Amie Siegel Dyes Black Swans White

THE DAILY PIC: At Simon Preston, Siegel's projections turn the world upside-down.



THE DAILY PIC (#1551): In 2013, Amie Siegel’s Provenance, the tale of a Le Corbusier chair adrift on the art market, was greeted as one of that year’s great finds. The only question was where Siegel could go from that peak.

Right now at Simon Preston gallery in New York Siegel’s Double Negative is proving that her earlier gem was no fluke. The new work, consisting of two 16mm film projections and one high definition video, is less instantly winning than the chair piece, but it probably goes deeper.

One of the two films shows us Le Corbusier’s 1931 Villa Savoye near Paris, which counts as one of the icons of High Modern design. The other film is of a weird, Australian remake of that building, from 2001, that copies it closely except that the original all-white structure has now been remade in black – right down to the black, Australian swans that Siegel spotted in pools that feature white ones in France. Since Siegel screens her footage of both buildings in negative, the doublings end up even weirder than in life – Australia’s black swans and black building become white, “trading places”, you could say, with the originals near Paris. Siegel channels, or distills out, how doubling and reversal have always been central to European ideas about the colonizing of the southern, “upside-down” half of the planet.

In a room further back at Preston, colonial topics come right to the surface. Siegel’s high-def video takes us inside Australia’s black Villa Savoye, which in fact houses the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Its job mostly lies in the digital transcription of vast stores of ethnographic records of Australia’s aboriginal peoples, partly as way of returning that knowledge to them. In taping the building’s archivists, that is, Siegel, the genius of documentary art, found herself documenting people documenting the documentation of a people.

There are bound to be reversals in the process.

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