Embroidered photographs have been a trend for some time now and Nihilsentimentalgia has featured examples of such work, like Maurizio Anzeri, Melissa Zexter, Julie Cockburn or David Catá. It so happens that the technique keeps coming up and their makers are enjoying a good deal of promotion and success, which doesn’t say much, since the art market is extremely easy to seduce and exploit, but it’s worth taking a second look.
There is no denying that on aesthetic, formal and material levels, the result is grand and appealing: the combination of the flat old surface with the new textural one, the combination of the industrial and the handmade, the combination of desaturated images with vibrant thread colours, it all amounts to what seems to be a complex creation with different surfaces and different readings. But is that the case?
I recently cross paths with four more examples of authors working in the field that joins photography and embroidery, namely: Stacey Page, Diane Meyer, Laura McKellar and Hinke Schreuders. They share more than the technical approach to their work: they are all women, they intervene mainly in portraits (Diane Meyer being the exception, for she looks at architecture with a new look), they use striking colour and they mix the old with the new. The trend here is not so much the crossing between the mediums but the revivalist and nostalgic feeling which seems to be taking over all the cultural dimensions, from the visual arts to music and emphasis on fashion.
The fact that they share the same gender has a particular important dimension, for the work with thread is a form of affective labour, which productive value is hard to figure out. The relation between the worker and the work produced is literally bounded by a thread, so it confronts the prevailing idea of the alienated worker that is more of a manager than a producer of things (or ideas for that matter). Although most of these works have little else than their aesthetic surface, their biggest achievement is the evoking of the nostalgic feeling. The hyper-aestheticized surface of the digital photographs and the absurd use of photoshop tools have given a second life to alternative processes, for people lack a sense of materiality and the handprint of the author.
In one interview, author Melissa Zexter says: The photographs were also of anonymous figures and the sewing acted as a map or grid over the figures. For me, sewing was another way to build up a surface and to build upon the content of my photographs. I loved the meditative process of sewing – it was in such contrast to the technologically more immediate art of photography. I was also interested in how thread blended in and reacted to the photographs. The combination of sewing and photography brought together two very different processes that I love. The use of embroidery is a reaction to the photographs and is a process that aids in the transformation of identity of the person or place being photographed.
[to be continued]