Under destruction #2 - The Corridor in the House of the People
Mihnea Mircan

The Corridor in the House of the People – Santiago Sierra

by Mihnea Mircan

MNAC – National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest, Romania
October 2005

MNAC B ucharest hosted Santiago Sierra’s largest project to date, as the second episode of Under Destruction – a series of site-specific interventions by international artists, invited to engage polemically the political significance of the location of the museum. Since October 2004, MNAC occupies a wing in the Palace of the Parliament, formerly known as the House of the People.
The House of the People is the second largest building in the world, a product of terminal communist megalomania, disconnected from practical necessity and completely isolated from the life of the city. After the 1989 Romanian revolution, it was re-branded as the product of the constructive genius of the nation and taken over by the new political powers. It can be described as the perfect backdrop for enacting the post-communist syndrome, it functions as the locus of Romania’s conflicted relation to its recent history and is featured in every guide as the main tourist attraction in Bucharest.
The corridor conceived by Santiago Sierra immobilized and obliterated the entire space of the museum, constraining visitors to a predetermined path of obsessive repetition. The performance that was enacted in the corridor produced the extreme actualization of a stereotype about Romania, a fragment of the rudimentary sociology that divides the world between advanced nations and nations smothered in their mediocre destiny, between winners and losers in the game of history. 370 women of different ages begged for money to visitors passing through the corridor. A description repeatedly purported by media reports – ‘Romania is a country of pan-handlers’ – acquired the proportions of Greek tragedy. The performance was meant to suggest being trapped in preconception, waking up in a nightmare of purely schematic thinking, in an eyeless space deprived of depth and contours, while the project adapted to the local context Santiago Sierra’s practice of testing the limits, their relevance and resilience, of pushing things to political and economic extremes, creating scenarios that work like exercises in agonizing futility, amassing obstacles and exacerbating antagonisms.
Santiago Sierra’s art builds upon contradiction – it starts from a question and complicates it until it becomes deafening. The project in Bucharest engaged the logic of exclusion, the labeling and negotiation that occurs around and across real or imaginary borders. The corridor generated an extraterritorial space where two representations of the Romanian people – the enslaved mass indirectly, cynically portrayed by the ‘House of the People’ and the present-day cliché resulting from economic disparity or vastly reductive thinking – are confronted and collapsed.
In 2004, for the inauguration of this location of the museum, Gianni Motti and Christoph Büchel collaborated to produce Under Destruction #1, a ‘political fair’ where candidates to the Romanian presidency, interviewed by the two artists, were advertising vocally their programs for national salvation in utter political cacophony. For Under Destruction #3, an intervention scheduled for November 2007, I have invited the artist Nedko Solakov.

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Under destruction #2 - The Corridor in the House of the People
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