Destroyed world:
Scary K burning... Scary K burning... Sian Moore

Each letter had been constructed from materials with special economic relevance to each specific location. The materials used in the letter K symbolise Australia's agricultural history

A 3.5 metre-tall letter K made of pine and hay and woven with wicker was set ablaze and destroyed at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) in Melbourne. This was the culmination of a two-year project entitled Destroyed Word by controversial Spanish artist Santiago Sierra which was part of the 2012 Melbourne Festival.

It was a bitterly cold Melbourne evening, the night before the Melbourne Festival officially opened on Wednesday October 10. On the ACCA forecourt a crowd slowly started gathering around the barricades surrounding Sierra's K. There was a good 15 metres between the crowd and the letter which would soon be ablaze.

As darkness set in, with the city skyline serving as the perfect backdrop, people crammed around the forecourt to witness Sierra's final instalment. Organisers warned of smoke, ash and embers as the strong winds blew in the direction of the crowd. A couple of fire engines were on standby, just in case.

After a long build-up, the structure was finally set alight. The flames grew bigger and brighter, the crowd warmed by the heat emanating from the K as the fire engulfed the pine and hay. It was all over within 20 minutes. This last letter was the final piece of the jigsaw that was Sierra's secret destroyed word, which was revealed one week later at the National Gallery of Victoria.

K, while being the last letter destroyed, was the first letter of Sierra's destroyed word: KAPITALISM. Sierra might have been at the burning but we will never know; he shuns publicity and is a reluctant high profile artist.

The NGV has set up 10 rectangular screens which project black and white video footage of each one of the letter destructions against a white backdrop. Apart from Melbourne, the locations of the other demolitions were in France, Austria, Papua New Guinea, Germany, New Zealand, Iceland, India, Holland and Sweden.

Each letter had been constructed from materials with special economic relevance to each specific location. The materials used in the letter K symbolise Australia's agricultural history. Setting it aflame highlights the significant and tragic role the element of fire has had on Australian life and history.

In other examples, a wooden letter I was hacked with an axe in the jungle of Papua New Guinea, symbolising the deforestation occurring in the country, while an aluminium L was deconstructed in Reykjavik to represent the growing aluminium smelting industry in Iceland. Two of the more inventive destructions were to the letter S, made up of fruit and vegetables, being eaten by a group of pigs in a muddy field in Holland, and cartons of milk shelved in an A being shot to pieces, milk projectile flying everywhere, in New Zealand.

Santiago Sierra is renowned for his controversial art which focuses on exposing situations of exploitation and marginalisation in capitalist societies. However, his method has been criticised for being exploitative. Once Sierra protested against the "the banalisation of the Holocaust" by pumping car fumes into a former synagogue in Germany to create a gas-chamber. He once produced 21 modules made from human faeces which had been collected in India by low-caste scavengers. And another in a long list of controversial acts which have characterised his career was when he paid drug-addicted prostitutes to have a line tattooed across their backs.

You either love or hate Sierra. His work instils shock and outrage in his audience more often than not. While Destroyed Word was one of his tamer works of art, it can be said that Santiago Sierra continues to surprise fans and detractors alike, and forces all who see his work to critically analyse contemporary society.

Destroyed Word is on at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) until October 28:


By Sian Moore
Spanish Australia Magazine intern

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