Michele Peress

Artist Profile

The work incorporates a series of images and objects that explore notions of indeterminacy and liminality relating to concerns with materiality, process and form. 


The first component of the work is a series of sculptural objects comprised entirely of knitted and sewn human hair.  Borrowing from traditional methods of hand knitting, the process begins with knitting several strands of hair into material, which is then cut into hundreds of smaller irregular pieces.  The pieces are carefully assembled and sewn together to form an underlying structure.  The process is repeated several times in order to produce a series of additional layers which are applied to the foundation until sufficient mass is achieved and a delicately textured and nuanced surface is rendered. These indeterminate forms relate to each another in scale and overall proportion but manifest subtle yet distinguishable variation in texture and shape.  Since the objects reference animality without direct representation, the viewer is asked to rely upon his/her imagination when decoding the work, electing whether or not to bring figurative specificity to the form.


The intensely laborious process associated with this work addresses a preoccupation with repetitive action and draws attention to the notion of labor inherent in artistic practice.  The process is based on a system of failure, an implementation of a series of errors and imperfections within a systematic and controlled methodology.   Infused within the work is the notion of disruption, achieved by corrupting the uniformity of the knitted stitch, dismembering/reconstructing the material and disordering the pattern of stitches by orienting the layers of material in conflicting directions.  The culmination of this tripartite procedure serves to essentially erase the process, rendering it virtually undetectable.  The outcome is an intricate network of disordered, interwoven strands that creates a complex and visceral topography.


The hair used in this project is a combination of my own hair as well as human hair purchased from commercial sources.  With this work, I am extremely interested in the integration of the personal and the anonymous, an underlying thematic concern in this work.  My preoccupation with hair as a workable corporeal material derives in part from research into the processing of human hair, predominantly women's hair, as a byproduct of the 'Final Solution' carried out by the Nazi Regime during World War II.  Human hair collected from inmates at the Nazi concentration camps was utilized by the Germans for the manufacture of hair-felt stockings, supplied to employees of the Reich Railways. Additionally, human hair was spun into yarn and knit into socks for U-boat crews.  Hair was used as stuffing in the construction of mattresses as well as in the production of delay action bombs where its organic properties were useful for detonating purposes.  During the war, these products were supplied to the army, as well as made commercially available within Germany.  The ambiguity inherent in the amalgamation of identities resulting from the compilation of human hair derived from disparate sources establishes a haunting and dramatic trajectory for this non-traditional material and the work it supports.


The second component of this work is a series of large-scale ink-jet prints.  Using a large format scanner, the forms are scanned at high resolution.  The digital image is enlarged and subtly altered so that selected areas of detail are emphasized, while other areas are suppressed.  The objective of this procedure is to explore the capacity of the printed image to develop a highly complex surface, one that renders discernible detail (at the level of minutia), as well as, unbounded depth. In exploring a close focus of detail and an open-ended, unencumbered amplitude far exceeding the viewer's perceptual vision, I aim to question whether the viewer's eye will assimilate the record of the work's making, the nuanced traces left by the strands of hair that systematically cover the surface of the form or, alternatively, if an almost visceral dissolution or immersion will be sought.  Converted to black and white and printed on tyvek paper, the images reference drawing and printmaking.  In doing so, the work challenges whether the materiality of the objects (the network of knitted hair) as interpreted by digital technologies, can assume indexical traces of the mark making process.  This aspect of the project therefore questions whether the printed image can subsume characteristics typically associated with drawing and sculpture or conversely, or if the print merely translates into a stain, imprint or shadow of its original manifestation.


The primary objective of this project is to elicit an interactive dialogue concerning issues of process, materiality and form.  In doing so, I am interested in investigating how one's perception of the physical object, its depth and surface detail is re-interpreted by an alternative medium and whether the characteristic properties of one discipline are transferable to another.  My interest in whether a two-dimensional print can be read in terms typically associated with sculpture is largely influenced by the work of Eva Hesse.  Hesse blurred the distinction between painting and sculpture, succeeding in subverting the process of traditional painting by giving depth, dimensionality and gravity to the typically flattened plane.  Of further interest is Hesse's use of non-traditional materials in her paintings, and the extension of the image beyond the parameters of the canvas. 


Other sources of inspiration for this project include the interdisciplinary work of Annette Messager, which incites a compelling dialogue between individual and collective identity, and addresses issues concerning aberrance, indeterminacy and mortality.   Also intrinsic to my project is Louise Bourgeois' The Reticent Child (2003), a series of hand drawn grid-based drawings (graphite on paper) which resemble threads in woven fabric.  Uneven and misaligned, the thread-like lines reference a 'wrinkled' textile unraveling at the edges.  The post-minimal grid is of significance to my work, not only because it aesthetically parallels a single layer of knitted material, an early incarnation of my process, but because of its associations with standardization and automatism, its connection to the domestic arts (including weaving and needlework) and its reflection on the virtues of traditional femininity and timekeeping.   I am also interested in exploring the grid's dualistic interlace of centrifugal and centripetal forces as it can be applied to the visual aesthetics of my work.  Additionally, the inherent grid-like quality of a single piece of knitting, the primary material component of this project, is incorporated through a complex system of layering, making reference to Eva Hesse's assertion that "chaos can be as structured as non-chaos".


Ultimately this work cultivates an extensive exploration of a non-traditional material and the development of an innovative and highly detailed hand made process.  Questioning the potential mutability of an art object, this project explores the capacity of a hand-labored object to be significantly transformed by new digital technologies.  Thematically, I am interested in investigating ways in which we decode abstract and indeterminate forms as a private retreat from language, "a withdrawal into those extremely personal reaches of experience, which are beyond, or beneath speech" (Krauss).   Delving into the exploration of a pre-cognitive and pre-linguistic state, this work seeks to establish a resting place between the rational and the phenomenological, a liminal space that relies on the viewer's imagination to formulate meaning.  It incorporates a series of enigmatic and oneiric objects/prints that aims to incite within the viewer a visceral engagement with the work, inspire an original and pre-formalized experience, and evoke a mood of privacy, haunting introspection and silent reprieve.