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Interview: Diane Meyer's Pixilation

Interview: Diane Meyer's Pixilation

Lives and works in Los Angeles, California

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

Become more seriously interested in art when I was in high school and took an art history course that took regular field trips into New York to visit museums and galleries and, from there, started going into the city on my own to see shows. I took darkroom based photography courses in high school and really loved the process of staging scenes for the camera and remained interested in art. Eventually, in college, I took a Photography course as a general education requirement and had a teacher who really encouraged me to continue with Photography and, from there, I transferred to the Photography and Imaging program at NYU where I graduated in 1999 and I later received an MFA in Visual Arts from UC, San Diego.

Reichstag, Hand Sewn Archival Ink Jet Print, 9x12 inches, 2019

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

Most recently I have been combining photography and embroidery. My background is primarily in Photography, but I’ve always been more interested in combining Photography with other mediums or installation and using Photography as a tool to give form to conceptual work. I always enjoyed working with my hands and preferred to create things for the purpose of photographing them. In 2009, I received a grant to photograph and interview 100 people living in Los Angeles without a car. While I was interested in the topic of this project, it was one of the few projects I’ve done that was based in straight photography. I scanned the negatives, but the rest of the process was purely digital and I felt a bit alienated from the work because my interactions with it were almost completely screen based without any haptic or tactile aspect to the production of the project. I felt frustrated that, with image editing software like Photoshop, images can be completely perfected which made me want to embrace a process full of imperfections- while borrowing the visual language of pixilation and digital imaging- and to return to thinking about the photograph as an object. I started embroidering into photographs in 2011. Through experimentation with the process, I realized I could match the colors in the photograph and create the effect of pixilation. A few years earlier, I was working on a series of landscapes using small squares of carpet remnants which also created a pixelated effect. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I think the embroidered photographs came from my original experiments using carpet remnants.

Studio view

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

My work has long been defined by explorations into the physical, social and psychological qualities that characterize place. These investigations have taken various forms throughout my career. Just as different locations have unique defining features, my approach to creating work changes in response to my explorations of each place and the conceptual framework of my underlying ideas. In this way, my work is generally experimental in nature as I am interested in using materials in new and intuitive ways. This reliance on experimentation has led me to produce a wide range of projects exploring the notion of place including an installation based around the notion of the American West as an invented, mythological space; a large scale oral history project focusing on transportation issues in Los Angeles; several site-specific public installations in various cities related to local histories; and, most recently, a series of photographs exploring the traces of history and memory in the landscape of present day Berlin.

Work in Progress: Class Four, Lee Avenue Elementary

I have also long been interested in the relationship of photographs to memory and the ways in which images ultimately replace memories- a theme that has particularly been explored in my recent series of embroidered photographs. Another theme that runs through my work is an interest in the porous nature of memory and the ways it can be disrupted and replaced by images as well the means by which photography transforms history.

Work in Progress: Class One, Paradise School

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

I remember being in college and seeing an exhibition by Elaine Reichek at MoMA which was very inspiring to me as it was the first time I saw the use of embroidery in contemporary art. While embroidery was something that I had always enjoyed, I hadn’t really considered it as a medium for my artistic process. I am very inspired by textile design in general. I love going to decorative arts museums and looking at wallpaper and carpet design. Other artists who have inspired me, although generally not visually evident in my work, include Fischli and Weiss, Urs Fischer, Sophie Calle, Maurizio Cattelon, Christian Marclay, Thomas Demand, and Gerhard Richter.

 Checkpoint Charlie, Hand Sewn Archival Ink Jet Print, 7x9 inches, 2016

Where do you find inspiration?

As much of my work relates to place, travel has probably always been my biggest source of inspiration. Not only in terms of being inspired by the new places themselves, but also from having a bit of distance from the studio which allows for new ideas to come forth.

Badlands I, from the series Time Spent that Might Otherwise Be Forgotten

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

Time Spent That Might Otherwise Be Forgotten, was the first body of work that I did combining photography and embroidery. In this series, cross stitch embroidery has been sewn directly into family photographs. The images are broken down and reformed through the embroidery into a hand-sewn pixel structure. As areas of the image are concealed by the embroidery, small, seemingly trivial details emerge while the larger picture and context are erased. I was interested in the disjunct between actual experience and photographic representation and photography’s ability to supplant memory. By borrowing the visual language of digital imaging with an analog process, a connection is made between forgetting and digital file corruption. The tactility of the pieces also references the growing trend of photos remaining primarily digital- stored on cell phones and hard drives, but rarely printed out into a tangible object.

Mauer Park, from the series Berlin

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

This body of work led directly to the next series, Berlin, which also combines embroidery with photography. I started working on the Berlin series during an artist residency and realized that the issues I had been working with related to photography and memory could be extended to collective memory, history and the landscape of the city. The images were taken in the city center as well as in the suburbs where I followed the entire former 104 mile path of the Berlin Wall. In addition to the physical aspects that point to the former division of the city, I am interested in the psychological weight of these sites. In many of the images, the embroidered sections of the photograph represent the exact scale and location of the former Wall offering a pixelated view of what lies behind. In this way, the embroidery becomes a ghostly trace in the landscape of something that no longer exists, but is a weight on history and memory. The embroidery emphasizes the unnatural boundaries created by the wall itself and provides a literal contrast to the concrete of the wall and a metaphorical contrast to its symbolism. The project explores the means by which photography transforms history into nostalgic objects that obscure objective understandings of the past. The entire series of 43 images was completed in late 2019.

Sacrower Heilandskirche, from the series Berlin

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

I learned the importance of experimentation with materials and also the importance of trying things out to see if it is working and the patience to see it through. I learned the importance of editing and the necessity of sometimes leaving out images that I’ve spent a lot of time on or feel personally attached to if they aren’t working with the rest of the series.

 Former Guard Tower Off Puschkinallee, HAnd Sewn Archival Ink Jet Print, 13.5x10.5 inches, 2013

What are you working on now?

I have been working on a series of hand-embroidered photographs based on found elementary school class pictures from the 1970s. This project continues my interest in the relationship between photography and memory. In the class photographs, the faces of the students, or what would normally be the main focal points of the image, are obscured with cross-stitch embroidery made to resemble the digital pixel structure of the image. By obscuring what would typically be the most important parts of the image, otherwise overlooked details are brought into focus such as body language and other embodiments of social convention. I am interested exploring these details to reveal not only the relationships between the various figures, but also how, even at a very young age, children were taught and instructed to pose in particular ways, often based on gender. I am interested in this time period not only because it is my own generation, but because it is the last generation to have a childhood unclouded by digital technology. These class pictures were taken before camera phones and digital cameras and at a time when having one’s class picture taken was a more formal occasion- something that has been lost due to the ubiquitous nature of digital photography- making participants more conscious of the photograph as a vehicle for impression management.

Engeldamm, Hand Sewn Archival Ink Jet Print, 4x5 inches, 2019

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

Let the work guide you and lead you in new directions and to be willing to give up control and end up somewhere other than where you planned at the beginning of the project.

Disneyland I, from the series Time Spent That Might Otherwise Be Forgotten

About the Artist

Based in Los Angeles, California

Diane Meyer is an LA based artist working primarily in photography. Her recent work combines photography and embroidery to explore issues of personal and collective memory. Her work has been widely exhibited in the US and abroad. She received a BFA from New York University and an MFA from the University of California, San Diego. She is currently represented by Klompching Gallery in New York.

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