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Amie Siegel, Bloodlines, 2022. 4K HD colour video/sound (exhibition view). Photo: Isobel Lutz-Smith © Amie Siegel. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery

What is at stake when a film camera frames a painting? An example: the first painting to appear in Kenneth Clark’s 1969 television series Civilisation is Botticelli’s ‘Primavera. The camera moves in close-up over the goddess Flora, its leading light. There is no hint here of anything beyond the painting’s frame: not the Uffizi Gallery in which it hangs, still less the world outside the gallery’s walls. This shot heralds many that will follow in Civilisation. The languorous pace of the pans, tracking shots, close-ups and rostrum camerawork in the series seem deliberately designed to let the viewer gourmandise on the ‘masterpieces’ of Western art. This pace, this attitude to culture, is entirely in harmony with Clark’s own languid embodiment of the gentlemen connoisseur. Touring the stately homes and national galleries of Europe, he is thoroughly at ease, as befits a man whose home was literally a castle.

John Berger’s 1972 Ways of Seeing was, famously, a retort to Civilisation’s presumptions about art and a refusal of its style. Again, a Botticelli picture appears first: this time the National Gallery’s Venus and Mars, hung on a gallery wall across which the camera pans. As soon as the pan comes to rest upon the painting, Berger uses a knife to cut Venus’s face from the rest of the canvas. The point is made: this is a mere replica and where once the oil painting reigned as a unique instance of untouchable cultural prestige and value, images now proliferate and circulate in the regime of the photographic, the televisual and the cinematic—a regime in which making cuts is of paramount importance.

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Amie Siegel, Bloodlines, 2022. 4K HD colour video/sound (exhibition view). Photo: Isobel Lutz-Smith © Amie Siegel. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery

Amie Siegel’s film Bloodlines (2022), commissioned by National Galleries of Scotland with support from Art Fund and the Contemporary Art Society, arrives a half century after Berger’s landmark intervention in how art appears on screen. Siegel’s achievement is to have sutured together, in her presentation of oil paintings as they come before a camera’s gaze, the sumptuous cinematography of Civilisation with the incisive critical eye activated in Ways of Seeing. The film’s premise is ingeniously simple: Bloodlines follows a number of paintings from their usual homes in various grand houses and notable public institutions to the 2019 exhibition George Stubbs: ‘all done from Nature’ and then it follows them back again.

The eye for symmetry revealed in the film’s structure is also manifest throughout in the meticulous construction of individual shots. Again and again, Siegel’s camera tracks left or right to search out and centre works by Stubbs for our gaze. We see them first in their natural habitats, as it were: most often adorning richly decorated walls and surrounded by fine china, antique clocks, and old furniture in fine country houses. They appear too on walls imitating such surroundings within galleries, and sometimes safely ensconced in the atmospherically-controlled racking of museum storage facilities.

Again and again, through Stubbs’ remarkable attention to detail, these paintings themselves depict nature and natural habitats as they are framed and transformed by property relations. At least a full stable of thoroughbreds, any number of faithful dogs and, occasionally, imported ‘exotic’ animals fill Stubbs’ canvases: evidence of the ways in which the British ruling classes of the eighteenth century enjoyed seeing their preeminence and privilege reflected. Here, one set of bloodlines stands for another; ‘breeding’ is naturalised as a matter of taste in the animal kingdom and of providence in the human. The point is made early on as we encounter ‘Faddle’, a Stubbs portrait of a spaniel, hanging in a domestic interior, then cut to an antique genealogical map of the ‘Sutton Nelthorpe lineage’ and cut again, more abruptly, to the servants’ bells in the same house.

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Amie Siegel, Bloodlines, 2022. 4K HD colour video/sound (still). Photo: Isobel Lutz-Smith © Amie Siegel. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery.

Bloodlines is tactful, almost tacit, about class and about its entanglements with colonialism—no narration or editorialising intrudes—but it is quietly insistent too. Siegel’s camera, aided by her sharp editing, continually offers up telling details in and around the works. We are shown, for instance, a label declaring that a particular equine portrait is of ‘Romulus. A hunter. Belonging to John, 1st Earl Spencer, 1777’. The pastoral reveries into which Stubbs invites us are frequently interrupted by cuts to the process of packing the works, or to cleaners on their rounds, or to the knick-knacks and antiques that are the paintings’ close neighbours. Thus, as they pass before our eyes, Stubbs’s pictures bring to mind Berger’s cutting observations about what such works were for: ‘We look, we buy. And we collect valuable objects… To paint a thing, and put it on a canvas, is not unlike buying it and putting it in your house. The objects within the painting often appear as tangible as those outside it. Paintings often show treasures. But paintings have become treasures themselves.’ [2]

