Sunday, October 4, 2009

Haystack '09: Part 2

Haystack has a way of collecting the most interesting teachers, working with the most challenging media. The classes never fail to push the boundaries of their own fields and, in the process, infinitely expand the minds of their students. This summer's 6th session Knitting class fit snugly into that tradition:

Knitting: Wool Equals Bronze/ Time Does Not Equal Money, with artist Janet Morton:

"This workshop will explore hand knitting as a valid and vital sculptural/installation medium and as an alternate means of measuring time. Through a series of slide talks, discussions, and exercises, participants will be encouraged to playfully and critically examine their relationships to the natural world, everyday objects, and equations that link time to “value”. Experimentation with materials, scale, technique, and ideas will be encouraged. Participants will develop personal projects, and will be invited to work collectively on an onsite project."

Members of the class, immediately bound by the desire to eschew the expectations that we would be producing socks and sweaters, dove into assignments that forever altered the way we approach about our craft.

First let me say that working with Janet Morton was an absolute DREAM. As an artist, Janet is incredibly prolific and intelligent... but on a more basic level, she is totally approachable, always ready with a story about "the last time she was in India..." or "that one time I was living in the Canadian Bush planting trees..." I had done a fair amount of research into her work before leaving for the class, but having her there, ready to answer questions and talk about her art/process was hugely enlightening. Each piece I had already fallen in love with ended up being even more epic and smart than I had imagined. And she was fun! Accompanied by her two rambunctious children and her outgoing and comical husband, the whole family brought a feeling of familial whimsy to the studio that was somehow perfectly fitting for a class that was challenging the traditionality that knitting implies.

We started the first day of class with a Never Before Played Surrealist Knitting Game! Here's how to play: The group starts with a large selection of yarns and needles and each participant gets a bag big enough to hide a small project. 1. Cast On! Any wool, any stitch, any number of stitches. After working for 30 min, place your project in the bag and put the bag into the center of the table. Swap bags! 2. Change at least one thing. color, wool, type of stitch, inc or dec, needle size, etc. After another 30 min, swap bags again! 3. Repeat step 2. 4. The fourth collaborator has a whole hour to complete the project and cast off from the needles.

This experiment was a great way to immediately establish that knitting does not always have to be functional, and that even abstracted, bizarre objects can carry as much meaning and importance as a traditional garment. (Maybe even more.) We also learned that knitting takes a long time and a half hour isn't long at all. It was great fun!

Assignment 1: Knit an Object- It's one thing to knit a 3d sock or sweater, but it's another thing entirely to knit... an object... an everyday item that never in the world of normal life be associated with knitting. Each student in the class chose an item to replicate with the option to change it's scale.

My own Sublime Stitching Scissors.

Patty Barnatt's Electrical Cord!

Jennie Caulfield's Tree Bark with Lichen. Amazing replica...

Valerie Shapiro's Nut and Bolt.

Leslie Sudock's Collapsible Cups

Everyone made amazing objects; they're not all here, but some others included wire cutters, a hairbrush, a metal hook with chain, and a couple beautiful seashells. We found that this was an opportunity to knit in a more painterly fashion: less planning, more reacting to color, shape, and size.

Assignment 2: Knit a Word- As an artist who deals a lot with text, I found this assignment especially exciting. So much meaning and association come with the choice of even a single word...

Mine are the giant "personally, " and the tiny "miss you (heart)" postcard at the bottom.

Jeanne Vaccaro's "Cruising Utopia". I believe the "utopia" is handspun.

Assignment 3: Knit a Circle out of Wire- This assignment provided one of the biggest technical challenges of the session. It turns out that knitting a circle is kind of hard. Tubes and hats, fine, but to start with only 3 stitches and then to figure out the right ratio of increases to make a flat plane is downright mathematical. Factor in the use of a totally non-plyable material like copper wire and it verges on downright impossible.

In fact... some people gave up on the flat plane entirely. But what a beautiful outcome!

Assignment 4: Knit a Plastic Enclosure for a Natural Object- Janet provided the class with recycled clear plastic milk bags. (Apparently, Canadians buy their milk in bags. Silly Canadians.) The idea for the assignment was to force the student to deal with the juxtaposition between the human made plastic and the natural world. I had hoped to be able to do a site-specific installation of a knit plastic camping tent for a baby spruce tree, but my TA duties kept me from having the time.

Assignment 5: Giant Knitting Needles

In order to create her giant-sized pieces, Janet has developed these equally giant-sized circular needles! We started with 3/4" wooden dowels and plumbers tube and a few hours of sawing and whittling later, we each had a set with which to work on... drumroll, please...

Assignment 6: Group Project! - We started with a few general ideas: we wanted to create an outdoor, architectural space and the theme of "home and away." Janet had ordered a ton of yarns in the palette of Haystack: natural tones of browns, greens, grays and blues. Trees, moss, clapboard cabins, the sky and the sea. Even without a concrete plan we knew that we were going to need a ton of yardage... so we knit away on our giant needles while we brainstormed.

Let it never be underestimated how difficult a group project can be. To be honest, I think it only gets harder the older we get. Everyone came to the table with different thoughts and worries... some conceptually based and some about logistics. It seemed like we were never going get things figured out: how on earth would we be able to build such a huge structure in just a week? What should it look like? Should there be text? So many things to worry about. But I think our biggest break came when Janet discovered the Deer Isle Dump.

(Brece, Mary Ellen and Janet. All wearing gloves.)

No, really. I said Dump. Janet realized that perhaps the easiest and most appropriate material for the base structure for our piece was Fisherman's Rope... and there was plenty of that to be found at the dump! Unfortunately, the dump smelled absolutely terrible... and so did our new rope collection!

We let the rain and summer sun do most of the cleaning for us. Which actually worked really well...
We took stock of what we had collected by measuring each piece of rope...

Tagging them... and then, because we were all the same kind of nerdy...

Organizing them by color! How very satisfying... With that done, we were ready to start on the architecture.

After getting permission from Haystack's director, Stu, we decided to utilize an unused hexagonal platform as our installation site. The platform had originally been intended as an ampitheater of sorts but, by the time we got there, it was mostly being used as a cell phone station. We thought this might be a better use of the space.

Deb, ultimate fan of knots, looked up the perfect sailors knot to use. It was like macrame-ing a giant lobster pot.

We made sure to keep an entrance (exit?) so that viewers could experience it from the inside as well as the outside. (Also so that we could escape.) And then it was time to combine the knotted structure with the knitted pieces.

(Janet working on attatching my giant-sized version of the Nelly Feather and Fan scarf! Cheers, Nell!)

Utilizing every piece of knitting and stitching them onto the structure with mossy yarn until...

We had created a fully interactive, fully enclosed space. Participants could walk all the way around the fuzzy structure or enter through the door. We all felt it was necessary for the piece to be open and interactive, so we placed a log-seat on the inside and provided giant knitting needles and yarn.

We decided to call the piece I Am From which was the title of a writing excercize we used during the brainstorm and design process. I Am From meant something different to everyone of us that worked on it, but it also represented teamwork. In the face of all the odds- differing opinions, technical logistics and the ever present battle against time- we managed to create something monumental. We surmounted all the obstacles that come with working in a group and created something that we could all revel in. It came from all places: home and away. It was lovely.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

This is truly magical.