Nolan Meyer That idea of plunderphonics… trying to find it, and put in something, and make it its own.
By Mary Truong November 15th, 2020
In his undergraduate thesis, Nolan Meyer paints glitched landscapes— ground that unexpectedly breaks off into monochromatic planes, fragments of buildings floating mid-air. They’re paintings of video games, but really, they’re paintings about the construction of illusionistic space. He says, “The painter lays out a path the same way a game developer does. You put a wall in place to tell them to go this way, the same way you put a cross to tell them to think about Christianity… It’s a different form of it, but I was proposing they were doing the same thing…” Deliberately painting glitches draws attention to the maker behind an illusion— the developer/artist. Through these series of paintings, Meyer compares two forms of media and contextualizes their history against each other making unlikely analogies: a game avatar clipping through a wall is akin to a dog’s hair getting stuck in a painting.
“That’s my favorite thing— the easter egg. It’s that little thing that lets you know a person made this.”
A large part of Meyer’s thesis exposes how the artist’s hands guide a viewer, but Meyer seems reluctant to the idea of his viewers examining him as the author of his work, saying, “I kind of want to talk about other people more.” And then he does, bouncing from naming aesthetic influences like Jules de Balincourt, to discussing the contemporaneity of comedian Conner O’Malley, to describing grindcore and powerviolence (subgenres of metal and punk). Somehow, these disparate topics all configure in his practice, though in very distinct ways: bright figures in surreal, almost comic situations; nightmarish skulls and grotesqueries; a video essay suffused with internet-brand humor. Meyer enacts visual “plunderphonics” (sampling existing sounds to make new music) by straightforwardly making art about his various interests.
Meyer states that his videogame paintings depict “liminal” spaces, but liminality denotes thresholds— transitional places. The various clipped boundaries and empty colored spaces that Meyer paints may give the same uncanny feeling of an empty stairwell, but his central premise is that all pictorial planes are constructed; images can only bleed into other images because it’s all manufactured. If this is the case, where is the threshold? I imagine that liminality really resides in the artist, or more specifically, Meyer himself. In the perspective of the viewer, Meyer becomes a transparent medium that guides the viewer to strange environments and secluded subcultures. He becomes a point of connection.
“Seeing all those things connect is what influences a lot of the decisions I make.”
It’s fitting, then, that Meyer’s art exposes how seemingly unremarkable things are enveloped in a web of relations. In his video essay, he explicitly draws parallels between the aesthetics and sonics of Doom to metal subculture. He describes how the scenery that he painted from Counter-Strike, a game about war, relates to the way American landscape paintings contribute to Manifest Destiny. Moreover, there are ways that he envisions himself as someone who might relate (or, at the very least, talk to) people at the margins. “I wanted to reach out to basement-dwelling weirdos… I was interested in talking about all the weird extremism that gets brewed online. That body of work originally started as a thing to say video games have themes against totalitarianism, or they were anti-police, anti-surveillance, anticapitalist. Those games have themes that were the opposite of what those kids were saying. They would say this terrible shit online while playing a game like Half-Life 2 which, in my opinion, was a game about the opposite of what they were saying. I wanted to talk to those kids, too.”
In this way, Meyer turns “stealing“ into a generative act, or perhaps even a generous one. “It’s out of love,“ he insists, “that feeling of finding a little thing online and loving it and cherishing it…” He’s skeptical about his art swaying the beliefs of incels and other toxic online lurkers, much less facilitating real political change (as he would put it, a “pie-in-the-sky” idea), but he also notes that art (specifically, punk music) helped him formulate a political worldview as a teenager. Isn't it possible, then, to reach that pie in the sky? If not, the viewer can at least enjoy darting down rabbit holes alongside Meyer.
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