Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Knit 2 Together: Concepts in Knitting



British Crafts Council, London (24 February – 8 May, 2005)

The Knitting and Stitching Shows: Alexandra Palace, London (13 – 16 November, 2005) & Harrogate (24-27 November 2005)

Curated by Katy Bevan and Freddie Robins this exhibition of fifteen international artists who create non-functional knitted objects has proved incredibly popular with both the public and the press. The exhibition’s popularity is certainly reason for celebration, especially for a venue such as the Crafts Council, where exhibitions often struggle to capture the interest of the general public. Unfortunately “Knit 2 Together” displayed little work which “push perceived boundaries within knitting” as proposed in the press release and, in my opinion, missed an excellent opportunity to display to an eager audience more challenging works of craft.

The curatorial focus of this exhibition is not the function or fashion of knitting, both of which have been explored in previous exhibitions, but instead the use of knitting to create art objects. Fiber understandably dominates the exhibition, but there are examples of work made from other materials such as hair and paper. A number of techniques are in evidence from conventional hand and machine knitting, to French or bobbin knitting. A nod to the influence of digital technology is also included with Kelly Jenkin’s digital prints of reworked advertisements for sex chatlines and prostitutes printed on knit yardage. These large wall hangings were strategically placed at the very back of the second gallery, drawing viewers – who may have considered running at the sight of a few of the earlier pieces – into the rest of the exhibition.

Celia Pym’s knitted timeline of her travels through Japan did little, beyond charting time, to engage with the landscape or culture in which the work was made. Apparently the materials were collected while journeying, but the work itself did not convey this detail and Pym’s choice of colour – explained as a reference to Japan’s indigo tradition as well as the “blue skies she knitted under” – felt generic. In contrast, Marie-Rose Lortet’s series of faces used knitting to create exquisite gestures in thread. The shadows each work cast on the wall captured a convincing array of personalities and emotions and managed to be both about knitting and about something far greater than simply the structure she has chosen to work with.

Curator Freddie Robins’ own work “How to make a piece of work when you are too tired to make decisions” fused humour with insight into the options and limitations of the knitted structure. Each oddly shaped sample was pinned to a display board and looked a bit like a fabric Rubix Cube waiting assembly. Placed across from Donna Wilson’s peculiarly endearing knitted toys, there also seemed to lurk the suggestion that it might just be possible to arrange Robin’s swatches in the right combination to create one of Wilson’s distorted stuffed toys. Otherwise dialogue between the work was limited. Susie MacMurray’s “Coil No. 372”, pictured in the catalogue, would have offered an interesting material juxtaposition to her “Maidenhair”, constructed of the same technique but made with human hair. Unfortunately “Coil No. 372” was, in the final event, not included in the exhibition leaving the ephemeral “Maidenhair” to fend for itself in a dimly lit corner by the entrance door.

I attended the exhibition twice, the second trip prompted by the fact that I could not see much because of the crowds on my first visit. I cannot deny that on both occasions the gallery was filled with eager viewers, discussing the work, trying their hand at knitting and generally thinking and considering craft on a scale I have not witnessed at previous exhibitions at the Crafts Council. But the downfall of this exhibition is the uneven group of work it presents, some of which I fear will feed the public’s preconceptions of knitting rather than altering them. Does this even matter? I think it does. It is unlikely that the inclusion of more challenging work would have made a dent to attendance figures and would possibly have offered a more convincing reason to disentangle public opinion from the notion that crafts are solely labour intensive, time consuming exercise in creating kitsch objects. This exhibition could be accused of dumbing down to public interest. It is a tendency that the media in general are certainly guilty of, but surely it need not infiltrate the efforts of the Crafts Council?

Surface Design Journal (fall 2005: 56-57)