“To screw it in someone’s ass” is a metaphor that suggests subjection and power. This is the clearest way in many languages to indicate submission or deceit, defeat or victory, and more generally, one man prevailing over another man. Domination is the theme of Santiago Sierra’s new work, Los penetrados (The Penetrated), which undoubtedly touches on one of the strongest facets of provocation.
Sierra’s 45-minute video and the series of photographs depict acts of sodomy that took place over a whole day in a space flanked by two huge mirrors, which multiply the scene and its points of view. A group of ten carpets receive, from time to time, a varying number of copulating couples who experiment with possible variations of sex (man with man, man with woman), color (white with white, black with black, interracial). Sex and color are the characteristics that, on a physical level, still mark the differences between majorities and minorities, the subdued and the ruler, in spite of Obama, in spite of Hillary Clinton.
There’s no pornographic tone to these pieces: set in succession, the scenes stage eight different acts and show all the possible combinations. Consequently, it’s a mathematical, logical order that prevails on the content. Anal intercourse, generally labeled unnatural, bestial and aberrant by common moral code, is here amplified in a succession that makes the act aseptic and turns it into a kaleidoscope of inescapable geometries, an implacable grinder of submission and power, whose individual events, dramas and pleasures are not possible to perceive.
“Is there anybody who has acted both roles, active and passive?” I ask Sierra, who tells me that every person has been paid 250 euros simply by replying to an advertisement. “Sure, it’s a matter of market!” he replies, warning me that the meaning of the piece doesn’t lie in the remuneration, as used to be the case in most of his past works. Actually, what the work presents doesn’t seem to be caused by contingent phenomena, whether they be economical or psychological. Rather, it seems to be distant, deaf and implacable, like the motion of the planets.
When visiting the exhibition in Madrid, I passed by Barcelona where the performance took place on October 12, 2008 — a Spanish public holiday called “Día de la Raza” (Day of the Race). As we all know, over the last few years the capital of Catalonia has stressed its autonomy. While there, I learned that whereas the upper- and middle-classes send their children to private schools, where they study Spanish, the immigrant children attend public schools, where Catalan is a compulsory subject. Therefore, the Catalan language — a symbol of autonomy and independence — will be kept alive by the children of Chinese and North-African immigrants. Just who is the penetrator and who is the penetrated?
Fabio Cavallucci is an art critic and curator based in Trento.
The exhibition “Los penetrados (The Penetrated)” runs through February 28, 2009, at Galería Helga de Alvear, Madrid.