Artist Turns Synagogue Into Gas Chamber
By David Crossland in Berlin
An artist invited Germans to come and be symbolically gased with car exhaust fumes in a former synagogue. Jewish leaders and media commentators say he is belittling the Holocaust and insulting its victims. But hundreds of people have lined up for the experience.
Santiago Sierra, a Spanish performance artist, pledged on Monday to hold talks with Jewish community leaders outraged by his project to give people a sense of the Holocaust by pumping lethal car exhaust fumes into a former synagogue and letting visitors enter one by one with a breathing apparatus.
Sierra, known internationally for his controversial work, led hoses from the exhaust pipes of six parked cars into the building in the town of Pulheim-Stommeln near Cologne to create lethal levels of carbon monoxide there.
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The performance was to have taken place each Sunday until April 30, but next week's session has been cancelled in the wake of fierce criticism from Jewish leaders and media commentators.
"We are suspending the project for a couple of weeks. The artist wants to use the time to talk to the people who have criticized his project," said Dirk Springob, spokesman for the town of Pulheim. "He thinks he will be able to convince them in face-to-face talks and that the project can be continued."
Given the outrage his project has caused, Sierra has a tough task ahead of him.
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Sierra said he was seeking to honor the memory of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. He called the work "245 Cubic Meters" in allusion to the empty space of the synagogue. "Above all, however, 245 cubic meters is meant to be a work about the industrialized and institutionalized death from which the European peoples of the world have lived and continue to live," his statement said.
There has been damning criticism from the German media. The Kölnische Rundschau newspaper said Sierra's "art horror light" led to just the kind of trivialization Sierra claimed to be fighting. "What Santiago Sierra is doing in the Stommeln synagogue indeed takes your breath away, unless you're a visitor, in which case you get plenty of oxygen, take zero risks and are even caringly accompanied by a fireman," it wrote.
"That's quite a contrast with the countless victims of the death camps. How pretentious to seek to evoke their horror and fear of death in such a cheap way! In a cynical game which yields no insight whatsoever."
Seems that Jews are still fair game for every nut and insensitive person around, whether ads for secular parties in Israeli elections or this "artist".