About the Exhibition
Gender Stitchery brings together nine artists from New York, Chicago, Arizona and points in between who knit and sew art. Stitchery, only recently deemed a legitimate artistic medium, is showing up in surprising and varied works by long-established and emergent artists. Brandishing needles as weapons in a battle for recognition, feminist artists in the late 1960s and 70s cried out for a new system of values that admitted craft techniques and personal narratives traditionally associated with women. Today, men and women artists--all beneficiaries of this revolution in the art world--are free to choose their methods and materials. Many choose to sew and knit, some substituting thread for paint in creating evocative compositions, others more self-consciously using stitchery to advance critiques of gender stereotypes and artistic hierarchies.
Elaine Reichek, based in NY, is a trail-blazing feminist artist who has transformed the sampler from a demure product of domestic artistry into a witty corrective aimed against the patriarchal values of the bad old art world. Reimer of Chicago also makes samplers, copying ordinary printed pages from instruction manuals to newspaper spreads. Reimer’s stitches take away the legibility of the original texts while calling attention to the artistic hand labor, and to how we value the fruits of our labor -- artistic and otherwise. Maggy Rozycki Hiltner, a young artist now living in Montana, transforms cast-off embroidered cloths into personal stories and graphic commentary on gender stereotypes. Her work is nostalgic and slyly subversive, cute and disturbing all at once.
Gender Stitchery celebrates the hand-made. A vital sense of texture and process is conveyed through embroidered touches and knit passages. But not all the stitches on view in the Carleton College Art Gallery were done by hand. Thanks to a ever advancing technology, sewing machines can be programmed to sew in patterns originating in an artist’s imagination. Solo Impression, a New York fine art press, works with Kent Henricksen, Ghada Amer and Reza Farkhondeh and Elaine Reichek to create editions realizing visceral visions in thread and ink. Northfield resident Christie Hawkins’ love of tools encompasses embroidery needles, the lathe, hammer, AND the computer-driven sewing machine. Producing editions on her own, she presents minimalist wall-pieces which honor home, materials, and meditative handcraft processes.
Women and men who boldly take up needles to make art continue to push aside conventional niceties and outmoded stereotypes. Kent Henricksen, Ghada Amer, Mark Newport, Cat Mazza and others delight in stirring up “Gender Trouble” (cf Judith Butler) by transgressing fixed categories of gendered behavior. Egyptian-born Ghada Amer, now resident in New York, and her collaborator Reza Farkhondeh, challenge chaste norms imposed on Arab women by creating layered images redolent with female pleasure. Mark Newport, profoundly influenced by feminist fiber professors in art school, now makes art about male superheros through knitting and embroidery. Henricksen inserts naughty, slightly ominous hooded characters into “feminine” idylls inspired by 18th century decorative arts. Judging from Henricksen’s combined embroidery and printed works, old rules defining the decorative arts and crafts as inferior have evaporated due to feminist agitation and artists’ irrepressible impulses to invent.
Gender Stitchery appears at a moment when the domestic, the crafty, and the handmade are ascendant among not only artists but in society more broadly. Many explain the craze for nesting, knitting, and DIY (Do It Yourself) crafts as an aftereffect of the 9/11 attacks. In a scary world, home is a refuge where one performs meditative hand tasks reclaimed from grandma’s day. To rebalance a world tipped too far toward the technological, “crafting allows us to experience the tactile world, the non-virtual, the ‘real.’” Jean Railla, founder of getcrafty.com/author of Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec
Cat Mazza, a young artist who lives in Troy, NY, brings two seemingly contradictory impulses together: the crafty and the high tech. Through a website titled MicroRevolt, Mazza instigates political action and consciousness-raising through knitting and other needlework projects and processes. A self-defined “geek,” Mazza uses her computer savvy to share simple instructions (how to knit), invent programs (to convert any image into a knitting pattern) with a world of potential friends through the internet. Her Nike Blanket, on view at Carleton, represents the collective efforts of countless knitters worldwide, who ponder fair labor practices in this age of corporate capitalism to the tune of clacking needles.