Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Artists Who Knit

There was a time when I had to search and search for artists who were making real, serious (and seriously funny) work that included needlework. As I have mentioned before, Elaine Reichek is one of my biggest influences in that seeing her show, "Native Intelligence" back in the early 90s lit a spark for me from which a fire has been raging ever since. As I have been thinking about who to include in my Lion Brand talk, I realize that there are now so many artists working with knitting that I actually have to set up some guidelines about why I want to include them. The main guideline seems to be that I know their work well and have given it a good deal of thought over the years.

Naturally, I will include some images of work by Elaine. She has moved on from knitting to embroidery and other media but she remains a pioneer for the rest of us.

Two Canadian artists also have been major influences. Barb Hunt who lives in Corner Brook (how lucky is that?) and teaches at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College's Visual Art program. Her best known knit piece is probably her pink landmine replicas. For that reason, I am choosing a different piece. This is called "Amnesty" and she knit it for the Canadian Foreign Minister, who was a woman at the time. This was one of Barb's first knit pieces, so for her, it has special meaning as she began to use knitting to explore her ideas about being a pacifist and an artist.

Janet Morton is an artist who lives in Ontario. We have frequently discovered that either she or I have made a piece that the other was thinking about making to the point of being almost scary. Likewise, we have many other non-art shared interests - India, yoga, two children (a boy and a girl), environmentalism...the list goes on. Naturally, I think Janet is great! Vanity aside, Janet IS great. Here is one of her pieces called Femmebomb. It is installed at the 4 story, century old School of Human Ecology at UW - Madison. She covered it in 19 quilt squares made from recycled material, 250 crocheted flowers, 22 buttons made of pink insulation foam, orange plastic snow fence woven with pink cloth, industrial Velcro, wood rope, grommets.

I think those are three artists that I will speak about but, as I said, there are so many now. Besides their influence on my thinking about art, these three also share a depth in their ideas and their use of needlework. There is solid ground under their decision to choose knitting. Conceptually, it works on many levels. I do fear that, with the growing popularity of the "guerilla knitting" movement, some of our work is diluted a little. I want to emphasize that these artists who have chosen knitting aren't really doing it on a lark or because it is fun (although it is), but have philosophically sound reasons behind it.

One of the reasons that the "what a waste, you should be knitting for homeless people" comment is so inexplicable to me is exactly because the knitting is conceptually integral to the validity of the piece as art. Its common use - to make functional objects - is a reference point but in the same way rotting fruit is a reference point for Chardin in his still life paintings. Oh Monsieur Chardin! What a waste of perfectly good fruit! And that dead rabbit could have fed starving children!

Ok, no need to get snarky, but you get my point.

All that said, I did happen upon an image from a recent show in London.

It is a piece called "Still Burning" by Sally Spinks. So, you see, we can have fun too!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Artist Talk at Lion Brand Studio - May 7th

I will be giving a talk at Lion Brand Studio on May 7th from 6 - 8 p.m. I will be speaking about my work and the work of several other artists who use knitting as their primary medium. There will time for question and answers afterwards. Admission is free but you do have to RSVP.

For information about how to RSVP, please click here.

It would be nice to see some friendly, familiar faces, so I hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Fever

For the past couple of weeks I have been feeling a profound kind of exhaustion, like my bones are made of lead. I have felt this before a couple of times. Once (or rather twice) when I was pregnant and several times since having children when I get a little anemic. But my usual remedies haven't been working this time so I went to my acupuncturist for some advice. She suggested it might be spring fever. Apparently, the term actually means a kind of illness that comes at the same time as spring, or with the pollen that accompanies the spring. I am not so sure that is it. It may be a thyroid thing, or just plain old exhaustion, which is not totally unreasonable given the pace of things lately. I should know more in a few days.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the spring fever that has boiled to the surface here in Sunnyside:

Here is our version of the concrete jungle...not bad!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bring Your Crimes With You

Lately I have been thinking a lot about mistakes: making mistakes, watching others make mistakes and how the mere whiff of possibility around making a mistake can shape one's actions. No, not one's actions. My actions.

Inch by inch by inch I have been trying to creep out from under this self-imposed rock called "shyness." I realized a good deal of what passes for shyness is really the fear of making mistakes in front of others. When I first received the wonderful gift of a spinning wheel, I forced -ahem- asked my family to leave the house so I could make all my mistakes in private. Also the loud cursing may have been a consideration. But really, if you can't make mistakes in front of your own family, then who? where?

