For what is nature? How can we form a picture of it as it was before the intervention of humans with their ravaging tools? Even the powerful myth of nature is being transformed into a mere fiction, a negative utopia: nature is now seen as merely the raw material out of which the productive forces of a variety of social systems have forged their particular paces.
It is common to delineate social identity in regard to an individual or a group’s relationship to land, our ownership of it, nationality, location or description of geographical features, both “man-made” or “god-given.” As users of space, we fluctuate between owner, customer, worker, renter, nomad, visitor, trespasser, guest, tourist.
Much of my work begins with the landscape, and our relationship to it. I photograph the mundane, the abandoned, the forgotten, the hidden, the anonymous spaces that comprise much of our social subconscious. Empty lots, construction sites, empty billboards, abandoned places that have once or currently occupied the focus of our individual attention and experience.
Although much of these things can be considered apocalyptic or anti-heroic, they are subtly evocative of possibility and transformation. They have become the natural, wild spaces in a highly controlled manicured landscape. They harken to the past and the future, what was, and what will be. But most important, yet not as obvious is the effort to turn the viewers attention to their own present, and through focusing our attention on these seemingly desolate spaces, massage a more heightened consciousness about the world we presently occupy.
Since 2007 I have been working on a series of embroidery pieces that are photographically based, but materialized in fabric. The thread replaces the pixel. Using the photographic medium as a basis for the embroidery creates a trompe l’oeil so that when the viewer approaches the subject from a distance the cropping, angles and lighting are from a purely photographic window and upon closer inspection mimics drawing and eventually reveals itself as thread.
The final product is the result of a process which makes the artwork have an appearance of preciousness. However the work, not unlike photography, could be duplicated ad-infinitum since the embroidery is the result of a mechanized process.
In this regard the physical thread or embroidery stitch becomes a visual substitute for film grain, or pixels. Conflating a craft needlework tradition of decoration and ornamentation with a particular 20th century optical vision.
On clothing and tapestries, hand embroidery has been used for thousands of years to illustrate human culture. In it’s contemporary uses, computerized machine embroidery, has become synonymous with corporate branding and advertising, as well as it’s continued use for clothing and uniform adornment. I am intrigued by embroidery’s coextensive relationship to human culture tracing back to 3,000 BCE, while also looking at a way to change our reading of photography by rendering a photograph into a tactile object.
Works in the embroidery series feature snapshots of night construction, a stack of crates at a building site, drilling for oil in Taft, a park by the 210 freeway and an abandoned Kmart.
The juxtaposition of decrepit industrial spaces in tactile embroidery emblazons a strong sense of irony that parallels our own intimate, yet often overlooked relationship with the built environment.
— Michelle Ann Matthews