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Artist Victoria Siemer Shatters Expectations

By Catherine G. Wagley

During her senior year at the University of Buffalo, Victoria Siemer made a large sculpture that she called the Lacanian Photobooth. Named for the iconic French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, it was made entirely of shattered mirrors. Anyone who took a photo in Siemer’s booth would end up with a fragmented image. Her booth allowed people to literally go to pieces. These days, Siemer rarely works sculpturally—there’s just no room in her Brooklyn apartment. Adobe Photoshop CC has become her tool of choice.

Siemer, who moved to Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood four years ago, says, “The idea of broken reflections has carried through my work.” She began Geometric Reflections, her longest ongoing series, by taking romanticized images of snowy mountains or misty beaches and then flipping them in on themselves. A half circle of excised greenery might float in the sky, reflecting a lush forest below. Or the reverse image of a mountain might look down on itself, as if a god were holding up a giant mirror. Eventually, Siemer began to take the same approach with cityscapes, achieving a back-to-the-future effect. Cars drive between skyscrapers as their fragmented reflections race through the sky.

An image by Victoria Siemer, aka Witchoria. It shows trees and a reflection of trees.
An image by Victoria Siemer, aka Witchoria. It shows a city skyline at night with a reflection.
An image by Victoria Siemer, aka Witchoria. It shows a mountain scene reflecting itself.

Three images from the Geometric Reflections series. (Click to enlarge.)

On her website, Siemer still refers to herself as a designer; she has only recently begun to feel comfortable calling herself an artist. She continues to work as an art director at the marketing agency Velocidi by day and takes more client work on the side. “My art career is something I’ve been building during my off time,” she says, recalling the time a professor in college told her she was “more of an artist than a designer,” and that she would “fail as a designer in the real world.” She proved that professor wrong.

“I stayed a bit closeted about how artistic I was for a long time,” Siemer continues. She has been doing all of her artwork under the name Witchoria, selling prints for modest prices. Gradually, Witchoria has garnered attention online. Gucci recently featured her in their new Instagram collaboration, #GucciGram. For that project, Siemer superimposed one of the fashion house’s new floral patterns across mountains that glowed pink.

She may soon be able to transition to being Wichtoria full time, though it’s meant late nights after long days. “I like to joke that Photoshop is my boyfriend, because I spend so much of my free time with it,” she says. “If you’re going to chase your dreams in a city like New York, you are going to have to work your ass off for it.” 

Pressures of New York aside, she credits her Brooklyn community with her success. “I don’t think I’d be where I am now if I hadn’t moved here,” she says. The artist Jeff Brown, a former roommate of Siemer’s, used to set up photo shoots in their shared loft. She had no formal photography training, so she watched closely. Street photographer Dave Krugman gives her advice both on social media strategies and on equipment. “I’d go and borrow his α7R [camera] like a cup of sugar from a neighbor,” she recalls.

Her photography savvy is evident in recent work, where her manipulations blur into the realm of the documentary. For her Human Error series, Siemer combines photographs edited to look like Polaroids with riffs on Mac OS error messages. She might superimpose the words “Loading existential crisis” over an ethereal but damaged photo of roses. Or a trashcan icon might precede the words “Preparing to empty the heart.”  

An image by Victoria Siemer, aka Witchoria. It shows a
An image by Victoria Siemer, aka Witchoria. It shows a
An image by Victoria Siemer, aka Witchoria. It shows a

Three images from the Human Error series. (Click to enlarge.)

The project began in a fit of frustration. Siemer was editing a complex image when the message “Photoshop has crashed unexpectedly” flashed across her screen. She took a screenshot. “I had planned to make a joke about how Photoshop had broken my heart unexpectedly,” she remembers. “But as I was manipulating the image, I realized how many error messages could be applied to things that happen in day-to-day life.” Some images in this series are uncomfortably dark—like the one in which an alarm clock reminds us we’ll all be dead someday. But even these reflect a fantasy of control. If only life did tell us exactly what went wrong.

In Siemer’s newer Illuminated series, emotionally freighted everyday phrases appear in glowing letters against lonely landscapes, as if conjured by a forlorn wanderer’s subconscious. The phrase “cry if you want to” hangs between two trees in one image. In another, “thanks for nothing” floats along a coastline at sunrise. As with most of her work, she begins with an idea and then uses her tools—a camera, Photoshop, and sometimes After Effects and Illustrator—until she has achieved what she sees in her mind’s eye. “It’s like a puzzle,” Siemer says. “The final image is the problem, and you have to find a solution.” 
 

Four images from the Illuminated series. (Click to advance.)

As we were preparing this article, Siemer participated in—and won a Best Visual Design Award at—the December 2015 New York Adobe Creative Jam. Check out her winning work in this Behance portfolio.