In 2008, when Claudia Meyer caught wind that French power company Alstom was renovating a century-old factory site in the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, her ears perked up. As an artist who could spend hours transfixed by the nuanced textures of metal, she was ready for an opportunity to showcase the innate beauty of industrial design.
Meyer connected with the CEO of the Alstom division, who agreed to take her on a tour of the raw, cavernous space. Within moments, Meyer was spooling out her vision. She would reuse old machinery and industrial materials to create art and install her creations throughout the operating factory.
The idea led to an intriguing partnership that affords the artist studio space within the Alstom power manufacturing site, as well as a stream of cast-off machine parts and other industrial resources. Alstom was acquired by GE in 2015, and today many of the furniture, sculpture and installation pieces Meyer creates are displayed at GE sites.
The arrangement is an obvious fit for Meyer. The daughter of an architect, she grew up participating in her father’s projects and listening to her uncle, an engineer at Alstom, explain machine design. When she wasn’t using tools, Meyer explored the lakes and mountains surrounding her home in Switzerland. “I would spend my weekends in nature — skiing, hiking and playing around with water, stones and wood,” she remembers. As a small child, Meyer was attuned to the beauty and power embedded in those elements — be it the intricate structure of a leaf or water’s ability to either calm or invigorate — and how mechanical design mirrored Mother Nature’s design. Turbine blades spiral outward just like flower petals; a composite version of honeycomb patterns makes for airplane parts that are durable yet light.
It’s no wonder that today Meyer specializes in pinpointing where technology, nature and art intersect. Her ability to fuse all three has been on display recently in Los Angeles. Her solo show immersiO runs through the end of December at the Manhattan Beach Art Center, and earlier in November Meyer participated in the Infinity Festival Hollywood’s Art + Tech 2 exhibit.
Amid the meticulously hand-carved rhythmic lines associated with LED lighting, observers of her work might spot remnants of industrial parts more commonly found in the industrial world. Meyer breathes new life into old and scrapped GE parts, such as refashioning turbine blades into tables and seats for the company’s lobbies. “I know today you call it ‘upcycling,’” says Meyer, “but I have been doing that my whole life.” Her recent creations include a series of old motherboards that Meyer backlit to offset elaborate patterns reminiscent of electrified city grids.
Meyer also “upcycles” history. For one of her larger projects, she salvaged old negatives of GE equipment and industrial sites from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s from a dumpster and in one instance mounted them onto a 2.5-by-4-foot clear acrylic sheet. She thickly overlapped the negatives, looping the black frames together with delicate wire to create the effect of monarch butterflies poised to take flight. “These are slides of heavy machinery, and yet the finalized artwork makes you feel light — the whole point being to show and express beauty out of most unexpected materials,” Meyer says.
Though she’s intrigued by the past, Meyer doesn’t shy away from the future either, particularly when it comes to technology. Last June, she visited the Paris Air Show to take a look at the sleek curves and 3D-printed parts in the GE9X, the world’s most powerful jet engine, which GE displayed at its pavilion at the event. “I love to meet GE people and discuss technology and materials,” Meyer says. “The more I know and discover, the better I can relate. It allows me to understand what I am creating with. Those materials and the people who create them have a history. There is tremendous knowledge, resilience and passion involved. I have respect and appreciation for that.”
Meyer started her career as a graphic designer in Stuttgart and Zurich in the early 1980s, just as desktop computers were taking over. While her colleagues were unnerved by the computers, she was fascinated. She moved to New York City in 1986 to study computer arts at the School of Visual Arts, eventually becoming adept at silk-screen-printing computer designs onto textiles.
That tech-savvy spirit continues today as Meyer incorporates new techniques including 3D printing, LED technology and animation into her art. Lately she’s been experimenting with virtual and augmented reality to combine works of art. For instance, she’s working on one painting that, if viewed through a smartphone app, presents an image of a related sculpture floating around. “It’s amazing what technology allows you to bring into a space now,” Meyer says. “I am looking forward to further experimenting with GE technology and engineers on the subject.”
Indeed, what makes Meyer’s work truly innovative is how she collaborates with GE’s employees. Last year, she designed a 7-foot sculpture out of turbine blades that spirals into the sky like a strand of DNA. A team of engineers figured out the technical logistics for building and soldering the sculpture, while the manager and staff of the facility took care of installation — even bringing in a crane to get the job done.
Today the sculpture stands at the GE industrial site of La Courneuve, where its shiny blades intertwine seamlessly as a testimony of cooperation and imagination at work. “GE clients and employees stop by and tell me that my artwork is inspiring and uplifting,” Meyer says. “To me, it is the best compliment. It reinforces my belief that transversality and creativity are at the core of all genuine and meaningful endeavors.”