At first, Michelle Hamer’s work may look like overly pixelated photographs of trains and buses, street signs and billboards, sonograms and X-rays —which might be interpreted as a critique of our chaotic digital media and information-saturated culture. But on second glance, it becomes clear that her pixelation is not of the digital variety at all. Rather, her works are delicately hand-stitched replicas of photographs that inject 21st-century imagery with a 19th-century needlepoint veneer. Hamer’s art is making needlepoint “samplers” out of her photographs—now that’s retro.
An Australian artist who teaches architecture, Hamer has had no textile training and minimal exposure to needlepoint. And yet: “I am a fan of its history of narrative,” she told me. “For example, The Bayeux Tapestry.” From sampler to tapestry, her interest in what she calls “primitive pixelation” is particularly relevant given that she sees some Australian indigenous art as “historically pixilated.” And while she is more concerned with the stitch as a pixel than purely needlepoint as art or craft, she likes the interplay between manual and digital.
Hamer began this kind of work, most recently exhibited at Fehily Contemporary in Melbourne, by laboriously stitching images of LED road and traffic signage onto perforated plastic. “I always loved perforated materials, and it just felt so logical to explore the way we move between manual and digital without thinking,” she said, and added that the “manual-ness” of her work “actually makes people stop and be present in moments they know but otherwise may not question.” Her passion for this material emerged when she realized that perforated plastic combined with an admittedly obsessive interest in freeway signage, “and the way the pixels were dropping out and at times changing the signs,” became something “I had to create.”