Death as experienced by the individual is always the death of others until the possibility and proximity of one’s own death becomes evident in its ultimate rationale. It is in this observation that Sierra finds an important basis for the human capacity for empathy, but then again for the indifference and inertia as well that characterises our response to the plight of people who are not part of our immediate social environment. It is safe to say that the idea underlying Sierra’s work for Stommeln Synagogue was not to enable people to re-experience the emotions and fears of the extermination camp victims – an inappropriate and impossible objective. Much more important to him was the fact that it is possible to cause death by simply ignoring the “rules of the game” that people will always define, and always have defined, for other people. (If you had decided to pull off the respirator inside the Synagogue during the event, you would have run the risk of asphyxiation, at least potentially.) Sierra pointed out in this context that you would have surrendered yourself to an alien organisation – in this case, to the security staff – had you exposed yourself to the staged-fatal hazard and actually entered the Synagogue’s interior. All of this naturally remains safely within the framework set by the “harmless” rules of art, which nonetheless did little in this case to downplay the harm. Various ways of staging it, then, in order to avail yourself of existential experiences of sorts: isolation, near-death, the loss of control.
Remembrance is meaningless unless it impacts the present and thus the future, argues Sierra. To him, it was of the essence that this artwork set historic remembrance in direct relation to the global injustice, bigotry and exploitation of our day and age. Sierra refuses to see the Holocaust as a specifically German or isolated historic phenomenon, but considers it merely as the culmination of an ongoing historic development. In fact, Sierra believes that reducing the Holocaust to a concluded historic event underlines the very real danger that such horrors might repeat themselves.