Named one of two series winners of OpenWalls Arles 2021, Meyer obscures landscapes of the former Berlin Wall with physical cross-stitching designed to resemble pixelation
The blurriness of historical narrative has long been the subject of scrutiny. Woven into its discourse are ideas of fact and fiction; collective memory or individual experience; preservation and loss. In the realm of art-making, such notions soon become a question of representation: a debate of form over content, or figuration and abstraction. If ever a series set out to address the shifting boundaries, political borders, personal edgelands, and liminal spaces of photography, it is Diane Meyer’s Berlin.
One of two series winners of OpenWalls Arles 2021, currently on show at Galerie Huit Arles, the series eerily documents the present day landscapes of where the Berlin Wall once stood. From cemeteries to forests, suburban neighbourhoods to historical landmarks, Meyer spent days tracing the wall’s 100-mile long shadow on foot and by bicycle. Amassing hundreds of medium format images, she whittled them down to a subset of 43 prints. Then, onto each photograph’s surface, she introduced a unique handmade intervention: a swathe of pixelated cross-stitch. A three-dimensional “barrier to the rest of the image”.
In Berlin, embroidery is more than a simple expression of physicality, tactility, or an affinity for craft. Stitching is critical to the “conceptual framework” of the project, acting as a “ghost” in the landscape. “[The wall is] no longer there,” Meyer says, “but it is a weight on history and memory”. Varying in size, each of the 43 works are embroidered at a consistent resolution of 14 stitches per inch. Yet their respective cross-stitch patterns are uniquely tailored to the landscape in question. The mammoth Brandenburg Gate picture (involving over 17,000 stitches), for example, was constructed “as if tourists taking photographs were somehow trapped in the Wall.” For the Puschkinallee artwork, the stitching is present simply as a “translucent trace”, rather than an obtrusion. “I feel the embroidery both conceals and reveals simultaneously”, Meyer explains. Each gentle cross is a nod to “the wall’s psychological presence” in the landscape and psyche of modern Berlin.
Deliberate, too, is Meyer’s adoption of “pixelation” as the visual language of the embroidery. The partial “breakdown” of the photographic surface into pixelated cross-stitch is designed not only to “equate memory loss with file corruption” but refers to the “porous nature of memory”. More poignantly, still, it relates to personal trauma: namely a head injury sustained by Meyer’s brother in 2011. Fortunately Meyer’s brother’s memory was not impacted, but it was the prospect of reliving one’s past only through family photographs which lay bare to Meyer the fragility, disposability, and fallibility of images.
Perhaps, then, it is the difficulty of images which resides at the heart of Meyer’s Berlin. Conceptual underpinning aside, Meyer makes clear the iterative, laborious backbone of the work — from reshooting individual landscapes to revisiting specific landscapes in particular seasons, and beginning entire works again at a different scale. But her commitment to this physical process is unwavering. In craft-led work, she maintains there is something “fundamentally more interesting about imperfections.” Her “frustration” with the digital realm is that it leaves “little room for mistakes, or the unexpected.”
Stepping inside Meyer’s fuzzy, embroidered world, there is no denying the potency of the blurry over the precise. Or the arresting happenstance of the handmade.
Louise Long is a London-based photographer and writer with a focus on culture and travel. Her work has been published in Wallpaper*, CEREAL, British Vogue and Conde Nast Traveller amongst others. She is also the founder of Linseed Journal, an independent publication exploring culture and local identity.