One Stitch at a Time honours intimate spaces of speaking and listening, seeing and being seen within the home, as a recognition of community engagement and the larger social construct. As an artistic intervention, it is an invitation to participate in making art and in the process of exploring patterns of being and communication. Guided by the wishes of my hosts, I am fabricating with the process of crochet a specialized item that suits their home or lifestyle. It is in the selection and dedication to any particular article and the investment of care, time and energy that we mark it as significant. Through that labour and the time of exchange with the hosts, something is also marked within me. An investment into self and other, into creating pathways to communication and an exploration of the personal domain as a social imperative.
The project also relates to my grandmother who passed away recently. She was this figure of gentleness in my life who sat crocheting one blanket after another, tissue-paper holders, everything. She was the one person who could listen without passing judgement. So when I literally take residence in the people’s homes, I hope I am that image of the grandmother, inhabiting a space of gentleness.
I had begun the work with the crocheting over a period of eight weeks as part of Optica's Experiencing the City. During that durational performative piece I realized the strength of embodied repetition of gestures as a means for creating a safe space for active hearing/listening and speaking.
The family and its domestic interior is our first social sphere. The dynamics, objects and relationships that are formed within this sphere are generally indicators and predictors of what we will ultimately contribute as active or passive members of the cultural and political life around us (whether we accept and perpetuate the dynamics, etc. or rebel against them).
The patterns within particular families are derived in part from the larger patterns within society. There is a circular connection between the patterns of our intimate relationships and the degree to which individuals are represented, valued, and empowered in every aspect of society and culture.
one stitch at a time, aims at affirming social space through an active consideration of what is generally considered to be of and within the private domain. The participatory process is a key component as the work is not meant primarily as a viewing experience. In the deliberate blurring of roles -- invoking a question of who is the audience and who are the performers -- is a statement about the capacity for each and every one of us to be history makers and authorizing agents of individual and collective memory(ies). The domesticated setting is not simply a stage or theatrical device, it serves as the place/space where direct embodied interaction and communication becomes possible.
To some degree, each of us inherits the unsolved conflicts of previous generations. While a portion of this legacy is social and cultural, another key aspect to this inheritance is from within the family.
Embodied tellings of one's own stories, and bearing witness to those of others' in an atmosphere of trust, are viable means to attend to the myriad of private and public concerns that we carry into 21st century. Participatory storytelling enables competing memories to be valued and complex, overlapping -- even contradictory -- histories, to be written.
Exploring the relationship between artistic practice and social response-ability has not only been my personal preoccupation over the past decade, it is also a dynamic force that is increasingly being felt across disciplines and within different cultural spheres. Presently, as find ourselves occupied with concerns about identity and the authority of memory, the negotiation of historical and cultural constructions needs to be a participatory process accessible to everyone.
Increasingly, creative practice has been pressed into service to communicate and heal in a world suffused with conflict, violence and the aftereffects of trauma. It seems to me that one the greatest challenges we face, is to find means to explore the terrain of and between domestic space and public agency through the current of everyday living. Both interdisciplinary practice and inter-generational healing require a sharing of information, emotional connection, and the compassion and willingness to understand that the perspective of others' is as equally valid as one's own.
Through the course of my artistic practice, I have come to appreciate how much the art of conversation is a vital component in the making of social space. This project emerges as a synthesis between my concerns about domesticity and the social sphere, the empowerment inherent in personal(ized) storytelling, and the reflections possible with performative and repetitive processes.
This artistic intervention is an invitation to participate in challenging the silences, the old stories, and stuck patterns. The project is designed to create intimate spaces for speaking and listening, seeing and being seen within the family and within the larger social construct and community.
The family is our first culture, and like all cultures, it wants to make known its norms and mores. It does so through daily life, but it also does so through family stories which underscore, in a way invariably clear to its members, the essentials, like the unspoken and unadmitted family policy on gender, marriage or illness. Or suicide. Or violence and abuse. Or achievement. Or who the family saints and sinners are, or how much anger can be expressed and by whom. Attention to the stories' actual truth is never the family's most compelling consideration. Encouraging belief is. The family's survival depends on the shared sensibility of its members.
