Review: Santiago Sierra - Impenetrable Structure


I wrote this review for my MA studies. I came across it today and really enjoyed re-reading it so thought I would publish it here.

There are rules. The rule being that only one person at a time can view the work. The man leaves.  It is no surprise then that the theme of exclusion should arise so quickly as it so often does in Sierra’s work.  With power and exclusion established, now comes restriction when a naturally occurring line of grout that lies between the gallery’s slab flooring is pointed out to me by the gallery assistant, the line that is not to be crossed. The work that is now two meters away from me is the site-specific piece of work called Impenetrable Structure; a perfectly laid out matrix of sixteen panels made of razor wire that is often associated with military establishments. The structure stretches the entire width of the room and extends all the way to the back wall.

It is not unusual to be asked to keep your distance from art work especially in a gallery setting but this grout line is not part of the site-specific work, the gallery seemingly making use of what was there before the work was installed. It’s geo-politics at play, where nations divide up the land based on natural occurrences like rivers or mountain ranges.


It is possible to position yourself in such a way so the wire aligns creating square corridors where you have perfect visual access to the back wall where the structure ends. It offers hope, a way to navigate through to the other side. Shift again slightly though and the lines became a mass of vertical and horizontal lines and you are lost in chaos of it all.

The poster advertising the exhibition shows a coil of wire that fails to match the perfectly aligned grid work. The uniformity of it all is both sinister and calming. Sinister because of the careful deliberation in how it has been constructed. These are no haphazard coils of wire that extend across the room, nothing like the images from countries who throw down boundaries of barbed wire.  This is a painstakingly uniform, premeditated, engineered design. Someone is clearly in charge of such an orderly structure.  It stands for control and authority and it is very official; there will be no crossing to the other side.  

To navigation through it would require endless negotiations over a space and time, one false move and the cost is life, or serious injury. As the panels extend to the back wall you can follow the line of departure though the structure, but panel after panel after panel leaves a feeling of exhaustion.

The plight of people denied access to good jobs, better pay and meaningful work, are themes often addressed in Sierra’s work, yet Impenetrable Structure addresses the current global issue of people being denied access to geographical locations for reasons of immigration and asylum.  The visual logic to the structure forces the notion of there being a logic to the notion of boundaries too. They keep people in but they also keep people out, perhaps a comment on the conversations surrounding Brexit. 

Sierra has used physical walls before in his work before, but never one so treacherous. The ‘wall’ here is not just a boundary keeping you out but one where to cross it could be fatal.