Michelle Hamer

You are my past, I am your Future

Nicholas Projects
January 22nd – February 20th

Searching for clues on the roadside – by Katie Paine

I have often been struck by the queer portentous nature of street and road signs. A “Danger Ahead” or “Slow Down” sign appears, and for a split second, I forget that the sign refers to my actions on the road- The signs speak directly to me, and I apply them to my own life. How Did They Know? I ponder, before I come back to the world, and realize they simply refer to the road ahead.

Michelle Hamer’s practice plays with these strange resonances, embracing such double meanings in order to explore the complex relationship between language, space and narrative.

A Change Is Coming, 2015

Pixelated embroidered text protrudes from a shard of light: “A Change is Coming.” Shadowy figures congregate; this little green embroidery is pervaded with apprehension. To its left hangs a banner, created from the orange polypropylene debris mesh one might use to warn passersby of a pothole or the debris from a accident. The sculpture Love Knows No Barriers is perhaps a contemporary counterpart to a gothic narrative tapestry. The words “You are my past-I am your future” are woven using hazard tape. The banner’s gaudy, glossy neons are discordant with the muted shadows that hover on the gallery wall. Half of the embroidered text has been written backwards, it is only after we read the reflected shadows that our eyes recover the true translation; an optical illusion that recurs throughout her work. These two works impart a sense of urgency: “You are my past” is written with caution tape, “my future” written with danger. It’s ominous, as if the exhibition acts as an archive of the aftermath of some catastrophic accident. A sense of mystery pervades You are my Past, I am Your Future: Who is the person referred to? Is it Hamer who speaks or some other unknown narrator? What could have happened to plague this enigmatic narrator with such relentless memories?

michelle katie
Love Knows All Barriers, 2016

Hamer’s works in You are my Past, I am Your Future are fractal and pixelated. It is as if they have been ricocheting about the internet–the farther each pixel flies from its original source, the more it gets lost, breaks down and degrades. Hamer however, has altered the resolution of each image-creating woven pixilation-herself, reclaiming these what would otherwise be impersonal civil scenes. Some might dismiss the way in which Hamer hand stitches each pixel as futile, but perhaps Hamer’s process can be seen as an act of recovery- the recovery of a moment in time and the chance to forge for it a new future.

Over The Truth, 2015

At first Hamer’s works on paper appear to be digital renderings, negatives of the images she embroiders. After further scrutiny, one realizes that Hamer has replaced skeins of wool, for obscure ink marks. Each stroke is almost recognisable-but not quite. One scrutinizes each hand rendered pixel: If I just get a little closer-these symbols may rearrange, revealing themselves to be legible. Each subverted image maintains strong resonances with Roland Barthes’ Semiotics: perhaps it is not by accident that her work contains both literal and semiotic signs. Language is the backbone of Hamer’s practice, it has a materiality- as malleable as hazard tape or wool. Hamer’s works are palimpsests: indicative of their own history, each work is made up of complex and richly layered texts. Each works’ titles extend this sense of palimpsest, being very much entwined with the artworks themselves. Romantic and literary, Hamer has created a poetic language that is all her own.

Originally from an architecture background, Hamer has always been interested in “the way that space is defined-by language.” Hamer’s work transfigures found text into emotional prose, mapping out intangible personal landscapes. In Hamer’s oeuvre, the private and the public have a slippery relationship- she forges a sense of intimacy: connection in a cold, constructed environment, feeling within arbitrary and functional texts. In You are My Past, I am Your Future, the notion of barriers is manifold: barrier tape has been used to construct the sculpture, but it is also metaphorically indicative of the barriers language composes: a flawed and jarring vernacular that distances us from one another.

You are My Past, I am Your Future provokes alternate interactions with the everyday. The works exhibited are reminiscent of magical realism. Hamer creates new narratives, astonishing alternate universes where even the most banal details have hidden meanings. Hamer brings an enchantment, a sense of wonder to the rational world-to what most would dismiss as quotidian. Hamer’s practice gently encourages us to engage with, and observe a world that otherwise, might flash by. We are invited into a realm with a different inherent rhythm than our own- Hamer slows down to capture roadside images that we might otherwise dismiss: we must then slow down ourselves, to fully engage with her minutely detailed works.

Multiple temporalities exist within this exhibition: echoes of Hamer’s patient needlework reverberate off the gallery walls; fleeting roadside glances are captured in wool, tape and ink. Ghosts of Hamer’s process of “manual-digital pixilation” surface, pulling us away from the lightning speed of the digital, back to the human time of the handcrafted. You Are My Past, I am Your Future seems to possess its own realm of time- Hamer says in an interview with Dr Kent Wilson: “The slowness of the production of my work contrasts with the instantaneous and everyday moments they depict, it forces me to be truly present in these moments.”

Michelle Hamer is represented by Fehily Contemporary.

Katie Paine is an artist, writer and curator.
You can find her on Instagram, @dreamsofspeaking