The more we honour communication within our homes, the more we seek respect and trust within the social sphere. The more we are tolerant of difference in the social sphere, the more we can have consideration for ourselves and our intimates.
one stitch at a time honors intimate spaces of speaking and listening, seeing and being seen within the home as a recognition of community engagement and the larger social construct. As as artistic intervention, it is an invitation to participate in making art and in the process of exploring patterns of being and communication.
Following upon and working with the long lost tradition of the itinerant seamstress who moved into the house and shared the lives of the people whose clothing were being made, one stitch at a time involves my taking up residence with host families for as long as it takes me to stitch a personalized object for a family member or the home. The object to be crocheted or embroidered will be decided upon in conversation with the host and might be purely decorative or may be functional. The length of each residency would be the time it takes to complete the handwork.
This essay was originally published in Les commensaux.
Quand l'art se fait circonstances/When Art Becomes Circumstance,
edited by Patrice Loubier and Anne-Marie Ninacs,
Montréal, Centre des arts actuels SKOL, 2001.
As part of the growing tendency to explore and develop situational dynamics and interpersonal relations, this talk* is also an interdisciplinary stretching exercise. I want to present to you an outline, a skeleton of thought which has been occupying me for quite some time and whose form is continuing to take shape even as I speak here today.
I will first contextualize the question of relational practice within Québec today as part of a world-wide and continually growing history of such practice. Next, in response to the question of what theoretical adjustments are necessary to our understanding of contemporary relational practice, and inspired by Danah Zohar's The Quantum Self: Human Nature and Consciousness Defined by the New Physics [ 1 ], I will offer a preparatory suggestion of how Quantum Physics is suited as a metaphor for and even an explanation of the physical world and our relationship to and with it.
And finally, based on a series of meditation exercises and teachings offered by Pema Chödrön [ 2 ], I invite you to participate in a guided breathing exchange.
Pathology, Performance and Consciousness
In the introduction to Radical Street Performance, Jan Cohen-Cruz, the publication's editor, states: “The most pervasive pattern to emerge in this collection”—and here she is speaking about the writings of and about such notable people and subjects as Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz, Safdar Hashmi, Augusto Baol, Adrian Piper, The Living Theatre, political street theatre of Paris in the late 60's, communal space and performance in Africa, Mexican popular theatre and the Guerilla Theatre of Greenpeace among many others—“is the persistence of street performance in periods of social flux—either leading up to, during or just after a shift in the status quo. When one needs most to disturb the peace, street performance creates visions of what society might be, and arguments against what it is.” [ 3 ] “Street performance,” she continues:
is porous, inviting participation of all who pass. We make the magic circle round the players; we are the stage. Whether theatre professionals in New York City parks challenging the stereotypical representation of gays and lesbians, or Chinese students dancing their desire for democracy in Tiananmen Square, moments when a new consciousness is trying to come into being are shrieked and celebrated, sung and sashayed, paraded and proclaimed into public awareness by radical street performance. [ 4 ]
So the first question I want to pose is: how is the work that has been emerging out of Québec a vision of what society might be and/or an argument against what it currently is? And it very well may be that there is discordance in the vision of the future and in the dissatisfaction with its present (and past). Only a careful and studied investigation of the particular works in question will begin to address the complexity of this dynamic. Who among us will undertake the reflection and analysis of the inter-relationship between Québec now, its struggle for identity, and the kind of work that is currently being produced? How will this work be integrated into the larger history of such struggles and corresponding creative expressions?
