Amie Siegel: Provenance (5 stars)

Stunning film exploring appropriation, authenticity, cultural difference and value through the office furnishings of Chandigarh, India

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Amie Siegal: <emProvenance</em>

Provenance, Amy Siegel / image courtesy the artist and Simon Preston Gallery, New York

It’s surprising to see a large non-paying audience remain seated, utterly transfixed by a lengthy contemporary art film piece, especially when that film happens to be about 1950s architecture in the somewhat obscure location of Chandigarh, India. But that’s exactly what the New York-based artist Amie Siegel achieves with her mesmerising work Provenance.

It’s informative, thought provoking, moving, beautiful – and at times, even quietly humorous. Shot as a montage with slowly panning scenes, Provenance takes us on a journey from the peaceful interiors of opulent London and New York apartments across the ocean on a cargo ship to Le Corbusier’s planned city of Chandigarh, where we explore its time warp architecture and bustling offices.

The protagonists driving the narrative are not people but simple pieces of furniture initially designed to inhabit India’s controversial modernist buildings built around the time of the city’s birth. The film anthropomorphises the furniture – usually chairs designed by Pierre Jeanneret – so that our attention is fixed solely on their existence and various states of preservation; the presence of humans is of secondary importance.

There are brilliant moments peppered throughout the film that keep us hooked as Siegal teases out ideas about appropriation, authenticity, cultural difference and value. A scene in a Chandigarh office neatly encapsulates these themes: a sought after Jeanneret chair, which is often bought for huge sums of money and appropriated by the wealthy in the West, is treated with less reverence than cheap plastic furnishings in the same space. Office workers take care to preserve their chairs by leaving plastic packaging on them while a man sits nonchalantly on an original Jeanneret, no doubt wishing he could swap his seat for one of his co-workers plush gas lift office chairs.

Tramway Gallery 1, until Mon 25 Apr.

Amie Siegel: Provenance

Siegel's film traces the global trade in furniture from the Indian city of Chandigarh.

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