There has been something about going to sit at the Zen Center that has pushed this issue to the very forefront of my consciousness, perhaps because so much of the experience of it has been making mistake after mistake after mistake. I remember the first time I was told to be a server for oryoki (formal meal served in the zendo). Given the long list of correct ways to do it, I was very nervous about making mistakes. Plus, one must do it in front of everyone, including the teacher and senior monastics and students, who I so dearly wanted to impress. While I didn't actually spill hot food on him, I did do just about everything wrong including tripping over a zafu right in front of the teacher. I can laugh now, but oh, it was so painful at the time.

During sesshin, Shugen Sensei gave a talk about a koan that included a line about how when you create laws, the crimes will follow: as soon as you set a rule, the rule will be broken and someone will become the criminal who broke it. He spoke about how when we come to this practice, all our crimes come along with us. Suddenly it made all the fear and nervousness seem a little silly. It is simply very, very human to make mistakes and, despite my best efforts to pretend otherwise, I am simply very, very human. So where is the problem?

I tried to hold onto this as we had our "encounters" with people on the train as part of Spindle 7 this past weekend. Keep it simple. Just person to person. From one criminal to another.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Good Footage, Good Yardage

The weekend went well. We had a computer glitch in the middle of it all which threatened to make everything very, very complicated but in the way that the good comes with the bad, it served to reveal that I had 14 days left on my computer's warantee so the $1200 repair was covered. I hate to even contemplate what would have happened if I had not had this glitch and was in Gilliams trying to work and discovered this problem...shudder.

On to happier thoughts!

One nice side benefit from the weekend was that I have become a much better spindle spinner and I actually did generate some decent yardage. I have to think about what to make with it. I have a few ideas but nothing has sung out to me as THE thing.

Here are few more pictures, taken by John Frisbie, who was accompanying his wife and daughter on Sunday. It was good to get some pictures of Marcia at work. She was truly amazing.

The person in the orange scarf is Brece Honeycutt. She has done some great spinning-related projects of her own. She has an online exhibition right now on Poplar Gallery Online. Check it out!

I need to get a rough cut of the film together by May 14th, in time for the Queens Council on the Art gala benefit. They want me to be one of the performers. No, I won't be performing Memory from Cats on a handsaw. I will be spinning! They want me to be spinning and teaching people to spin at the gala. I have visions of women in sequin gowns and men in tuxedos, all covered in fleece. Maybe they will strip off their tuxes and gowns and go native once they feel the love that is spinning! Now there's a performance worth seeing!

In the meantime, please do drop by PS122 for the exhibition Yarn Theory (Knitting, Crochet, Math and Science), which opens on Saturday. Some of the amazing hyperbolic crochet coral reef is there, as well as many other remarkable works, include our own The Knitted Mile.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spindle 7

It has been quite an adventure, these last three days. I am grateful to Marcia for always egging me on for "one more encounter" as we came to call our experiences talking with people about spinning, fleece, wool, life, culture and what-have-you. There have been some beautiful moments.

There is much more to come, but in the meantime, here are some pictures of the last three days (video stills, so they look a little odd):

We met these three men who are Tibetan (raised in India). After some back and forth, I convinced one to try the spindle and it turned out he was a much better spinner than I am! He gave me some helpful pointers. A shocked subway car looked on...

We had gorgeous weather, taken advantage of best on the 61st Street/Woodside station platform.

Spindle 7 reflected in the window...

A woman who gamely tried out the spindle and did quite well. She spun all the way from about 40th Street to Main Street, Flushing. I gave her one of my homemade spindles and some fleece. She seemed very happy about it.

This morning, a small group gathered at 46th Street/Bliss. One by one, we started to spin. Again, a shocked subway car looked on.

This woman was more interested in watching Lucy than talking with me. So much the better!

Janet and her son, Yves, stuck it out for a full ride. Yves was unstoppable! He filled two spindles and, I think, could have kept going.

Spindle 7. Movie coming soon!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Marcia is Here! Marcia is Here!

Last summer, I met the funny and fabulous Marcia Connolly, a film maker from Toronto. Marcia was working on a film about the equally fabulous Colette Urban, who is our neighbor in McIvers as well as an artist, organic farmer and owner of Full Tilt. Marcia was acting as cinematographer to the film's director, Catherine Knight.

Pause a moment here to reflect that the reason that Catherine and Marcia were able to come to McIvers for nearly a month to make film about Colette's amazing life and performances was because they received support from the Canadian government. Yes, you heard that right - government support of the arts. For those who say they don't want to be told what art they have to support with their tax dollars, I ask you this - have you ever been surprised? Have you ever discovered that you really love something you hadn't heard of before? If you answered "yes" then perhaps government support of artists you never heard of isn't such a waste of money after all. Ok, I am done with my soapbox sermon and will stick the teat of the Canadian government back into my mouth now....ummm.....yummm.....

