siemon allen

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Songs for Nella
better, bank gallery, south africa, 2009


Siemon Allen is a South African artist who currently lives and works in the United States. His recent installations or "collection projects" include the display of multiple historical artifacts in which he explores issues of identity and branding. His most current collection project is an extensive web-based archive documenting South African audio history ( Records an installation that developed out of this archive was shown in South Africa in 2009 and in the United States in 2010.

While in South Africa, Allen was a founding member of the FLAT gallery, an artist’s initiative that operated in Durban from 1993 to 1995. His work was included in the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale as part of the exhibition Graft and also in the Vita 93 and Vita 98 exhibitions.

In 2001, Stamp Collection—an ongoing collection of South African stamps and a research project into South African history—was presented at the Renaissance Society in Chicago; Artists Space in New York City and the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington, DC.

His second collection project, Newspapers, was included in the exhibition The American Effect at the Whitney Museum in New York City, as well as A Fiction of Authenticity at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis.

In 2005, Allen presented his third collection project, Cards—a collection of US Military trading cards—in the exhibition Patriot at the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore and later in the exhibition Enemy at Momenta in Brooklyn, New York.

In addition to collection projects and woven panel installations, Allen also employs cut-up collage techniques using comics. These works have been shown in a number of venues including Art Positions at Basel Miami and at The Project in Los Angeles.

Allen is currently a viisiting professor in the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA.



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 of these seemingly varied practices is my 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, most 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 received audio (sampled sound works). 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.