Conceptual Values

The term “strata” – the title of Amie Siegel’s (b. 1974) newest exhibition at South London Gallery – generally denotes a series of layers. In geography it may reference naturally stacked sediment, or, in politics, levels of economic class. For this show, both meanings are invoked, drawing parallels between the material properties of marble and economic concepts of labour and commodification.

Three works are included: two films and a third comprising a mix of installations. Quarry (2015) traces the limestone trade from beginning to end – from first being unearthed to its inclusion within the décor of luxury apartments and occupies the deep, dark space of the main gallery, an apt home for such an iconic substance.

The second, Fetish (2016), records the annual cleaning of the Freud Museum in North London, whilst Dynasty (2017) includes a fragment of marble from the lobby floor of Trump Tower (New York), which Siegel bought on eBay shortly after the 2016 US election. There is also a small, post-card sized  photograph from inside the hallowed building, as well as two large scanned images of the stone, which stretch from the floor to above the height of an average person’s head.

The notion of turning a tangible object into merchandise is prevalent as both an aesthetic and narrative device. All three works utilise high-definition, a glossy lens closely associated with advertising. In an interview for Art in America, she notes: “ It can have the stillness and clarity of cut glass”, enabling the artist to “reproduce tropes from high-end shelter magazines.” Likewise, the detailed scans in Dynasty, the close-ups of striations in Quarry and statuettes in Fetish, reproduce the same acquisitive desire felt when looking at consumer magazines, not only invoking a specific commercial value to the naturally occurring stone, but also the artworks in which it features.

Thinking about how objects can be bought and sold is a process that informs the narrative structures of the installations. Provenance follows diminutions in value back through time, whereas Quarry depicts an increase in worth due to cutting, polishing and fitting into domestic environments. In both, the journey towards commodification is structured through the passage of time, and whilst comprising simple linear stories, those in Fetish and Dynasty are more complex, relying upon meticulous annual cleaning processes that represent an attempt to maintain value, echoed in the film’s repetitive structure.

The latter forms a fragmented line of inquiry, echoing the shard of stone that the artist purchased on eBay. The fragment purports to originate from Trump Tower; its uncertain validity reflects the insecurity of buying online, as well as Trump’s propagation of “alternative facts.”

Though the stories are disparate in thematic content and stylistic execution, the concept of production and possession remains the common strand. A consumerist-styled aesthetic suggests that creative expression can be purchased and sold, just as elements of the Earth can be mined or dug up as payment. Using marble – a material used and celebrated in art since antiquity – Strata demonstrates that no facet of art is immune from being included in the economic spectrum.

Henry Broome

Amie Siegel: Strata, South London Gallery, until 26 March. For more information:

1. Amie Siegel, Quarry, 2015.
 HD video, color/sound.
Exhibition view South London Gallery, 2017.
Courtesy the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York. Photo Andy Stagg.