcelona and you can clearly see in the video that some of them are missing, and that we didn’t complete the series. I don’t like the pieces to come out exactly as I have planned them. I also like that everything that comes out is the result of taking a piece of the real world. In other words, it’s not Hollywood what I do, but it has to do with the reality of what I find and I want those mistakes to have importance in the work of art.

A few of your works were made in association with external organisations. For instance in 2012 with Artifariti for World’s largest graffiti, Smara Refugee Camp, Algeria; in 2001 for Person in a ditch measuring 300 x 500 x 30 cm, Space between Kiasma Museum and the Parliament building, Helsinki, Finland for which you made contact with an association for the homeless; in 2002 for 9 Forms of 100 x 100 x 600 cm each constructed to be supposed perpendicular to a wall, New York, United States, you required the services of local job centres to find the participants. Why was that important for you to involve external non-profit organisations in your work?

My studio is more like an office with people calling on the phone, looking to see how to solve things, but it is not a place of production. I have friends that produce their works as a man makes chairs in a carpentry shop. That’s not my case, I work with the outside world. So organisations and people of all kinds participate. Even to set prices, there are organisations that tell you what to pay and what not to pay. I also do a lot of work trying to link up with people who are doing a good job and include them in some way and relate to them. For example, now with this piece of the SPANISH NATIONAL FLAG SUBMERGED IN BLOOD [Madrid, Spain. October 12, 2021], it was a real parade of people, not only from the art world but people who had a social concern to which my work gave an answer. So yes, there is a lot of collaboration. But there are also a lot of people who really help you because they agree with you. And the clearest case is this one of the flag submerged in blood, where there was no payment, you can’t buy people’s blood, it’s not legal. So people gave it to me. And finally, it is a work that is not from the studio, it is from the outside world and therefore is linked to organisations, to people, to specific characters or even to the lumpen many times. But it is a work that begins when I close the studio door and go out into the street.

A strong visual presence can be noticed in your body of work, for instance in 50 kg of plaster in the street, Madrid, Spain, 1994 depicting each vehicle’s journey on the floor as a homage to the strong presence of the construction sector in Madrid. I really liked the contrast of the white plaster outlines with the asphalt. The same with 50 litres of gasoline in an abandoned field, Madrid, Spain, 1994, which left a large black stain on the ground and with Black posters, staged in various cities, 2008-2015, which saw the collage in a mass of black posters on buildings, cars, thus providing a visually striking counterpoint to the advertising messages in the public space. Or with Canvas measuring 1.000 x 500 cm suspended from the front of a building, New York, United States, 1997.

Was it important for you to have these kinds of messages be so visually direct, contrasting with the environment, in a graphic way?

I spend more time on the street than in museums. I see more art in the street than in museums. I see it constantly on stickers, on lampposts, and in writings on walls. The vandalism acts that the urban masses do on weekends have also interested me a lot. I think they are very much related to Jackson Pollock’s Action Painting, for example. And so my work refers a lot to that, to the street. I think I’d liked to do all-terrain work, but I think there’s an abundance of streets, that’s my place. In Dublin, during an England-Ireland soccer match – I don’t like soccer of course, it’s something I abhor, like all mass events – I had the city of Dublin all to myself. Everyone was watching the game. So, I spent my time lifting up all the car windshield wipers I came across during the soccer match without anyone saying anything to me, because everyone was watching the soccer game. The result is a beautiful, surprising work, with all these windshield wipers like little graphic stripes denying reality. Of course, it is something that I think about, the graphics of the image, everything that is graffiti I love, although I love it as a texture. I don’t read who wrote it or what name is being advertised to me, but the stains, the colours, the combinations. Working in the street is funny because it is completely the opposite of working in a museum where ‘authority’, in quotation marks, helps you. In the street, the authority chases you, you have to be careful. There is also a time for all that. I think I had much more fun doing this 20 or 30 years ago than I do now, but I always like the street, going back to it in one way or another.

NO projected above the pope, Madrid, Spain, 2011, realised in collaboration with Julius Von Bismarck, saw the projection of the word NO during a few of Pope Benedict XVI’s appearances in protest of his visit to Spain. This is one of many instances in your body of work, in which you take the subject of religion. How was this event staged?

