Surplus Value

Title: Surplus Value

Year: 2010

Medium: Activated Object

Materials: reproduction of a stolen object at a 1:1 scale, metal, tools, worker.

Dimensions: 31.5 x 204.7 x 2 inches

Edition: 3 with 1 A/P


Surplus Value is a work inspired in a piece of news published in the press on December 2009 on the robbery of the sign “Arbeit macht frei” (Work will make you free) which was at the entrance of Auschwitz concentration camp. The work is a replica of the stolen sign and, at first, was made for the Arco Art Fair. It was placed in a grey and rustic industrial work area. Remains of materials, cigarette butts, dust and construction or repairing equipment were carelessly scattered about, offering the appearance of an unfinished work to be retaken any moment (non-activated phase). Also the installation-performance has a man (a Rumanian national who is an illegal worker) who arrives at times and welds or sandpapers the object (activated phase). There is an attempt at creating a vicious circle in which the piece transforms as time goes, but it is not clear whether it is being destroyed or repaired.

Surplus Value is a piece that takes the moment in which ethics intervenes in the action inspiring it and turns desire into a political aim. The piece bases its activation in the margins existing between offer and demand in the market, as well as in the surplus value of an object, that achieves a given economic value not because of its quality as an object in itself, but because of its historical, political and moral meaning, legitimated by the power of manipulation of the media. The object goes from a social market to an art market as a reflection on ethics, economy and the desire to possess.



The promise of politics. XXXI Pontevedra Biennial. Fundación Rosón de Arte Contemporáneo. Pontevedra, Spain. Curated by Carlos Rosón and Santiago Olmos. (catalogue)

June 3 – August 2

Φρουησις (Phronesis). Galeria Juana de Aizpuru. Madrid, Spain.

February 17 – February 21


Scrolldown for IMAGES

Access ARCO and TATE

ARCO 2010

Madrid, Spain

photos: Juanjo Pérez Ortiz

The Promise of Politics

Pontevedra, Spain

photos: RAC Foundation  

Selected bibliography

(by alphabetical order)

Caballero, Marta “Tania Bruguera, ARCO 2010”, El Mundo, El cultural, February 2010, Madrid, Spain.

Díaz Guardiola, Javier “Tania Bruguera: to provoke is not a strategy,” March, 2010. ABC Magazine, Cultural Section (illust.) p. 26 – 27.

DoloresOn prudence and good senseFEMINISMOS E OUTRAS HISTORIAS, March 29,2010.

El CulturalPlusvalía de Tanía Bruguera” (Tania Bruguera’s Surplus Value) [esferapública], March 3rd, 2010.

Galindo, GabrielaAl mARCO de una feria” (At the Frame of a Fair), Réplica 21, February 2010, Madrid, Spain.

Generacion.netTania Bruguera, Promesa política” (Tania Bruguera, a Political Promise), Ociopolis, December 27, 2010.

Olmo, Santiago “How to Speak from the Media?” La Promesa de la Política / The Promise of Politics, Edited by Fundación RAC, Leon, Spain. (illust.) pp. 9 – 29. ISBN 978-84-614-5421-1

Perera, MargaJoseph Ma. Civit,  Colecciono maneras de pensar” (Joseph Ma. Civit,  I Collect Ways of Thinking) Tendencias del Arte. Coleccionistas, May 2011, Spain. 


“…The audience and liberated actors/voluntaries activate the performance, while Plusvalía (Surplus Value), screened in an ARCO Project Room and in the exhibition in the Juana de Aizpuru Gallery itself and part of Rac Foundation The Political Promise, marks the beginning of a series of works inspired in news released by the media and gliding to the abovementioned sculptural level with theatrical traces. Surplus Value begins with the piece of news published on December 2009 by the press on the theft of the metal sign at the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp – now a museum to the memory of the holocaust, with the well-known words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) which has become the emblem of Nazi cynicism – by a criminal gang with the purpose of selling it in the black market for historic and antique gadgets. The Polish police found the sign hidden and divided into three parts. Successive information pointed out that the robbery had been commissioned and the agreed price was 150 000 euros.

Surplus Value is a sculptural work part of Political Promise whose activation includes the intervention of the audience which may change the appearance and finishing of the sign by working with the aid of an electric sander.

Over and above the political and historical symbolism of the words in the sign, the mechanism to activate the piece is based on the twists and turns of the demand and offer market as well as on the surplus value of an object that is not the reproduction of the original (understood as a historical document: Auschwitz is today a museum with more than a million visitors per year), but a reproduction of the stolen object. Surplus value, that is, the profit the entrepreneur obtains by taking the benefit produced by workers with their work, is in this case the appropriation of the participating and “festive” action of the audience reverted into the art market: the value of the piece benefits from the audience’s action activating the piece. But also the work shows how a historical-political slogan turns into an object which may be entered into the black and capricious market of rarities and curiosities and, at the same time, into the art market as a work summarizing in the sham of the stolen object a reflection on politics, the market, history and economy.

Nothing is today outside the market and, on the other hand, what is not in the mass media does not exist. The existence of the work has more to do with the news of the robbery appearing in the media than with the robbery as an event in itself…”

Santiago Olmo “How to Speak from the Media?”  The Promise of Politics. Leon, Spain. December, 2010.

“Surplus Value” is the only piece, strictly speaking, included in the section How is this piece set in motion?  The piece is set in motion when a person works with it with an electric sander. It is a powerful work that formally teaches and offers a process. And then it freezes. It is in the same context as Phronesis because they are both philosophical categories having to do with power, one with economic power and the other with political power. Both productions refer to the idea of political caution, where convenience dictates what is said…”

Javier Díaz Guardiola “To provoke is not a strategy” ABC Magazine. Madrid, Spain. March, 2010