The Great Line Santiago Sierra


The effects of the COVID 19 crisis have not only been health related. The declaration of state of alarm in Spain and the complete confinement of the population for over three months paralyzed all non-essential activity; causing the fall of the gross domestic product, increasing national debt and above all, forcing a great portion of the population into unemployment and poverty. Workers that were able to benefit from temporary employment regulations (ERTES) would discover aid packages took months to process. Hundreds of thousands of families were unprotected.

Within this context, “hunger lines” – as the media referred to them – began to appear throughout the city of Madrid. Thousands of people would gather each day around different charitable organizations waiting for hours, while maintaining social distancing, for a plate of food or a bag of groceries to take home. Nothing of the sort had been seen in Spain since the post-war period. These organizations, which had already aided 1,050,684 people in 2019 and had delivered 21 million kilograms of food nationwide, began to observe how their demand increased to the point of collapsing their resources. Neighborhoods began self-organizing amidst political inaction while many neighbor associations from the periphery began establishing their own food banks.

Faced with the complete paralysis of cultural activity and the cancellation of all the projects and exhibitions underway, Santiago Sierra’s studio began documenting this historic reality utilizing the formal resources of minimalism, something recurrent in their work. Already, in a prior performance (10 EUROS, PAC Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy, March 2017)serving  a precedent for THE GREAT LINE, Sierra summoned hundreds of people, through the use of flyers and word of mouth, who waited for hours at the doors of PAC creating a great human line in order to receive a payment of 10 Euros.

Sadly, in this case, the invitation was not necessary. Instead it was enough to film the different lines that proliferated throughout the entire city following the same pattern. The result is an overwhelming video, in which very few elements are needed to depict the unease and the disastrous situation the country is still undergoing.