Sietsema has been working on Figure 3 at least since his previous film, Empire, was shown at the Whitney in 2003. The anthropological inspiration for Figure 3, he says, grew directly out of Empire. For that piece, Sietsema constructed the living room of seminal art critic Clement Greenberg as it appeared in a 1964 photo shoot, the same year Andy Warhol made his experimental film Empire, which gave Sietsema his title.
Greenberg’s living room contained various non-Western artworks from Asia and Africa—“the knickknacks of the intellectual”—and as Sietsema duplicated them in miniature, he began thinking about the influence of material on form. For Figure 3, Sietsema reproduced Oceanic artifacts using raw materials that were abundant in his studio—paint and The New York Times.
Given the pace of his work, Sietsema could surely use an extra set of hands to speed up production, but he insists on doing things himself, like a craftsman who is handy at everything but specializes in nothing. “Everybody in a village could all make the same things,” Sietsema muses. “The idea of skill just didn’t exist. Actually, the idea of artistic value didn’t exist, which is an idea I really like.”