That there is a complex and shifting relationship between the work being produced and the conditions within the social sphere, on individual and collective planes, goes almost without saying. One of the intriguing areas of inquiry for me is what meaning we associate with the compression of selfhood as the lines seperating audience and spectator are blurred. In his 1959 text The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Erving Goffman writes:
… It was suggested that a performer may be taken in by his own act, convinced at the moment that the impression of reality which he fosters is the one and only reality. In such cases the performer comes to be his own audience; he comes to be performer and observer of the same show . . . It will have been necessary for the individual in his performing capacity to conceal from himself in his audience capacity the descreditable facts that he has had to learn about the performance; in everyday terms, there will be things he knows, or has known, that he will not be able to tell himself. This intricate manoeuver of self-delusion constantly occurs; psychoanalysts have provided us with beautiful field data of this kind, under the headings of repression and dissociation … Self deception can be seen as something that results when two different roles, performer and audience, come to be compressed into the the same individual … Perhaps here we have a source of what has been called “self-distantiation,” namely, that process by which a person comes to feel estranged from himself. [ 5 ]
And as potentially meaningful as is this line of reasoning, which posits the work coming out of Québec and elsewhere in the world at this point in time within a frame of (post) traumatic stress, I would like to add another, even more complexifying possibility. Rather than only read and understand this work in relation to the process of identity construction, in light of seemingly endless cycles of violence and healing which has been our legacy and field of consciousness, I would like to suggest—perhaps with the despair of one who cannot willingly give up hope and a sense of promise—that this relational state is of and consistent with our physical world, as described by new physics, as we are all positively and integrally inter-related and engaged. As Gary Zukov writes: “What happens here is intimately and immediately connected to what happens elsewhere in the universe, which, in turn, is intimately and immediately connected to what happens elsewhere in the universe and so on, simply because the ‘separate parts’ of the universe are not separate parts.” [ 6 ] Zukov then goes on to quote David Bohm, who says that
Parts are seen to be in immediate connection, in which their dynamical relationships depend, in an irreducible way, on the state of the whole system (and, indeed, on that of broader systems in which they are contained, extending ultimately and in principle to the entire universe). Thus, one is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies that classical idea of analyzability of the world into separately and independently existent parts. [ 7 ]
Us (and Them), This (and That), Here (and There)
Danah Zohar begins the first chapter in her book by proposing to explore “how the insights of modern physics can illuminate our understanding of everyday life and can help us better to understand our relationship to ourselves, to others, and to the world at large.” [ 8 ] In setting up an analysis of the roots of alienation and the moral, spiritual and aesthetic stress that she has identified within our culture she writes, “In our relationship to ourselves and to others, the Newtonian influence runs deep. If we are nothing but accidental by-products of creation and pawns in the play of larger forces wholly beyond our control, how can we exercise much meaningful responsibility either for ourselves or towards others?” [ 9 ]And further:
Relativity theory itself, while having important consequences for the way that some physics is done, is not likely to lead to a new world view. Though a misreading of Einstein has given some encouragement to the trend towards ‘relativism’ in certain types of historical and anthropological thinking, relativity theory itself is about the physics of high velocities and very great distances. It plays itself out on a cosmological scale and has virtually no application in our everyday, earthbound world. [ 10 ]
“Quantum physics,” she says, “is different. Being the physics of that tiny micro-world within the atom, it describes the inner workings of everything we see and, at least physically, we are.” [ 11 ]
She continues by stating that despite the inability to account for and predict reality, even by this most complete of physical sciences, in the real world “unlike Schrodinger's pet, cats are either alive or dead and when my son kicks his ball it lands either in our own garden or in the neighbour's.” [ 12 ] Her central argument about the world of possibility, complementarity and simultaneity is that human consciousness is the natural bridge between the everyday world and the world of quantum physics.
