I have had the good fortune to be introduced to Shannon Stratton recently via email. Shannon is the curator at ThreeWalls, an alternative art space in Chicago, and the co-leader of a session at the College Art Association's 2008 conference in Dallas, TX, titled Gestures of Resistance: Craft, Performance, and the Politics of Slowness. With the other leader of the session, Judith Leemann, she has started a website. It has been very exciting to learn about Shannon's work and her thoughts about knitting and craft and slowness as a political act. It also is exciting to know that what I have been up to is part of a larger collective unconscious, or whatever you want to call it, in which people are feeling the need to use labor-intensive handwork as a way of resisting the pervading culture of speed and consumption.
Shannon asked me to answer some questions as part of her research for her MA thesis. I thought it would be appropriate to post some of her questions and my answers as part of this project, which is all about using knitting on a large-scale as a way of exploring one of our culture's most prominent symbols of speed and consumption: sprawl. Since this project began perculating in my head a year ago or so, I have liked thinking about the way my knitting the large scale fair isle reproduction of a photograph of sprawl was, in its way, a completely absurd response: I am going to invest more time in the planning and actual knitting of this thing than it would take for most houses in new developments take to be built. I have other aspects of the project, also equally absurd in terms of time investment, which I will describe later. For now, however, here are two of Shannon's questions and my responses. Please chime in with your responses! If you give the ok, I will post those too. I would LOVE to hear what you have to say on the subject.
Do you differentiate between knitting as a craft and knitting as an art making strategy?
I assume you are asking me about these distinctions as they relate directly to me, personally, rather than as larger categories as they relate to all those who knit. On that assumption, I have to answer that I do differentiate. I knit socks and sweaters for my family for all the reasons that most knitters make things—I love the craft, I like handmade objects and it is a way of sharing my love for my family. On the other hand, I knit projects that I would distinctly categorize as art. At some point, these do begin to blend, however, especially in my project, The House Museum, where I have created an installation encompassing the entire interior of a house in Newfoundland as a way of exploring ideas related to tourism and culture. THM is a tourist attraction, open to the public from July – August every summer but it is also our home. I like to think that every activity that happens there thus becomes art, including whatever knitting I happen to be engaged in. Also, for that project, I have knit and crocheted curtains, pillows and other “useful” objects for the house but their conceptual underpinning, and my motivation for making them, is firmly rooted in an art making strategy.
What drew you to knitting as a format to begin with?
I have been knitting since I was eight, and seriously, regularly knitting since my early 20s but it didn’t become one of my main art practices until I was almost 30. I was trained as a painter in art school and it took me a long time to shake off all the prejudices I was taught to believe about what was “real” art (i.e. painting). It was such a relief to stop painting! I have always been drawn to wool, cloth, textiles, knitting, sewing, etc. The materials speak to me and excite me and fill me with ideas. I recently started spinning wool. The first time I ever used a spinning wheel I had the slightly unnerving but very exciting experience of feeling like my hands knew exactly what to do—that I had I had done this before and my whole body understood it. I have since heard that other people have had this experience. I think that these processes – knitting, spinning, etc – are so elemental to human experience that they are known to us, to our hands. I have given in to this feeling in a big way.