Santiago Sierra @ DCA

Santiago Sierra plants the anarchist flag on the North and South Poles, and displays the documentation of this process in Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Review by Alison Philp | 29 Oct 2018

In 2007, a Russian submersible descended beneath the North Pole and planted a titanium national flag on the seabed — thus staking claim to energy reserves in the Arctic. Canada complained and territorial wrangling between four bordering nation states began.  

Inspired by quarrels over claims to spaces by the simple planting of a flag, the Spanish artist Santiago Sierra conceived his idea for the planting of an anti-flag, a black flag and a symbol associated with anarchism. This logistically challenged idea became a reality in 2015, through funding by the London based arts organisation a/political.

Documentation by the artist of each of his two polar expeditions is currently on display in the DCA. Dundee’s story, too, is entwined with Arctic exploration, as the birthplace and riverfront home to Captain Scott’s ship Discovery. This same area is currently part of a regeneration project in the form of ambitious new buildings often described as ‘flagships’ whilst nearby berthed oil rig platforms are visible.

On opposing walls of the gallery, two sets of black-and-white photographs offer a narrative of travelling and surviving in frozen global extremities. Framed subjects include various modes of transport, the sublime majesty of tundra wastelands, details of equipment and vast amounts of supplies, as well as everyday discomforts involved in dwelling. Immersive sound recordings are also available, to add to the sense of hauntingly inhospitable landscapes.

Two gigantic photographs predominate the gallery. Both feature a single black flag in situ. The bottom photograph is inverted. Monumental traces of an act of defiance, these images re-present within the gallery context as anchoring points from which one is compelled to contemplate the world revolving between them.

Black Flag questions systems of global and localised power, and what it means to inhabit a place in an era of climate change and fluidly changing national identities. It offers a poetic lens to another version of reality, illuminated by an Arctic light and directed by the artist’s socio-political compass.

Black Flag, at Dundee Contemporary Arts, until 25 Nov