this too
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
  In a knitted wonderland

All those exhibitions I didn’t see… it’s all too much. I dream of living in a perfect village where some perfect benefactor arranges, maybe 3 or 4 times a year, an exhibition of one perfect artwork (perfect to my taste, that is), which I can visit every day for three months, appreciate fully, learn by heart, make my own… a totally selfish fantasy. Sometimes I can make it real by just zoning out everything but the one piece that most touches me, as I did at the current Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibition of Modern Pots. The first item on display, perfectly placed for viewing against the backdrop of Soane’s wonderful gallery, was a small head of potter Lucie Rie by her student Hans Coper. The head of a middle-aged woman, long hair drawn back, bare-faced, ordinarily beautiful. An endlessly evocative work, which I can’t find a picture of… (so why am I mentioning it - this is bad blogging, isn’t it?). I went back and back to it, prowled round and round it, and it still lingers in my mind. I may just have to return and buy the expensive, glossy book on Hans Coper which has a photo. Or perhaps I don’t need to, because it will stay in my mind’s eye.

So, very often, I just feel sickened by the riches on display here in London, like having a ten-course meal on the table all at once, and I don’t get to even five per cent of what I might enjoy. Of all that was on offer over the Easter break, I made it, finally, to just one exhibition, and I’m so glad I did – the Knit2Together show at the Crafts Council.

Jacket for a migrating bird
Maria-Rose Lortet

A dozen or so artists/knitters - European, American, Japanese – were represented, spanning a delicious spectrum of texture, colour, thought and story in a medium that - because it is craft as well as art, because so many of us saw it done in our own homes when we were kids - is a magical combination of simple and fantastic, process and product. We weren’t allowed to take photos, but there are some on the website, one of which I’ve stolen.

My favourite: Celia Pym’s ‘Blue Knitting’, a twenty-four-metre-long scarf knitted as she travelled around Japan, visiting every island, with yarn bought locally in each place, in shades of blue, like the wide skies and traditional indigo dyes of Japan. The exhibit was accompanied by notebooks of the journey, with journal entries, drawings and photos. “It was constantly reassuring.”, she writes, “As my companion, it allowed me to travel freely”. In an audio recording, she recalls knitting in her studio when stalled on other projects, as a way of grounding herself, getting past stress and procrastination. She came to love the feel, the process, getting lost in it, the way her brain was ‘released’ by it - loved it so much, it gradually became her art.

The journal motif recurred a lot – knitting as process, as companion, as well as product, picture, beauty. “It’s like breathing”, writes Marie-Rose Lortet of her fantastically complex, detailed work, “I’ve always felt the need to recount things. I go everywhere with my little notebooks and my pieces of material and wool… it’s the story of my life”.

Another take on this comparison comes from Stephanie Speight, who knits – garter stitch - with fine strips of recycled paper: books, maps, sheet music, cash register tape, old dress patterns. The traces of old words in every stitch.

Then there were Donna Wilson’s bright, weird knitted dolls – a surreal take on children’s knitted toys. Strange, soft knitted ‘sheep’ from Takehiko Sanada.

I don’t know when I’ve felt more engaged and delighted by anything and I wasn’t alone. Visitors were invited to record their reactions on cards and hang them on the wall. Almost everyone was doing this, writing and drawing furiously, hanging them up 8, 9, 10 cards thick, spilling off the hooks. What an accolade. What an inspiration.This feels like something that melds beautifully with journaling, blogging, recording…
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Freelance copy-editor and translator. Keen on language, literature, photography, art, music, buddhist meditation and the countryside.

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