The protagonist of multimedia artist Amie Siegel’s new video Provenance, on view at the Simon Preston Gallery in New York City through this Sunday, is a chair. Not any chair, mind you, but one designed by renowned modernist architects Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. And not even a chair, really, but a design aesthetic—an iconic wooden teepee—that captivates in much the same way Hollywood royalty might. Which helps makes Siegel’s 40-minute big-screen journey around the world—and through time—a surprisingly emotional, funny, and all-around majestic viewing experience.
Photo courtesy Amie Siegel/Simon Preston, New York
When Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret were awarded the massive civic works project of Chandigarh, India’s first planned city, the influential designers put all of their philosophies to work, designing not just the buildings, but their interior furnishings as well. While the world might have forgotten about Chandigarh, they certainly didn’t forget about Corbusier and Jeanneret, whose designs are celebrated around the world—and fetch thousands at auction.
Siegel’s cinematic adventure traces the diaspora of Corbusier and Jeanneret’s Chandigarh furniture, from their sterile perch inside the million-dollar homes (and boats) of the West’s art-loving elite all the way back to their native habitat in modern-day Chandigarh. Like an inanimate Benjamin Button, we travel backwards with Chandigarh’s chairs, desks, bookcases, and tables from auction house to photo studio to refurbishment shop to cargo ships until the juxtaposition of furniture from London to India is humorously complete. For what one owner is willing to pay upwards of $100,000 for in Paris, another has sat on for years in a municipal building in Chandigarh, unaware of its value beyond comfort. Corbusier and Jeanneret’s authentication stamp on each piece of furniture is Duchamp’s “R. Mutt” come-to-life.
Despite its lifeless star(s), Provenance never stays still, the camera either tracking slowly to reveal yet another hidden Corbusier and Jeanneret piece or the world moving around it, oblivious to its value. This movement gives Provenance the pacing of a big-budget thriller, Siegel’s camera discovering yet another corner or door behind which a 60-year-old link between nations, continents, and classes rests. So it is no surprise to learn that this piece of art won a prize from the prestigious narrative-film institution, Sundance.
A smaller video work (in length and physical size), Circuit, plays across from Provenance and acts as a kind of informal outline. Shot in Chandigarh’s Natural History Museum, the video loops around a 360 panorama charting the birth of the universe through the dawn of man. Provenance’s loop will be closed on October 19 when the work is auctioned at Christie’s London and footage from the sale is weaved into the work itself. (A page from the Christie’s catalogue on the gallery wall teases the event.) That a value will be placed on a video that mocks the transient nature of value makes for an excellent climax.