Men and women nicely dressed in designer wares encircle the furnishings heels clicking against the hard wood floors of the staged space. The hammer of the auctioneer hits the gavel as he abruptly stops raddling off large values in French. The Chandigarh furnishings of modernist design have been sold.
We have sat down at the small white bench in the darkened gallery space. We are now maybe twenty feet from a large screen, far enough away to see the entire picture, but close enough to feel engrossed. We will find out later, that the work is fourteen minutes long and will be surprised that we were easily compelled to sit through the entire film.
Long, time-stretched tracking shots at chair height seductively capture the modern-day status of the furnishings. The film is a kind of lifestyle pornography. Stunning interiors of the obviously wealthy in New York, Paris, Berlin and London house the objects, which stand, untouched and unused. While the shots in India, elicit a desire to travel to the fantastic Brutalist architecture of Chandigarh where the furniture originates. To be amongst the busyness of the office spaces where the worn furnishings are used practically for sitting and working.
The film is as glossy as a lifestyle magazine, but rather than passively view we are asked questions of complicity. We are now outside the Court of High Justice in Chandigarh the famous chairs are piled high, some upside down with their legs in the air, the chairs are dusty, but in salvageable condition. What do we see? An investment. An opportunity to own one of these chairs, to sell one, to save one?
Now we are on the deck of a yacht in unknown waters, sliding glass doors automatically open and there stand two of the chairs angled in towards each other as if in conversation. We are gazing into lavish homes, exclusive auction houses, restoration workshops and hectic offices. We have gained access to these spaces to experience a story, a story that does not need a commanding documentarian voice to lead the narrative. The story just needs high-definition visuals that capture every detail of furnishing and environment.
The low angle of the camera removes the identities of the individuals involved in this story; it is as if they have been accidentally captured or have become part of the environment as a fireplace or bookshelf. The story is not about the owners and users. In the homes of private collector's devoid of people, we gaze at the objects in a lustful manner, fetishized, the chairs, desks and end tables become prized. Equally, when we later see these furnishings in the concrete buildings of Chandigarh they are similarly prized, as their modern status has already been established.
We are now in the Assembly Hall in India, the form of the chairs is recognizable, but they are covered in colorful padding, the chairs are arranged in groups of these colors: burnt red, marine green, velvety brown. This gravitation towards the aesthetically pleasing is answered in how Siegel's interest in film began, "As a small child I was preoccupied with the visual, in particular with the theatricality of display. My mother owned a high-end women's boutique, and, from an early age, I worked on the mannequins and windows; sometimes they were entirely my doing." Against the lightly stained wood and gray concrete there is something so visually poetic about these assemblies of chairs.
As the film loops back to the scene in which we entered, we walk around the screen to the other side of the gallery. We now see an auctioning similar to the ones we have already witnessed. However, projected on the screen behind the auctioneer is a still frame from Siegel's film with the name of the work alongside. It is October 19, 2013; we are at the Post-War and Contemporary art sale at Christie's in London. Siegel has recorded this auctioning; in an attempt to consider her own complicity. The film becomes another object at auction, inseparable from the market it depicts.
More about Amie Siegel's work Provenance here
1. [Siegel, Amie. In the Studio: Amie Siegel. By Steel Stillman. Art in America, November 2, 2015.]↩