Laura Gascoigne: Tangled Web – September 2017

“Why is there so much sewing?” demanded The Art Newspaper’s Christina Ruiz after visiting Christine Macel’s exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale. “I get it: domestic work, women’s /* 9-970x90 */ work, is important and undervalued. But is it in itself art? No it is not.”

There was a time when so-called textile arts were prized above all others; when first unveiled in 1519, Raphael’s tapestries for the Sistine Chapel


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to eclipse the fame of Michelangelo’s ceiling. But in the 18th


century tapestry google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; began to feel fusty as audiences warmed to the immediacy of paint. A work’s value no longer resided in the price of the wool, the skill
of the weavers, the total hours spent in production and associated cost, but in google_ad_slot = "7160667483"; the artist’s touch, the signature of authenticity that connected audiences with the creator of the work, usually male.

In the 1980s, when Rozsika Parker wrote

The Subversive Stitch, she pinpointed “the separation of the craft of embroidery from the fine arts” as “a major force in the marginalisation of women’s work”. But on the
coattails of conceptualism, google_ad_height = 90; ‘women’s work’ //--> has come back from the margins. Since the personal signature of the pen or brush fell under suspicion the needle has returned, not always in the hands of women. While the women are bent over their embroidery frames, the men are stealing the limelight, à la Raphael, with tapestries woven by others to their designs. Chris Ofili’s Weaving Magic


has just been the focus of an exhibition at
the National Gallery, and there are more tapestries than pots in Grayson Perry’s The Most Popular src="//"> Art google_ad_slot = "8637400688"; Exhibition Ever! at the Serpentine Gallery (until September 10th).

If Hockney wants to keep his place as top national treasure, he’d

better put down his iPad and pick up
a needle. Tapestry, embroidery, knitting, crocheting are all back in the frame and google_ad_width = 970; proving highly popular with a public tired of the self-conscious cack-handedness of so much contemporary art. This is art like
granny used to make, sweet as apple pie and absolved of the obligation to be serious. From Vidya Gastaldon & Jean-Michel Wicker’s knitted octopus, titled Sex Is Good (1999), shown in Tate St Ives 2013

Science Museum went
one better and got participants in its Stitched Science weekend to create an entire Solar System Art Installation from ‘various fibre arts’. True, the results

looked a bit of a mess, but sew what? Fibre google_ad_height = 90; arts have therapeutic benefits. According to the organisers of the Crafts Council’s ‘cinema knit-along

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events’ in 2012, “knitting has been proven to enhance cognitive development in children, and well-being in both children and adults.” Sew there.

It’s not all child’s play: serious issues can be addressed with needles. ‘Political statement knits’ by Lisa Anne Auerbach were a highlight of Wasteland, an exhibition of young Los Angelino artists at the Mona Bismarck American google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; Centre in Paris last year. More ambitiously, at the //--> Minories Gallery, Colchester in 2015 Clare Sams’s installation Knitting Fever recreated the devastation caused by the 2009 floods when a wool shop of that google_ad_slot = "6023194682"; name in Cockermouth spilled its guts through the Cumbrian town. The gallery complimented the artist on using a

process “stereotypically viewed as a feminine past-time [sic]” to represent “cataclysmic forces not normally
associated with the practice”. Sams’ ‘total knitted environment’ /* xin-1 */ looked
a little twee for

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needlework – but she wasn’t going to let that stop her, having already knitted her way through the Hackney Riots and Guantanamo Bay. No knit-wit she.

Other artist-knitters

Malevich upset his father google_ad_width = 970; with his unhealthy aptitude for Ukrainian /* xin2 */ cross-stitch). The danger for women of challenging gender stereotypes around textiles

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is that male artists will seize the initiative. Not
content with getting tapestries woven to their designs, brothers are doing it for themselves. In Art Now at Tate Britain in 2010 Andy Holden showed The Pyramid Piece, a 10ft-high knitted replica of a
chip off the Great Pyramid of Cheops that he had illegally smuggled home from a family holiday to Egypt at the age of 12. Along with its benefits for cognitive development, knitting is obviously a good way of assuaging guilt.

The main drawback of needlework, for unreconstructed individualists, is its inflexibility as a means of expression, which is why most attempts to employ it as one, Tracey Emin’s included, have been sew-so. The notable exception is Mr

and Mrs Pope, Knitted, Shrunk and Hung (2012), a truly


heart-wringing piece of work
that – sorry girls! – was created by a male sculptor, Nicholas Pope, with his own fair hands.

Laura Gascoigne
The Jackdaw Sept/Oct 2017