Religion is the ancient method of social control that still retains some effectiveness although I believe it has been largely superseded by the mass media and by a law that goes into every minute detail of daily life. Social control right now does not need religion but it helps and it is there. Everything that is spread from religion, and especially from the Catholic religion, is the denial of our own body, the denial of our own freedom, the denial of our own intelligence, the submission to the criteria of some millionaire lords who simply make money with your candour. It is necessary to answer. When that work took place in 2011, months before the arrival of the Pope, there was a great concentration, one of the great demonstrations in Madrid that are still known as the 15M. A left-wing demonstration where people showed their weariness towards the structure of political parties and towards a politically delirious Spanish reality, with the entire political class stealing from the rest of the population by the bucketful. And this youth day in Madrid was planned with the presence of the Pope, of this Pope who has just died, who was ugly and bad, as a response to this 15M. They brought young people from all over Europe, young Catholics, and they filled Madrid. Normally in Madrid, the police are always on top of the youth with a repressive attitude. During this Catholic meeting the city was theirs like other times, only this time we were waiting for them. I knew the work of Julius von Bismarck, who by the way seems to me one of the most important people of his generation. He is a brilliant artist and a good person and colleague. And we collaborated in the production of this work, which was simply projecting a NO behind the Pope. It was part of my NO, GLOBAL TOUR [Various locations, 2009].

The device we used is a device invented by Julius von Bismarck called Fulgurator. It is a device that hacks analogically. That is, there is a camera that as soon as it detects a nearby camera emits a flash, then responds by very quickly emitting another flash. But this flash contains an image, a very brief image that is not captured by the human eye but is captured by the camera. In other words, what this device does is hack into other people’s photographs. Any photograph preceded by a flash activates the Fulgurator and it sends you an image. Julius had used it on multiple occasions and we used it to get these huge pictures of the Pope with a NO behind him. They are photos that we might think are Photoshop, but no, they are actual photographs of a real event that happened on a large scale. Suddenly we had thousands of people, we projected huge NOs and only the photographer saw it, the rest of the people did not. We also projected it on policemen, on pilgrims. Anyway, there is a long series on the subject.

I would like to delve now into your set design work for the Balenciaga Spring Summer 2023 show held in Paris. The Parc des Expositions de Villepinte convention centre on the outskirts of Paris was filled with 275 cubic metres of mud, creating a mud runway for the show. How did the collaboration unfold? Was this your first collaboration within the world of fashion and would you do it again?

Balenciaga was a commission, a very specific commission to make the scenography for its fashion show [LOS EMBARRADOS (THE MUD SHOW / BALENCIAGA) (Paris Nord Villepinte, Paris, October 2nd, 2022)]. I thought it was wonderful to do the opposite of what someone would expect from a fashion show, reaching a situation where we muddied the audience, we muddied the models, where it was difficult to walk. I liked it a lot. It was about getting the elites muddy, that was the concept, to mud the elites. The mud could be a synonym for reality or it could be a synonym for a Europe that is on the verge of being blown up by the stupidity of war. It brought back a lot of reminiscences, a lot of memories. It reminded me a lot of the phenomenon rasputitsa, which occurs in Russia, Ukraine, in Eastern European countries, where twice a year, during the autumn rain and during the spring, snow melts and you can’t get through because of the amount of mud. The evolution of the news day by day confirms to me how accurate the piece was. It is indeed a muddy elite but at the same time a muddy environment for everyone. I think that in this fashion show, we really managed to represent the reality in which we live in a very powerful way, through fashion.

Is there any particular performance of yours that has impacted you more than another?

Yes, there’s a work I often remember because of its intensity, THE CORRIDOR OF PEOPLE’S HOUSE [Bucarest, Romania. October 2005] by Minhea Micnan. For this piece, we built a black corridor (240 meters of longitude per 120 centimetres wide and 2 meters high) inside the house currently occupied by the National Museum of Contemporary Art. That area was previously devoted to the personal rooms of dictator N. Ceaușescu (1918/1989). The corridor crossed through the 2 stories assigned for exhibitions in the building, but it crossed in the shortest possible way: going from the entrance to the stairs and then to the exit. 396 adult women were invited to fill that space for two hours at midnight on the 14th day of the month. Placed on both sides of the corridor, the women were ordered to repeat the phrase ‘Give me money’, literally and in Romanian. For this work, each woman received 20 leis (about 6 euros) and they also kept the money earned through the beggar. The audience could only access it individually, one by one, passing through a weapon detector placed at the building’s entrance. The whole action was very uncomfortable for the visitors and workers due to various reasons such as the detector at the entrance, the time of the day in which it took place and the abundant rain. It had a lot to do with the social panic of zombie movies. 

Santiago, what is your idea of the future?

