Labels on exhibition at the Iziko Slave Lodge until 30 December 2013
Iziko Museums of South Africa presents Siemon Allen’s Labels, a large architectural installation that will be on display at the Iziko Slave Lodge from January to December 2013. Siemon describes Labels as, “a historical record, a chronological discography of select labels” from his archive and “as a kind of visual memorial to South Africa’s rich musical past.” Exhibited in the museum’s Music Room, the work features 5,000 photographs of record labels inserted into a suspended clear plastic curtain.
Each label represents an individual recording, paying visual homage to the past by naming every artist in the archive. The installation has been configured to converse with part of the museum’s collection of historical artefacts, in this case two vintage grand pianos, two clocks, and an antique gramophone. Labels is a site-responsive installation that meanders through the space amongst the musical instruments and clocks to form a number of intimate accessible enclosures.
With this piece, Allen revisits a theme that has been dominant in his work for many years: the idea of a “space within a space”. The exterior surface of the curtain wall reads as a clean, almost minimalist abstract grid, while the interior becomes a colourful complex pattern of disc shapes with text and markings. From afar the textual information begins to go out of focus and recede, only to be replaced by a tapestry-like colour-field pattern.
Up close one is able to digest the details on each individual label. Some names and recordings are well known, but many more are now forgotten. A diverse range of musicians and bands are represented, including names such as Reuben Caluza, ‘Solomon Linda’s Evening Birds’, ‘Die Dagbreek Orkes’, ‘Spokes Mashiyane and his Rhythm’, Jeremy Taylor, Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, ‘Phillip Tabane and his Malombo Jazzmen’, ‘Juluka’, ‘Kalahari Surfers’, ‘Prophets of da City’, and ‘Die Antwoord’.
The labels are arranged chronologically, with the earliest dating from 1901 at the entrance. As one enters the structure and proceeds through the interior space the chronology moves forward in time to recent CD recordings. The visual effect produces in the viewer the experience of being completely enveloped by the labels.
Labels featured at the recent 54th Venice Biennale. For the South African Pavilion, Allen constructed a 14-metre tall curtain wall with 2,500 labels, in response to the architectural particulars of the Torre di Porta Nuova. Displayed vertically in a space of enormous height with a vaulted ceiling and backlit by an arched window, Siemon states that “Labels resembled a stained-glass window”. This current version with the labels displayed in a horizontal format and configured to create an accessible interior space was first shown at Goodman Cape in 2011. The artwork is on loan by the artist, Siemon Allen, courtesy of the Goodman Gallery.
Further information on Allen’s collection project can be accessed on his searchable web-based database at www.flatinternational.org.
Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko) operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and thee collection–specific libraries in Cape Town. The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage. Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation which brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure. The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, as well as unlimited free access to individuals aged 18 and under (excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium).
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Artist Siemon Allen and Glen Fouten at the Labels installation, Iziko Slave Lodge Photographer: Paul Tichmann