November 8, 2010 / Art
In 1980 the young artist Jeff Koons presented his first major solo exhibition, a window …
During the Renaissance, the German term Kunstkammer (Cabinets of Curiosity) was used to describe collections of antiquities. These artifacts of geology, natural history, archeology, and ethnology were displayed in rooms dedicated to the preservation of memories that sufficed as evidence of one’s control and mastery over the world. Kunstkammer were the precursor of the modern museum, and today, though we have moved beyond the original intent of the Cabinets, artists still possess a foundational element of Kunstkammer. Indeed, artists still gather the memories of the world and use these memories as their muse for observing the intricacies of life and death. And one artist in particular, Anne Siems, has set herself apart through her own proclivity to collect natural artifacts and small stories of things that have come and gone.
Inside Siems’s living quarters, her own cabinet of curiosity, are organic relics that naturally embellish her home and studio. Some visitors to her studio might initially describe these surroundings and her paintings as pretty, but such adjectives would undervalue and undermine her collections and exquisite paintings. There is a subtle yet striking intelligence that embodies Siems’s work. Still, language seems impotent in describing her content and form. Siems agrees that her work cannot be defined by words, ergo a transcendence through imagery, a rejection of the need to impregnate everything with meaning—allowing mystery to inhabit.
Despite this mystery, there is a lucid consistency within each of her paintings—from the distant and removed eyes to her stylistic appropriations of Renaissance characteristics and lastly, Kunstkammer articles found strategically, yet surprisingly, placed within. But in response to inquiries about her imagery, Siems insists on letting viewers make their own meaning. She describes her role in creating as intuition, as an unconscious trajectory, but not in a purely surrealistic sense: There is strategy and mindfulness to her paintings, and there is also the act of permitting latent parts within the paintings to surface.
Together these seemingly conflicting characteristics often awaken a disturbing sense of death in her work. “Death,” Siems says, “is always sitting on our shoulders.” It has to do with everything she makes and experiences. She explains that it imbues life and gives purpose as the constant reminder that we are ephemeral—as seen in her work, the ghostly bodies, can represent this notion. The apparently small, dainty things in her world have scores of stories that can leave us with the fullness of life, yet not without the discomfort and confusing presence of death. In these curious cabinets, Siems invites us to observe those small moments of life and death that will quietly haunt and disturb.
Anne Siems is German born and educated and currently resides in Seattle. She is working on four national exhibits in New York, Portland, Boston, and Memphis for this year. To view more visit http://www.annesiems.com/.
Heather Smith is a visual artist living and working in Seattle, Washington. She received a BFA in painting at Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois. She currently is studying at Mars Hill Graduate School for her Masters in Counseling and Psychology.