Siemon Allen (b. 1970) is based in Virginia, USA.
My work reflects a number of distinct, but interconnected activities. I collect, organize, and display artifacts. I sample sounds from various media sources and re-configure these to produce audio works, some integrated into sculptural works, and others covertly presented in specific sites. I construct large hand woven panels with cast off movie film or videotape that operate between painting and architectural enclosure. I design and produce limited edition artist’s books.
The thread that runs through all these seemingly varied practices is an need to reconcile my interests in the world of the political with the language of the aesthetic. I try to approach any given project with an attitude of detached research. I want the social critique that inevitably arises out my work to operate subtly and to reflect what I see as the contradictory and complex nature of South African identity.
Ironically, much of my work, is the result of my being in the United States, where I find myself looking at the image of South Africa as I might reconstruct it—through historical artifacts (stamps), through current media (newspapers) or through accumulated audio (records). This work attempts to examine an image of South Africa that is constructed external to the country. To some extent it speaks to what I feel is a kind of separation from the source, and leads me to consider how much of this work is, at its core, an investigation into notions of branding and identity through displacement.
Have a look at the feature Sue Williamson wrote on Siemon’s work back in June 2001.
Siemon Allen is a South African artist whose research based studio practice reflects a number of distinct yet interconnected processes where overlapping interests in aesthetics and politics lead to works loaded with historical significance and visual magnitude. Allen creates large-scale architectural displays that explore the construction of national identity while challenging the divisions between sculpture, painting and photography. He systematically accumulates mass-produced cultural artifacts including postal stamps, newspapers, old film stock, trading cards, comics and audio recordings which he then catalogues and repurposes. His approach is not unlike that of an archivist, each collected item bringing with it the narrative of its production, dissemination, and function. His ongoing web-based, visual archive of rare South African audio can be viewed at flatinternational.org.
Allen received his MFA from the Durban Institute of Technology in 1999 and was a founding member of the FLAT gallery, an artist’s initiative in Durban. He has exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including the 2011 Venice Biennale; the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin; the Whitney Museum, Artists Space, White Box and Momenta in New York City; The Renaissance Society in Chicago; the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Iziko Slave Lodge and the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale in South Africa.
In 2013, Allen was a recipient of a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and a VMFA Professional Fellowship in 2006. His work is represented in a number of collections including the Guggenheim Museum in New York; the Virginia Museum of Fine Art and Royall Collection in Richmond, VA; the Gordon Schachat Collection, BHP Billiton and Standard Bank Collections in South Africa.
Since 2000 Allen has been a visiting artist and adjunct professor in the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He has also been a regular contributor to the music blogs Electric Jive and Flatint.