Diane Meyer remembered watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on television in the United States, and by the time she participated in a residency in Berlin in 2012, only traces of the wall remained. She walked and biked the route of the Wall, taking photographs. She then scanned the images, made prints, and painstakingly embroidered part of each image by hand. Some of the larger pieces, like Brandenburg Gate (2015), which is 16×14 inches, have as many as 17,000 meticulous stitches. (Work from a different series, Reunion, in which she has repurposed and embroidered school class photographs from the 1970s, is on view through January 21 at Klompching Gallery in the group exhibition Reconfigurations.)
At first glance, the effect is reminiscent of a highly pixelated image. In fact, Meyer’s physical intervention with her needlework creates unique pieces of conceptual art. By interfering almost brutally with the print, Meyer constructs a phantom presence of the wall, which evokes its vicious and in some places persistent intrusion in people’s lives.
But embroidery is also domestic in nature, and Meyer evokes personal memories of home for me. I grew up in West Germany, and the wall was a symbol of oppression. I feel empathy for the people who were trapped behind it in East Germany. Meyer’s embroidered alterations trigger varying emotions, conjuring a psychological wall and a confrontation with the past. In Germany it is called “Vergangheitsbewaeltigung” (coping with the psychological and historic past).
Elisabeth Biondi was the longtime director of photography at the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Stern Magazine. She now curates photography exhibitions, teaches, writes about photography, and is one of the three founders of the Photography Master Retreat in the South of France. For more information see firstname.lastname@example.org.