Have you ever gone hunting for gold? Brooklyn-based artist Iván Sikic’s new installation, "LOOT" ("SAQUEO" in Spanish), revives that childhood dream of uncovering priceless ore. But he adds a harsh political edge, framing it in a history of colonial oppression, miner exploitation, and good ol' human greed.
To do so, Sikic buried a 24-karat gold nugget beneath 54 tons of dirt in an abandoned mansion in Peru’s capital city, Lima. Then, he asked people to engage in the artwork by, well, digging. Whoever found the hidden nugget would be able to keep it -- which is no small success, as it’s worth around $2,000.
“LOOT tackles an issue that is the result of human behavior,” Sikic wrote to The Huffington Post, “and I felt it was important to put the viewer at the center of the work (by inviting them to participate in the creation of it) in order to best expose the repercussions of humanity’s actions.” The artwork thrusts the normally passive art-goer into a morally precarious position: he both relishes the dig and must question that enjoyment.
That’s because gold has a long and troubled history in Peru, where Sikic grew up. European settlers ravaged indigenous populations to extract it, and today’s mining practices are similarly destructive -- both to the Amazon Rainforest and to the lives of over 400,000 illegal miners. Those problems, however, are rarely addressed in urban centers like Lima.
“Peru is an extremely centralized country,” Sikic wrote, “where the issues that take place outside the capital (in this case, that of illegal gold mining and its consequences), for the most part, tend to have a soft focus put on them, which only gets sharpened sporadically.”
Sharpening that soft focus required a mix of partnership and good fortune. A Peruvian jeweler helped him source the gold and acquire extensive quality certification, but the abandoned mansion was acquired through pure luck. Sikic’s Lima gallery Gonzalez y Gonzalez was located across the street from the derelict. When they inquired, gallery representatives learned it was scheduled for demolition -- and the property developers were happy to give Sikic free artistic reign. The installation was open to hunters for just three days, but when no one was able to uncover the nugget, Sikic himself took on the role of miner to unearth it.
While the performance piece may no longer be open for those seeking riches, it continues to address the unacknowledged ways income and lifestyle disparities can emerge from those riches. “I realized that the reading of it went well beyond that of my original intention,” Sikic wrote, “and the work seemed to also speak a lot about human greed for anything that we consider to be of significant value.”