ANYWAY...Marcia was this incredible mixture of camp counselor from heaven and techie whiz kid. She, Catherine and Colette worked very, very hard and somehow she was still making jokes and full of energy at the of the day. So, when I thought about documenting Spindle 7, there was only one person I could imagine having with me. I was so happy when I received the funding from the Queens Council on the Arts because it meant that I could ask Marcia to be the videographer. And she said YES!

Today we start filming some solo runs in lead up to Sunday. Are you coming on Sunday? Please do!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spindle 7 - This Sunday!

Please join me this Sunday on the #7 train for Spindle 7, a project funded in part by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Here is how it will work:

At about 10:30 am, filmmaker, Marcia Connolly, and I will board the last car of first Manhattan-bound #7 train that comes along to the 46th Street/Bliss station. If you want to join us to spin or learn to spin, you have two options.

1. Plan to be on the Manhattan bound platform at the 46th Street/Bliss station at about 10:15 am to get on the train with us.

2. Hang out at any station along the #7 route until our train comes through. We will be in the LAST car when the train is headed into Manhattan. It will be the FIRST car when it is heading back to Flushing, Queens.

NOTE: We will be documenting this event on film so it is possible you will be videotaped as part of a group. The resulting film will be approx. 10 minutes long and screened only as part of an art installation. You can opt out of being filmed.

Hope to see you!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Coming Home

Yesterday I stepped out the front door of the ZCNYC for the first time since last Thursday into brilliant sunshine. Somehow, in three days, trees had begun to flower and the whole world looked very alive and blooming. Perhaps the only way to really appreciate the loveliness of that moment was to have spent the previous three days in silence, not making eye contact, and sitting still for extended periods of time.

Sesshin felt like a plunge into cold lake water at the end of a long, sticky hot day. Despite the physical discomforts of all that sitting, my feeling is overwhelmingly of being refreshed and re-oriented in the right direction. Actually, I thought I held up pretty well, physically. All that yoga paid off - my knees, although creaky, were not burning with searing pain by the end. It probably also helped that my job during sesshin was to be a server during oryoki meals (breakfast and lunch). This job involved running up and down two flights of stairs from the zendo to the kitchen many, many times in order to fetch the food and then return it after everyone was served. Admittedly, the fire in my step was flagging a bit by the end of lunch, it did offer a nice relief from all the sitting.

One thing that really struck me this time was how amazing it is that it even exists in this world. Here we were, all getting ourselves up at 3:50 am and eagerly running down to the zendo. Eagerly! Everyone was working sincerely and very hard to make it all happen - keeping the place clean and cooking meals together. Despite the silence and lack of eye contact, there was such a strong feeling of being supported by the strength of everyone else's practice. It made those moments of doubt and fear and exhaustion feel not just bearable but perfectly ok. Zen talks a lot about intimacy, not intimacy in the romantic way, but a true kind of intimacy of knowing one's own mind and between the teacher and student, and between the people in the sangha. I really felt it this weekend.

So here I am, all back together again at home. Nothing to be done but keep moving forward.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Dig In

Before heading off into the great silence, I have been able to spin up several new skeins with the help of Finn and Lucy's excellent carding service. Just check out these three that they carded yesterday:

Merino with bits and pieces of everything under the sun.


Icelandic/mohair blend with all sorts of other things.

I also have been in a "spin thin" mood, so I finished up a couple of handpainted rovings that I had partially spun up earlier.

Merino/cashmere blend, chain plied.

Also merino/cashmere, also chain plied.  The rovings were dyed by Capistrano Fiber Arts.  Everything is listed (almost) in my etsy shop.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Fullness of Weekends

Thanks for all your great comments about Ripley's Believe It or Not. I sent them a reply asking a couple of questions but haven't heard back, so who knows if it will come to anything. I have enjoyed the very idea of it immensely.

Lucy did very well at the tournament. She achieved her stated goal and is happy. She had a great time, something that is a mystery to those of us who have sat on the sidelines of chess tournaments (eight hours of playing chess is fun? To some, it is!). Dan and Finn have many stories about the amazing qualities of the Opryland Resort in Nashville. Let's just call it a clash of cultures and leave it at that.

For myself, the weekend had other plans in store. I attended the Intro to Zen Training weekend at the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt.Tremper, NY, which is the monastery to which the Zen centre where I sit is attached. It was an intensive weekend of zazen and workshops related to the eight gates of training that are part of the Mountains and Rivers Order. It was the first time that I have sat zazen with a group in nearly a year and, quite frankly, it was the first time ever that I can say that I really loved it. Previously, sitting with a group always was fraught with a kind of panic about not knowing what the hell I was doing and distress about a myriad of other petty things such as stomach rumblings that always seemed to loom larger than life, given the context.

