curated by Tosha Grantham
Second Street Gallery, Charlottesville, VA
September 4th - October 17, 2015

Siemon Allen will present Labels, an evolving architectural, site-responsive installation, at Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia. Consisting of over 7000 digital prints sourced from his extensive archive of South African audio, this is the fourth and largest version of a work informed by an ongoing collection project of South African recordings. Through such projects Allen explores the image of South Africa in an evolving studio practice that considers how mass-produced items – newspapers, stamps, magazines, and records – transmit information and function in the construction of national identity.

Labels functions both as historical record and chronological discography. It also serves as a visual memorial to South Africa’s rich musical past – each label represents an individual recording that pays homage to that past by naming every artist in the archive. Some names and recordings are well known, but many more are now forgotten. As the project develops, names and labels are added to the curtain. But like an asymptote that never reaches its axis, the collection can never be complete. Inasmuch as the archive can never contain all recordings, the curtain cannot represent all artists. The project is but a fragment of history and the curtain an impossible attempt to capture that history. Like Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veteran’s War Memorial in Washington, DC, Allen suggests, “the sheer accumulation of ‘the individual’ transforms the collective into the monumental.”

Allen's solo exhibition at Second Street marks the first time Labels will be presented in the United States. Previous versions of Labels have been shown in the South African Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale, at Goodman Gallery Cape and the Iziko Slave Lodge Cultural History Museum in Cape Town, South Africa. In addition to Labels, Allen will include Covers a series of digital prints sourced from selected details of record covers in his audio archive. A searchable web-based database of the audio archive can be viewed at

There will be an opening reception on September 4th, from 5:30- 7:30 pm, with a talk by the artist at 6:30 pm. On closing day, Saturday, October 17th, Second Street Gallery will host an artist/curator conversation from 4-5 pm with Allen, David Noyes, a Central and Southern African music specialist, and exhibition curator Tosha Grantham.