These tersely-phrased lines, like Berger’s slicing into Botticelli, suggest the urgency with which, for him, art must be brought back into the realm of social life to be understood. Bloodlines is, in contrast, marked by its unflustered formal precision and its deliberate pacing. But this patient approach is nonetheless at the service of a worldly depiction of art. It seems—a perfectly achieved artifice of the editing—to show the various activities carried out by professional art handlers and conservators in painstaking real time, as old clocks tick and chime in the background. We witness the meticulous installation and de-installation of Stubbs paintings, which are only ever touched by nitrile gloves. We see them being wrapped in plastic, cushioned by Plastazote foam, secured in purpose-made shipping crates. We see their surfaces minutely examined under raking light.

These conventions of care seem at once prosaic and ritualistic. They are carried out by professionals, not by the owners of the works, who remain off-stage throughout. Art handling is a strange kind of touch without touching, a taking in hand of objects that remain fundamentally remote from being possessed or grasped by those who enable their movement through the world. Siegel is wonderfully matter-of-fact about this in her framing and editing. In these sequences the camera is static, the better to behold what takes place before it. The art handlers in Bloodlines are shown unselfconsciously going about their habitual, creaturely routines—in their attentiveness they reprise the grooms tending to Stubbs’ thoroughbreds. But, cumulatively, the unmistakeable effect of all this diligence and deference is that the objects ostensibly at the film’s centre become ever stranger, ever more elusive, less and less ‘natural’.

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Amie Siegel, Bloodlines, 2022. 4K HD colour video/sound (still). Photo: Isobel Lutz-Smith © Amie Siegel. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery

Early in the film, a painting disappears into its crate, and thence into an art shipper’s truck, parked so close to the door of a stately home that it almost reads as a continuation of the architecture. As the truck drives down the driveway it is as if it is receding into another dimension, not just another geographical location. In such moments, the shipping crate takes on an almost Kubrickian, monolithic presence within Siegel’s frame. Those passages marked by her camera’s gliding, tracking navigation of architecture also have something of Kubrick’s unsettling habit of using his lens to roam, or better hunt, through space. If Bloodlines formal beauty hints at a capacity for depiction that could be called painterly, and if at times it recalls Louise Lawler’s exemplary photographic attention to the artwork’s discursive and physical framing conditions, these moments anchor the film more decisively in the cinematic. The film camera here frames painting in order to bring it into its world.

Bloodlines structural symmetry and its centring of Stubbs’ paintings both serve to suggest the fundamental eccentricity of the work of art. Where, the film prompts us to ask, does it really live, really belong? We are used to seeing artworks as at home in museums and galleries. In Bloodlines, where the paintings are bracketed by the material circumstances of both private ownership and immuration in museum stores, the gallery’s walls seem more virtual than real—spaces in which the artwork is cut out of the world, not brought into contact with it. But it’s not quite right to see Bloodlines as suggesting that the works are any more comfortably at home in their habitual settings either. Siegel finds any number of visual rhymes between the scenes Stubbs limned and the present-day circumstances in which she has tracked them down. Hunting parties meet, pedigree dogs mooch across living rooms, horses prance in their fields, all as if the pictures were spilling out of their frames. As if, perhaps, they depicted some unchanging verities about upper class life in Britain.

Yet the lingering feeling is less of the eternal than of the persistence of the outmoded. Siegel’s lens is drawn to shabbiness and senescence as well as to the ebullient presentation of upper class realms and rituals. A sagging armchair, electric heater pulled close, a dilapidated window-seat, a wonkily-hung run of pictures—these are some of the intimations of decline that Bloodlines uses to offset the sense of unbroken inheritance that stately homes and old oil paintings might otherwise convey.

Rather than connecting us to the eighteenth century, Bloodlines’ recurring images of oil paintings wrapped up, crated, and shipped can’t help but recall the contemporary fate of so many artworks that, as Stefan Heidenreich details, exist as ‘safe places to put money’. Within such a value system, he continues, ‘being exhibited, being shipped here and there, being viewed by people—all of this is considered risk. It’s costly. It’s useless, and it’s potentially damaging. Those works of art better stay in their wooden coffins in a freeport!’ [3] It is in the nagging sense that the shipping crate is the void or non-place to which the camera is continually drawn, finally, that I see Bloodlines as having something in common with Berger’s 1972 defacing of art’s propriety and autonomy.

