I suspect that those of you who only know me through this blog think of me as just an old-fashioned, tree-chopping he-man. The kind of guy who's most comfortable sitting around drunk in the cabin I built on a bluff outside of Laramie, watching monster truck rallies on satellite TV and picking my teeth with a matchbook cover.
But there's so much more to me, kids. When I'm not doing the watching-and-picking thing I love to check out what's happening in the art world. Hell, I'm an art junkie. Hang it on the wall or stick it on a pedestal under a spotlight and sure, I'll take a peek. High art, low art, folk art, insider, outsider, good, bad–whatever. In this day and age, I'm just happy that people are still doing something besides watching monster truck rallies and picking their teeth with matchbook covers.
My friend Nancy called me up and told me there was an installation I should check out at the School of the Art Institute's Sullivan Galleries (33 State Street, 7th floor– aka the old Carson Pirie Scott building). She said it wasn't just any art, it was art with knitting in it. Well, you don't have to tell me twice. (You do, actually. Sometimes more than twice, because I inhaled too much Paas Easter Egg dye as a child.)
So Nancy and I went to see the installation, Redress, and I liked it so much I went back again yesterday to take pictures and chat with the creators. It's a collaboration by three artists–Amber Ginsburg, Carla Duarte, and Lia Rousset, all students in the MFA program.
Redress is interactive.
A rail of thrift-shop sweaters is suspended from the ceiling; more are piled in one corner. Even more have been unraveled, and the reclaimed yarn is spooled around eight wheel rims (from wrecked bicycles) mounted on a wooden platform (salvaged from a warehouse). The yarn winds off the rims (as though from a swift), swoops across the room via a series of hooks, and hangs down above eight seats (more salvaged wood) where it is being turned into eight swatches.
Anybody can knit on the swatches, and lots of people have. Afterwards, they can log their time on the appropriate time card.
The concept is simple, and the artists have done a good thing in not posting a notice explaining what it all means. You walk in, you knit (or watch the knitting) and you think your own thoughts and draw your own conclusions.
I was surprised as all heck at how much bubbled up in my brain during my visits. Knitting is something I do every day, and have done for so long that I generally don't think about it much. I should clarify: I think about what I'm knitting, but not the act of knitting.
Well, sitting in the middle of Redress I was suddenly very aware of my knitting again, almost as though I were a beginner, or a non-knitter watching a knitter. The knit stitch suddenly looked...odd. Alien.
And whenever I'd need more yarn, I'd pull on the suspended strand and the bicycle wheel would spin, and make a pleasant clicking sound. And that sound would remind me, "You are using more yarn." I became very aware of using up the raw material.
Handling the yarn and seeing what was left of the original sweater, I started to think of the person who had run the knitting machine that made it. I wondered who it was, what the factory looked like, what they'd been paid. I wondered if they ever enjoyed the work, what they'd been paid. Was it a man or a woman? Was anything about the process pleasurable for them, or was it pure drudgery? And here I was, using the remains of their work to do...what, exactly?
There are no rules for the knitting, so at leisure I added or subtracted stitches, threw in yarn-overs, worked garter, ribbing, stockinette. It was the first time in a long time I've just played with yarn. And it occurred to me that this was a pleasure the maker of the original sweater had not had. S/he had churned out fabric on a knitting machine as ordered by some factory foreman, period. It made me consider what a privilege I enjoy, knitting what I want in whatever manner pleases me.
And other knitters were there, knitting, coming, going. It was a knitting circle like any knitting circle, except it wasn't. It was a knitting circle with a frame around it. A knitting circle with everything but the knitting removed. A knitting circle where none of us really knew what we were knitting. We were knitting to knit. We were knitters, and we were also art. And our knitting was knitting, and it was also art.
This all sounds jumbled, because so were my thoughts. They tumbled over one another like a cascade of marbles and by the time I left (I was only there for an hour) I felt exhausted and excited. See "art geek," above.
If you're in Chicago or can get here, Redress is open through February 21. Not much time left, but enough time to see it before it's gone. Go and have your own experience. And make sure to clock in and out.