New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 20 May 7 to 13, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Face to the Wall
Santiago Sierra
Ed Barnas

Photo by Santiago Sierra . Source:
Santiago Sierra, "Veteran of the War of Afghanistan Facing the Corner (Art Point, Donetsk. Ukraine. December 2011)".

The Spanish artist Santiago Sierra is known for installations that critique capitalism and its power structures, often by employing the underprivileged to perform pointless or mundane tasks within the gallery. Veterans, his current exhibit at the Team Gallery, documents his recent series of installations addressing the military worker.

The veterans depicted in the nine full-length portraits do not face the viewer. Rather, we see their backs as they stand facing a corner, just as they were hired to stand at the galleries in the various cities where the events were staged. It is an international assemblage, with local veterans hired to be present in galleries in the USA, UK, Germany, the Ukraine and Columbia. The almost life-size prints (78.7 x 39.4 in.) attempt to give the gallery visitor a sense of being at the installations where these veterans took their place in the corner and did not interact with the attendees.

Photo by Santiago Sierra . Source:
Santiago Sierra, "Veteran of the Wars of Afghanistan and Iraq Facing the Corner (Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, United Kingdom, July 2011)" 2013.

One can read this staging as a play on the phrase “backed into a corner.” In the normal sense, it implies someone forced into the corner and facing out at an aggressor. However, these men (many of them volunteers) faced a metaphorical corner, having been sent to fight in conflicts that did not have a clear goal or quick resolution. Each veteran is identified only with the areas in which he served: Afghanistan, Iraq, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, or Columbia. They were there to do a job and came back to a society where many of them felt invisible.

Photo by Santiago Sierra . Source:
Santiago Sierra, "Veteran of the War of Colombia Facing the Corner, Centro Colombo Americano, Bogota, Colombia, November 2011".

Now they were being paid to be in a gallery, standing watch in a blind corner while behind them gallery go-ers chatted and drank in relative safety. Though most of the veterans appeared in military garb, several were in civilian dress. Without seeing their faces, their body language offers the viewer the only clue as to the veteran’s thoughts and feelings; some stood in the formal, military eyes-front “at ease” stance while others bowed their heads in apparent reflection (none stood at “attention”).

These veterans of theaters of civil unrest and global wars on terror and drugs are here silent witnesses to the ambiguities of those conflicts. They form a counterpoint to Melissa Cacciola’s War and Peace series of tintype double portraits of active-duty and veteran men and women recently at UPI and a stark contrast to the iconography of World War II veterans as recorded by Jonathan Alpeyrie seen last year at Anastasia Gallery.

Santiago Sierra

Team Gallery
47 Wooster St.
Lower Manhattan - East         Map

212 279 9219

Thursday, April 11 to
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Hours: Tue - Sat, 10 to 6

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat