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Conference at Winchester School of Art, Winchester
15 - 17 July 2008
Reviewed by: Rosemary Shirley »
Knitting has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance in recent years. Publications such as Stitch n’ Bitch in 2003, by US knitter and feminist writer Debbie Stoller have contributed towards a “re-discovery” of knitting as pass time amongst a younger generation of knitters. In addition the media friendly antics of groups such as the Cast off Knitting Club for Boys and Girls started by Rachel Matthews in 2000, have included a knitted wedding at the Pump House Gallery and regular knitting parties, in locations such as the Ritz Hotel and the London Underground (on a loop of the Circle Line of course). Such developments have re-located knitting as a young, social, and even urban activity. While the increased interest in knitting that this has generated is to be welcomed, it is important not to replace the stereotype of Granny knitting a jumper in front of the television, with an equally simplistic image of a hip young thing knitting a comedy cigarette in a London bar. Knitting is so much more than this: it is an expression of creativity, of technical skill, it is at the fore front of industrial innovation, it can be utilised as a political action and it can articulate rich and meaningful social histories. A sensitivity to these many aspects of knitting was one of the strengths of In The Loop: Knitting, Past, Present and Future, making it a timely and stimulating event.
The conference was organised by Linda Newington, Head Librarian at Winchester School of Art and Dr Jessica Hemmings, Reader in Textile Culture at the school, to accompany the launch of the Knitting Reference Library. This library of books, patterns and knitted objects has been complied from the collections of knitting authorities Monste Stanley, Richard Rutt and Jane Waller. Many of the papers delivered at the conference showed how this collection has already been an important resource for researchers who are engaged in the study of knitting heritage, while exhibitions of students work around the campus showed how equally the collection has provided inspiration for new works of art which utilise the act of knitting in more conceptual ways.
Over the this three day conference 24 papers were delivered on topics as devise as: Deadly yarns and knitted fictions: murderous knits, chickknit lit and the 21st century woman (Dr Jo Turney), Sportsmen and their sweaters: knitting patterns as historical sources (Dr Martin Polley) and Craft, queerness and guerrilla tactics (Lacey Jane Roberts). However, coming to this conference from a fine art perspective the stand out papers for me included Rachel Beth Egenhoefer and Sabrina Gschwandntner.
Rachel Beth Egenhoefer is an artist from the US who states that she considers her Commodore 64 Computer and Fischer Price Loom to be defining objects of her childhood. She now utilises her twin interests in constructed textiles and technology to explore the cross over points between computer code and knitting. This concern was evident both in the paper presented by Egenhoefer and in her solo exhibition Loop which accompanied the conference in the Winchester Gallery. On a basic level Egenhoefer’s pieces show the resemblance between knitting patterns and computer code – knits and purls – zeros and ones – but much of her work moves beyond this similarity, exploring the tangibility of knitted cloth in relation to the intangibility of the virtual world. She interrogates the physical relationship between body and machine, most notably in her piece Knit Negotiation which takes the form of a sweater which both highlights and links the space between the computer and the user. Here Egenhoefer creates an essentially nonsense object, but one which speaks of our equally absurdist and often taken for granted everyday relationship with the computers in our lives.
Sabrina Gschwandtner, also from the US, is an artist, curator and author of the recently published Knit Knit Book which is derived from her handcrafted artist publications of the same name. The book includes interviews with and patterns from, an international selection of “New Wave” knitters, (although I am still unsure as to what exactly constitutes a “New Wave” knitter) In her paper Gschwandtner detailed how her interest in the subject grew from knitting as a form of relaxation during her study of film and semiotics at college, into a medium which allowed her to think about using film as a sculptural medium – literally sewing yarn into transparencies in the best traditions of avant-garde film making. Since her collage days Gschwandtner has started to explore the social spaces that can be associated with the activity of crafting and has made artworks and curated events which reflect the social, historical and political potential of the practice of knitting. In Wartime Knitting Circle, created for the exhibition Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting at the Museum of Modern Art and Design in New York, visitors to the exhibition were invited to work from four war time knitting patterns, the space created for this activity also became a place where visitors could consider the role their handcraft could play in the Iraq war, were their contributions to be taken as acts of support or protest? It also became a space for debate between knitters whose political opinions of the war differed. The knitting circle was surrounded by knitted photo-blankets which, Gschwandtner revealed, have become popular in the US as tributes or memorials to family members who have gone to fight in Iraq. However Gschwandtner’s blankets have been made from intriguing photographs which show various aspects of the historical relationship between knitting and war – most striking of these is an archival image of women knitting covers for WW2 sticky bombs.
In The Loop proved to be an inspirational and thought provoking event which engaged with and developed the potentialities of knitting as both a practical and conceptual process.
Rosemary Shirley is Editor of Interface
Conference at Winchester School of Art »
Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton
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