Curating Commissioning Producing


Offer & Exchange: Sites of Negotiation in Contemporary Art
Commission No. 2
DEATH COUNTER by Santiago Sierra

Hiscox Headquarters, London
1 January 2009 - 31 December 2009

At 00:00 GMT, 1 January 2009, DEATH COUNTER, a major new artwork by international artist Santiago Sierra will be unveiled on the facade of Hiscox Insurers' London Headquarters in the City of London. The giant LED sign registers the annual number of human deaths worldwide, from any cause, over the course of one year starting from zero on New Year's Eve.

The sculpture will adhere to Sierra's minimalist aesthetic whilst serving as a fast-paced reminder of the transient nature of both human life and capital, right in the heart of London's financial district. The sculpture will be loaned to international specialist insurers Hiscox for the period of one year in exchange for an insurance policy of 150,000 Euros, payable in the event of the artist's death and valid for the duration of the exhibition. Thus, the artwork exists not simply as a sculpture, but also as a legally binding contract between Hiscox and the artist.

Exploring the concept of value in relation to human life and art, this collaboration between Santiago Sierra and Hiscox invokes elements of risk and value speculation to raise a number of important questions around how the values of life, death and art are determined; including how value corresponds to concepts of labour and commodification. The value of the insurance policy has been set in relation to the value of the artwork, effectively placing two systems of value speculation in relation to each other. The death count will be based upon a demographic projection taken from the US Census International Data Base, currently estimated at being just over 55 million deaths per year, a rate of nearly two deaths per second.

As with his previous projects, Sierra has dramatized the relationship between 'work' and 'worth' by placing precise economical transactions in a visual context. As Hiscox receives the right to exhibit the artwork for one year in return for providing the artist's life insurance, the artist sets the value of his own life against the value of the artwork, as well as symbolically in relation to collective global deaths. In the event of the artist's death before the year is up, the insurance policy will be paid out to a benefactor of Sierra's choice and the artwork returned to his estate at the end of the exhibition, 00:00 GMT 1 January 2010.

DEATH COUNTER by Santiago Sierra is the second part of the project Offer & Exchange: Sites of Negotiation in Contemporary Art, a series of site-specific commissions inviting artists using legal contracts as artistic frameworks curated by Daniel McClean and Lisa Rosendahl and produced by Electra. Each commission has been conceived for one of the following sites in which art is made visible by being exhibited, publicized, sold or collected: (i) the commercial gallery; (ii) the corporate collection; (iii) the art magazine; (iv) the public institution; (v) the private collection; (vi) the auction house; (vii) the art fair. DEATH COUNTER explores the site of the corporate art collection and has been commissioned by Electra in collaboration with Hiscox, with generous support from Henry Moore Foundation and Lisson Gallery.

About the Artist:

Santiago Sierra was born in Madrid in 1966. He gained extensive international recognition in 2001, when he was invited to develop new projects by several major institutions worldwide. The resulting works include Workers who cannot be paid, remunerated to remain inside cardboard boxes, Kunstwerke Berlin, Berlin; A person paid for 360 continuous working hours, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York; and The wall of a gallery pulled out, inclined sixty degrees from the ground and sustained by five people, Acceso A Gallery, Mexico City. In 2003, Sierra was invited to represent Spain at the 50th Venice Bienniale. Sierra has continued developing challenging new projects, including House in Mud, Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover, 2005; 245 m3, Stommeln Synagogue, Pulheim, Germany, 2006; Submission, Proyecto Juárez, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, 2006/07; and The trap and The Adults, Centro Cultural Matucana, Santiago de Chile, Chile, 2007. Recent group exhibitions include The Living Currency, Tate Modern, London, 2008; Arte no es Vida: Actions by Artists of the Americas 1960-2000, El Museo del Barrio, New York, 2008; RAUM. Orte der Kunst, Akademie der Kunste, Berlin, 2007; and Surprise Surprise, ICA, London, 2006. His work has been included in the 51st International Venice Biennale, 2005 and 2 Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, 2007. For more information visit

Image: DEATH COUNTER, 2009, courtesy of Kallaway

Curator Interview
Related Links
Offer & Exchange: Sites of Negotiation
in Contemporary Art

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Santiago Sierra - DEATH COUNTER