Knitting in the periphery
Jackson Hole, Wyo.-The Knitting Project currently on display throughout Jackson until the end of winter, evolved from very specific aspirations. The first of which was to bring awareness to the elderly community of Jackson through the investigation of a socially-activated art process. For artist Suzanne Morlock, this meant being a facilitator and leader of knitters who parlayed their craft into the new genre of “relational aesthetics.”
A contentious term within the art field because of its ambiguity and now all encompassing dogma, “relational aesthetics” flatly defines art that is fueled by, driven or perceived primarily in a public, social realm. Let us not get caught up on definitions and be open to the Knitting Project as residing outside the “art world” and outside controlled artist intent. Morlock states, the emphasis of this project was “the learning, the dialogue, the connectivity, and the fostering of creativity.”
If the over-arching goals of the Knitting Project were anti-aesthetic or in this case the knitted objects became artifact or on the extreme edge project detritus, what role do the public “art” pieces play to the audience? As with many conceptual projects, information about the process and or artists’ intent informs viewer perception as much as experiencing the object. This is a big thrust for Morlock who eschews formalism with a flick of her hand. But in this case, we are left with the humorous and playfully dressed bronze sculptures about town – whose object-hood, I contend, firmly and yet coyly, articulates the goals of the Knitting Project.
It’s not by chance that the sculptures chosen to be dressed are from the traditional, Western art front of bronze production. Morlock states, “We need to continue to be adventuresome and challenge ourselves and others to think about our public realm differently.” Using the very familiar and local repetitious form of the bronze sculpture was a way for Morlock to “shake-up” the public art arena of Jackson.
The recent trend of knit bombings are more often than not overtly political acts that seek to reclaim, draw attention or rephrase sites within the public sphere, much like graffiti. This includes artists like Olek, who in 2011 knit a purple and pink skin over “Charging Bull” on Wall Street. If you are really interested you can even go to the DIY website twilighttaggers.blogspot.com and learn the technical and social guidelines of knit bombing. Unlike these manifestations of public knitting, the Knitting Project takes a much less aggressive approach to contributing to the canon of feminist craft, public art.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 90 percent of the artists involved in the Knitting Project are women. Morlock says this is in part a reflection of our knitting community and of the elderly generation. Knitting has become trendier and more acceptable as an activity for men recently and is more pervasive in urban areas. Also not surprisingly, every bronze that was dressed, except for “One Man Waiting” in the Center for the Arts, are by male artists. This is what I was most curious to ask Morlock about.
“I went into this thinking that the community public art process and the social process was equal. I was not so concerned with the outcome; it was more about the process and getting [the elderly community] involved.
The outcomes were the outcomes of the artists involved. I was the facilitator, the frame maker. I encouraged people to get out of the box,” Morlock said.
What she learned was there was a dialogue between art and craft that she hadn’t anticipated. As frame maker Morlock staged opposing cultures together in the same act. She created a forum and concretely a practice for a dialogue to emerge. This in turn created a kind of reflexivity.
There are bridges that were conceptually woven by Morlock and physically connected by the individual artists whom participated. Traditional craft was connected to contemporary art, traditional art was connected to contemporary art practices, individual lives and interiors were connected to the public sphere, and “women’s’ work” was connected to the centrally male cannon of Western art.
In this way, the Knitting Project prevails as a highlighter and a type of net, pacifying and connecting disparate ideologies and ways of understanding. It synthesizes worlds of opposing values into one piece, gently activating a conversation about the peculiarity of these sculptures. The work is so subtle that if one wants to appreciate the sculptures solely for their idiosyncrasies or folly they can.
What the Knitting Project does tell us is that certain artistic activities are political. The task of activating a community of elderly women to turn traditional Western sculptures into contemporary art is political. It is an attempt to shift local ideologies about public art and perhaps specifically, our Western heritage in this area.
Thanks Abbie for the review — just to be clear, not all participants were older, we had a number of 4th graders participate, some high school students and lots of folks not yet Medicare aged however the initial dialog was related to much older folks — who did participate in the piece depicted. Enjoy!