Competition: US & Canada
Virginia Commonwealth University
Siemon Allen is a South African artist who is based in the United States. For the past ten years he has been exploring issues of national identity and branding through a series of collection projects. His research-based studio practice has evolved out of an interest in how mass-produced items — newspapers, stamps, records — function as carriers of information and operate in the construction of image. His process is not unlike that of an archivist in that he systematically accumulates these artifacts, which he ultimately catalogues, displays, or uses as source material.
Records, Allen’s most recent collection project, consists of a diverse group of visual works processed from his extensive archive of South African audio. These include a number of site-responsive architectural installations, a series of large digital prints constructed from high-resolution scans of significantly damaged records, as well as a comprehensive web-based visual archive of the collection at www.flatinternational.org.
While in South Africa, Allen was a founding member of the FLAT gallery, an artists’ initiative that operated in Durban during the politically significant period from 1993 to 1995. For the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale, in 1997, Allen constructed a large-scale installation of woven VHS videotape in the South African National Gallery.
Since then, Allen’s work has been exhibited widely in the United States and South Africa. Notable exhibitions include Stamps, an archive spanning 100 years with over 50,000 postal stamps, shown at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, Artists Space in New York City, and the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington. The final version of this project was acquired recently by the Gordon Schachat Collection in Johannesburg. Newspapers, a project exploring the image of South Africa in the U.S. press, was included in The American Effect at the Whitney Museum in New York, and A Fiction of Authenticity at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis. Makeba!, a collection of over 250 artifacts by the acclaimed singer and antiapartheid activist, was presented at the Bank Gallery in South Africa and the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois. Expanded versions of Stamps, Newspapers, and Records were shown in the survey exhibition Imaging South Africa at the Durban Art Gallery in South Africa and the Anderson Gallery in Richmond, Virginia.
Other projects include Cards, a collection of U.S. military trading-cards, presented at Momenta in New York, and recently at the SCAD Museum in Savannah. Land of Black Gold, a collage work sourced from Tintin comics and acquired by the Guggenheim Museum in 2004, was included in the 2012 exhibition Found in Translation at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin.
For the South African Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, Allen constructed Labels—a 53-foot vertical curtain installation of 2,500 images from the audio archive, which operated as a kind of chronological discography. Subsequently, he presented a reconfigured horizontal version of that work in a site-responsive, accessible architectural installation using over 5,000 label images, first at the Goodman Gallery in 2011 and then in 2013 in the Music Room of the Iziko Slave Lodge, a social-history museum in Cape Town.
Since 2002 Allen has been a visiting adjunct professor in the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.