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Amie Siegel, Bloodlines, 2022. 4K HD colour video/sound (still). Photo: Isobel Lutz-Smith © Amie Siegel. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery

We are meant not to see such objects as important, they don’t have even the parergonal status of the picture frame, and to be confronted with the perfect fit between particular paintings and particular crates is to have certain ideas about art’s way of being in the world punctured. It is a nice irony that Bloodlines has been installed concurrently at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and at Thomas Dane Gallery in London—a presumably happenstance reminder that films can indeed exist in two places at once, and that film is only ever partially fitted to the frames of uniqueness and originality that have long underpinned the economies that make paintings into treasures.

The same year in which Berger was slicing into Botticelli, philosopher Michel Foucault defined critical history as genealogy practised through the study of uneven descent. Bloodlines, I think, has some affinity with that study which, Foucault notes, ‘requires patience and a knowledge of details’ and ‘disturbs what was previously considered immobile … fragments what was thought unified … shows the heterogeneity of what was imagined consistent with itself.’ [4] Above all, Siegel’s film shares with Foucault’s genealogy the conviction that even the most patient form of knowledge ‘is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting’. [5] Genealogy, in this sense, undoes the ‘natural’ order of things, makes it strange. Bloodlines does something comparable to Stubbs and to the system of value in which his work is enmeshed. In framing and exposing how paintings move through the world it tracks what art has been. In its cuts, it intimates what art has, perhaps, become.


Dominic Paterson is Senior Lecturer in History of Art and Curator of Contemporary Art, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow. Recent curated exhibitions include Jimmy Robert: Tobacco Flower (June-Sept 2021), Flesh Arranges Itself Differently (Jan-May 2022, with the Roberts Institute of Art), and Charlie Hammond: workaround (June-Oct 2022). His most recent publication is ‘Still Glowing…’, an essay on Ilana Halperin for the book Felt Events, edited by Catriona McAra.


Amie Siegel, Bloodlines, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 12 Mar-04 Sept 2022


Amie Siegel (Chicago, 1974) works variously with film, video, photography, sculpture, painting and installation. Recent solo exhibitions include Medium Cool, Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2019); In Focus: Amie SiegelProvenance, Tate St. Ives (2018); Winter, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2017); Strata, South London Gallery (2017); Double Negative, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (2016); Ricochet, Kunstmuseum Stuttgart (2016, 2011); Imitation of Life, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin (2016). Siegel has participated in numerous group exhibitions including at the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux; Museum of Contemporary Art, Manila; Witte de With, Rottderdam; Swiss Institute, NY; Vancouver Art Gallery; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; CCA Wattis, San Francisco; ICA, Boston; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; MoMA/PS1, New York; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; Hayward Gallery, London; Aspen Art Museum, CO; CA2M Centro de Arte 2 de Mayo, Madrid. Her work has been featured in the 34th São Paulo Bienal, 12th Gwangju Biennial; Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh; Glasgow International, Scotland; 5th Auckland Triennial, New Zealand; and the Whitney Biennial. Her films have screened at the Rottderdam, Toronto, Berlin, Cannes and New York international film festivals. Siegel has been a fellow of the DAAD Berliner-Künstlerprogramm and Guggenheim Foundation, a Fulton Fellow at The Film Study Center at Harvard University, and a Smithsonian Artist Fellow. Bloodlines (2022) is currently on display at the Scottish National Museum Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, through September 4. The Silence, a solo exhibition of the artist at ArkDes, the Swedish Center for Architecture & Design, Stockholm, runs through October 2022.


Tender a response probes and parses the reciprocities that can be found, cultivated and rendered between art and writing—what art may lend to language and what happens when language leans into art. It is led by reviews editor-in-residence Sara O’Brien.


[1] George Stubbs: ‘all done from Nature’, MK Gallery, 12 October 2019 - 26 January 2020.

[2] John Berger, Ways of Seeing (BBC, 1972). Episode 3.

[3] Stefan Heidenreich, ‘Freeportism as Style and Ideology: Post-Internet and Speculative Realism, Part I’, e-flux journal, No. 71 (March, 2016). https://www.e-flux.com/journal/71/60521/freeportism-as-style-and-ideology-post-internet-and-speculative-realism-part-i/

[4] Michel Foucault [1972] ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, in James D. Faubion ed. Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology: The Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, Volume Two, (London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1998), p. 370; p. 375

[5] Ibid., p. 380.