This time, as we stumbled to our zafus at 5 am, I made a deal with myself to just relax and laugh at my mistakes and assorted interior gurgles. Instead of always feeling inadequate and stupid, I enjoyed being among people who were having a similar experience to me, or perhaps having a totally different experience. It didn't matter. I just enjoyed being around them. The shyness, the needing to be perfect and appear smart...what's that all about anyway?

One wonderful surprise of the weekend was to have the abbot of the monastery, John Daido Loori Roshi, come and speak to us for an hour. I had heard so much about him, all of it said with such awe and respect, to the point that I was a little suspicious. How does anyone live up to their press? But he is the real deal: he didn't take any bull sh*t and he was as clear as the cold mountain air around the monastery. He also is elderly and not in great health so it was quite an honour that he took the time and energy to come and answer our questions. I am very grateful to have been there.

This Thursday evening marks the beginning of a sesshin in Brooklyn that will last until Sunday afternoon. I have received permission to attend (I have seriously pushed the limits of Dan's patience with all my demands - please be extra nice to him if you see him). I am excited and nervous. Sesshin changes you, which is exciting. But because it changes you, it is scary as well. After hours and hours with nothing but one's own mindful of chatter and blather (it almost makes me sick to my stomach sometimes!), there is no where to go but...

Friday, April 03, 2009

Knitting Super Freak

Should I be honoured or appalled? I was contacted this morning by Ripley's Believe It or Not regarding the water tower project.

Perhaps things have gone just a little too far...

Check Mate!

I hope those are words out of Lucy's mouth many times this weekend.

She (and Dan and Finn) are traveling to Nashville this morning so she can compete in the Chess Supernationals. The Chess Supernationals (we keep calling it the Chess Supernaturals) is a once-every-four-years event in which 6000 children from all over the US come to play chess. Lucy will play seven games over the next three days. Her goals are relatively modest: to win more than she loses. I am very proud that she is excited and not very nervous about it. Somehow, she takes things in stride and doesn't get flustered about the competition. Once the game is going, she is focused and her only goal is to win. Please don't ask how she comes by this quality. Dan and I just look on with wonder and awe.

Go, Lucy, go!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Dear Dan...

This afternoon after getting home from our day in Brooklyn I checked my email, as I am wont to do of a Thursday afternoon. There was a note from the Canada Council letting me know I could check my application's status online. What? You didn't know I applied...well, yes I did back in November because, you know, I could. My project was called Knitting Sprawl and it was about using knitting to explore the current state of suburbia in Canada through various means - knitting groups in homes, special projects, video, photography. A project as sprawling as the topic itself. One giant metaphor. Because I am good at giant metaphors.

Being of a curious nature, I decided to have a look at the status.

Well my dear, the grant was approved.

So, are you interested in visiting the suburbs of Winnipeg anytime soon?

With love,

Your wife, I hope, still.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Good-bye Plane

I have been dragging my crocheted biplane project around with me in a plastic bag for two weeks. Some might suggest I spent more time complaining about it than crocheting it, but I disagree. In fact, I have been feeling quite disagreeable about the whole thing! It was semi-completed over the weekend, or so I pretended. On Monday morning I realized there was no way I could actually bring this item into Lion Brand and still hold my head high. I would have to tear it out and start over yet again.


Yesterday, I left the vaguely plane-like lump in its plastic bag and pretended it didn't exist. I would walk past it and glance down at it sitting on the floor, but really, it didn't exist. I even had to shift it a couple of times to get at my drum carder and such. I was gleefully working on those kind of projects that I do when other deadlines are not pressing.

What's this plastic bag with the strange red version of Droopy Dawg in it? Huh? Never seen it before...

This morning I sent an email to David at Lion Brand admitting defeat. I like to think that I could have done it had my heart been in it more, but maybe that isn't even true. There was a good reason why I asked Sono to make the pigeons and taxis for the window. Rendering three dimensional objects in crochet just isn't my thing. The sooner I admit this simple fact, the happier we all can be. Indeed, after I sent off that email, I immediately felt much happier.

So very, very happy.

Because look what happens when you don't have to make a Droopy Dawg biplane:

Two-ply yarn from the indigo dyed fleece and some merino/bamboo fleece with lots of uncarded locks added in.

Single ply, thick and thin yarn from the madder dyed fleece.

I finally pinned up Shugen Sensei's samue to finish the alterations he requested about a month ago.

Pumpkin muffins for breakfast this morning, kids!

And for that extra clarity of mind (as if I need that now - ha!)...