Monday, January 18, 2010

art as resistance

Every year for International Women's Week, one of the local galleries does a juried art show, usually inconjunction with the Gender Equality and Social Justice department here at the university. This year's theme is Art of Resistance, and I would really like to submit a knitted piece. Unfortunately, I just don't know what to submit.

Many knitters, all much smarter than I, do incredible politically minded projects--Rav had a whole group of "Knitters for Obama" who came up with some mindblowing ideas. The Body Count Mittens have always been a personal favourite of mine; since you finish the mittens on different dates, they will have different numbers on them, representing the number of casualties in the Iraq war. I considered doing Afghanistan mittens, but I don't know that I'd have access to the body count information, and I also don't want to simply re-tread ground others have already walked on. It's hard to justify knitting as a subversive act when you're following a pattern.

Poetry mittens are another option; perhaps with lines from Rich or Atwood? Cixous, even? But that still doesn't feel like it's quite enough.

Part of the problem is that I have very mixed feelings about the relationship between knitting and politics. In some ways, yes, it is very much about resistance: it is an act of reclamation. I reclaim my past (imagined?), participating in the culture of my ancestors. I create things by hand: every item that I make is something unique, something not created by a machine or in a sweatshop. It is labour but also love. I reclaim it as a feminist act: I knit because I choose to knit; I knit primarily for myself. The act of knitting is political because it destabilizes commonly encountered cultural attitudes about knitting and knitters.

The flip side is that it only does these things because of my class; is the reclamation of a working class profession as my upper middle class hobby really all that awesome, or just kind of bourgeois? Knitting isn't truly a matter of necessity for me; it is a luxury, and one I choose to pursue. Does the mere fact of choice problematize any arguments about reclamation?

Even if you want to ignore all of these, there are still the political issues that every knitter must face: body image and body politics; man vs. animal fibre; the environmental costs of plant fibres; neoconservatism (women who see knitting as a reclamation of traditional gender roles and values) vs. progressive liberalism (people who see knitting as an honourable craft); bargain vs. luxury yarns; local yarn stores vs. online stores; stash size as a measure of worth; the DIY esthetic; design and designers; community.

How can I turn all of that into a simple handmade garment?

1 comment:

Castor Rouge said...

While I sincerely enjoyed your analysis a few thoughts. I liked your juxtaposition of neoconservative and progressive liberalist impressions of knitting however I think you simplify things too easily with that dichotomy. Classic liberalism, from which both cited philosophies spring, would place equal value in the commercial aspect of knitting. If you were to sell some of your wares, as knitters time to time do, you would be in essence an entrepreneur, or at very least a capitalist contributor, freeing up idle labour and raising the value of your yarn/wool through your improvements on it, thus increasing the liquidity of the original product to the broader market. Reform liberals on the other hand would champion your creation of scarves, mittens and other goods made for friends and loved ones as an essential element of social welfare, knitting being a means to help people provide for themselves and rooting them to the community. Ardent socialists might be a little repulsed by this, as your labour in such gestures would be confined to the abstract notion of the family or clan, and would not be employed in the greater service of a whole class of people. A few mittens donated to charity however would probably sate their proletariat pangs.

Knitting could also be classed as ecologist (human welfare, social or deep) as the use of natural fibres to manufacture products in a self-sufficient, environmentally friendly way is a sharp contrast to the synthetic, energy intensive and ecologically detrimental practice of manufacturing many textile goods today. Case in point, ever notice how many hippies wear those Icelandic style wool toques with the pom-poms and long ear flaps at the sides?

It also occurs to me knitting, as practiced by the sisters Don, might have a dark touch of fascism rooted in it. The German kind, not the foppish Italian rendition. In espousing “The truth about alpacas” your references to their superior fibres and cuteness of alpacas, in contrast to the generalizations about oily sheep, conjure images of a pure “herrenwoolk” from which all knit things will one day be made. For such a warm fibre, alpaca uber alles brings an especially chilling sensation to my skin.

All in all I think the nihilist view is perhaps the correct view politically, insofar as morality does not inherently exist, and herefore any established moral values are abstractly contrived.

When is a knit tea cozy not a political statement? When it’s a tea cozy. Thus spake Zarathustra.