Amie Siegel’s exhibition ‘Backstory’ at London’s Thomas Dane Gallery opens with an unassuming series of works on paper. ‘Body Scripts’ (2015) consists of framed pages from a novel by Italian novelist Alberto Moravia that was the inspiration for Jean-Luc Godard’s classic film ‘Contempt’ (1963). Using only pages that feature the female protagonist, the artist uses sea-blue paint to erase phrases and sentences that don’t directly refer to the character. The result is an architectural geometry that flows from frame to frame and creates a visual context for the actions of the protagonist.
The video ‘Genealogies’ (2016), shown in the adjacent room, picks up again on these themes. Everything here is connected in cultural or visual terms, and Siegel’s video demonstrates her associative way of thinking, building webs of interconnection.
In this documentary-style film, the artist returns to another iteration of the same female character, this time in the personage of Brigitte Bardot in Godard’s ‘Contempt’. The relevance of the architectural setting is made explicit this time, as Siegel explores the cultural history of the Casa Malaparte, on the roof of which Bardot famously sunbathes nude in Godard’s film. Siegel shows how the villa and the iconic architectural spaces of the surrounding area have been utilised to different ends by figures as varied as Giorgio di Chirico, Roberto Rossellini, Pink Floyd, Hugo Boss and the Sir John Soane Museum.
At 26 minutes, ‘Genealogies’ takes on the dimensions of a full documentary film, and it’s easy to get caught up in the intriguing movie clips and seductive adverts, along with the challenge of establishing a lineage of influence and appropriation. And yet somehow Bardot’s naked body – only actually represented on screen once – seems to haunt the narrative of the film, providing a ghostly link between the female form and the iconography of architecture.
This ‘ghosting’ of the female body is further explored in the final room of the exhibition, which contains a multi-channel video installation across two screens. ‘The Noon Complex’ (2016) makes explicit the erasure and reappearance of the female protagonist touched on in the first two elements of the show. Working once more with Godard’s ‘Contempt’, Siegel digitally removes Bardot from scenes that correspond to the passages from Moravia’s book highlighted in the first room. On the second screen, Siegel uses an actress to re-present Bardot’s erased actions, this time in a neutral space. The combined effect draws attention to the sculptural architecture of the Casa Malaparte; the background becomes a ‘backstory’, a stand-in for the protagonist in the absence of Bardot.
Siegel’s allusive explorations across the three carefully curated and complementary elements of this exhibition make visible the framing of gendered cinematic portrayals, creating a videographic ‘high noon’: a visual confrontation in which the hidden cultural apparatuses of presenting the female body on film are brought under the spotlight.