We dedicated a piece to the future in Valencia [BURNED WORD (El Cabanyal, Valencia, Spain. July, 2012)]. In Valencia, there is a very nice area because it is close to the sea, which is the Cabanyal, which are working-class neighbourhoods. A working-class neighbourhood with beaches, where Sorolla painted many of his paintings of boys on the beach bathing. And of course, being a working-class area on a beach, real estate greed fell on them. When I was there the whole neighbourhood was fighting to stay alive, not to be destroyed by the speculative vortex and lose their homes and be given to tourists who spend a week in Valencia and leave. And well, I got in touch. That was part of an exhibition called ‘Periferias’. My piece was to use a very common technique in Valencia, which is the ‘fallas’. The ‘fallas’ are sculptures that are made every year to be burned. I thought it was a fantastic idea to make a work specifically to be burned. So I worked with Manolo Martín, one of the most powerful ‘falleros’ there, with whom I would later work again. We made, with the typography that I usually use, the word FUTURO. Once we had it there, we set it on fire and watched the future burn. Evidently, the future is death. Our future. For that is what awaits us. Eons and eons of nothingness, of emptiness, of not existing, of not being here. Therefore the future does not seem to be something very interesting. And yet, it is something that from the institutional discourse or as a culture, as humanity, is all the time being put before and put on. Hold on, resist, because in the future this is going to be wonderful. Yes, now we are reforming this or there are works in the street, but in the future, this street is going to be wonderful. The future is at the same time, from an institutional point of view, like the heaven that is promised to us. In the future, our country is going to be at the head of I don’t know what. There is something religious about it. When in reality the future is death. There is a vindication on my part of the present. The present is the only thing that exists. We have to take into account that our actions in the present have consequences. But apart from that, the future is something to burn. What matters is the present. The future that is proposed to us is something I don’t want to go towards, not only because it is death, but also because it is an evolution of humanity that is more and more unstable, less and less reliable. It’s going to make us all uncomfortable to leave for those who stay here.

Credits

  1. 10 PEOPLE PAID TO MASTURBATE
    Tejadillo Street. Havana, Cuba. November 2000
  2. 10 INCH LINE SHAVED ON THE HEADS OF TWO JUNKIES WHO RECEIVED A SHOT OF HEROIN AS PAYMENT
    302 Fortaleza Street. San Juan de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico. October 2000
  3. 160 CM LINE TATTOOED ON 4 PEOPLE
    El Gallo Arte Contemporáneo. Salamanca, Spain. December 2000
  4. 20 WORKERS IN A SHIP’S HOLD
    Maremagnum Mall and pleasure-boat moorings in the port of Barcelona. Barcelona, Spain. July 2001
  5. 68 PEOPLE PAID TO BLOCK A MUSEUM’S ENTRANCE
    Korea, 2000
  6. 50 LITERS OF GASOLINE IN AN ABANDONED FIELD
    Los Focos. Madrid, Spain. December 1994
  7. HIRING AND ARRANGEMENT OF 30 WORKERS IN RELATION TO THEIR SKIN COLOR
    Project Space, Kunsthalle Wien. Vienna, Austria. September 2002
  8. 133 PERSONS PAID TO HAVE THEIR HAIR DYED BLOND
    Arsenale. Venice, Italy. June 2001
  9. 90 CM BREAD CUBE
    Plaza del Estudiante, 20, Mexico City. July 2003
  10. CAMPAIGN TEETH OF THE LAST GIPSIES OF PONTICELLI
    Naples, Italy. May 2009
  11. 78 PHOTOGRAPHS OF EYES OF MIGRANTS IN TIJUANA
    Instituto Made Assunta mixed shelter, Por los Derechos Humans de America mixed shelter, Casa del Migrate mixed shelter, Movimiento Juventud 2000 mixed shelter, Movimiento Juventud 2000 men’s shelter, Enclave Caracol social dining. Tijuana, Mexico. February 2019
  12. THE PENETRATED
    El Torax, Terrassa, Spain. October 12th, 2008
  13. CANVAS MEASURING 1000 X500 CM SUSPENDED FROM THE FRONT OF A BUILDING
    Seventh Avenue and 29th Street. New York City, United States. September 1997
  14. NO, GLOBAL TOUR (IRELAND)
    Several locations. Ireland. October 2017
  15. NO PROJECTED ABOVE THE POPE
    Madrid. World Youth Day. August 2011
  16. HOUSE IN MUD
    Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, Germany. February 2005

    All works courtesy of Santiago Sierra

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