What can the “Uncertainty Principle” offer us by way of understanding the probability of change or choice? While both the wave and the particle are necessary to fully grasp what is, only one is available at any given moment. “Either we can measure the exact position of something like an electron when it manifests itself as a particle, or we can measure its momentum (its speed) when it expresses itself as a wave, but we can never measure both, exactly, at the same time.” [ 13 ] Extrapolating from some examples Zohar gives in her book, we can wonder about how it is possible for example to measure the dynamic in any given relational experience. She likens it to the first psychiatric interview in which
ideally, the psychiatrist would like to know both the relevant background facts about his patient AND establish some sort of rapport with him. The trouble is, if the psychiatrist asks factual questions to elicit the history, he gets simply factual answers, while the patient himself, his way of being at that moment, fades into the background. On the other hand, if the psychiatrist decides to abandon questions for more creative, receptive listening, he will get a good feel for the patient, but conclude the interview knowing very little about his history. Fact gathering and rapport seem to exclude each other, and yet each is necessary for a total picture of the patient's condition. [ 14 ]
I make particular reference to this issue since it seems to be the key to many of the problematics in the dynamic not only between the personal and the political, but also quite concretely in the dynamic between engaging in a live durational intervention and having it documented for reference. And even more clearly, for example, in drawing the pattern of my street intervention with the purple and yellow threads alternating with the approach and engagement of a stranger or friend or in isolation. [ 15 ] I was either alone or not alone and yet the dynamic between the two and the fact that I was at every moment potentially alone and not alone is what created the pattern. At the time of this work, my daughter Léa was barely five years old. She came to visit me on the Plaza by the Musée d’art contemporain where I was sitting for the first week of the eight-week project. Wanting to see me crochet in yellow, she repeatedly left me, running away to give me time just enough to switch colours, hoping to participate when she returned in the time of the yellow stitching. Only each time she “sneaked” up on me, I was already switching back to purple. We played this game for quite some time over the five hours until she finally “got it” and said something to the effect of while yellow was as important as purple, she could only count the purple stitches while they were being done, the yellow ones had to take care of themselves.
Furthermore, in a concentric circle one degree wider of interpretation, working with the yellow and purple threads I was surprised to see so few documentary images of the piece where people were engaged in conversation with me—only to realize that the fact gathering and the rapport seem to have excluded each other. People simply would not stop or stay when they saw the camera present. So what is the truth of that experience?
I could go on and on and speak of other examples including Rachel Echenberg's piece One Minute Monument [ 16 ] which I took part in. This was a series of ephemeral living monuments in which approximately 15 women on the streets of downtown Montréal simultaneously held one-minute poses of stilled bodies, eyes closed and mouths slightly open. While the work was a carefully orchestrated series of individual gestures offered to an unsuspecting audience of mostly pedestrians, aiming to ask questions about public space and public trust, the performers-as-monuments isolated themselves in one way from a rapport, only to create another, both and either simultaneously probable, but differently possible. And while I think it would be a great exercise to continue with other examples from recent street performance and re-draw them with a quantum brush, I also want to point out the larger question of Québec now and indeed world peace, now in the wake of recent events. While both yes and no are possible, even probable, until “the box is opened” and we perceive what is there at that moment in time and space, we live in the world of multiple choice. And it is precisely in that world of choice that we are playing out the possibilities. The “Principle of Complementary” and the “Uncertainty Principle” remind us that before the box is open to see whether the proverbial cat is alive or dead, before the certainty of one or the other, we have the present. And it is into this present, the gestures and interventions are being inscribed.
Space, Breath and Cultivating Kindness
Pema Chödrön, the Director of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, reminds us to meditate often, especially on what provokes the most resentment and to be grateful to everyone. [ 17 ]
She and others who teach the fifty-nine traditional Tibetan Buddhist maxims suggest that aggression and violence are attempts to hide that most vulnerable of soft spot within each of our hearts from ourselves and from others, in order to protect ourselves where we feel most threatened. In breathing and sitting practice(s) each one of us can come to know and accept our own issues, from the most feared self-loathing to the wildest of urges. Doing honour to our own pain, fear, hurt, doubt and jealousy, making friends with it all, making it part of our daily lives is also a process of letting it all go with compassion towards one self and all others. This practice, this mending process is much like creative practice in that it has different stages of overlapping and sometimes incongruent pull. It is very concrete, very real, very visceral, very now and present.
In the Tonglen breathing practice there are four stages. The first stage is to imagine a great expanse or openness. This vastness can be conjured through a memory of a particular time and place such as being at the ocean side or at the top of a mountain, or it may be a theoretical position of endless space, as in what is potential or possible.
Stage two is textured with the in-breath, taking in the dark, heavy and hot and the out-breath, white, light and cool. This breathing is full bodied, not limited to the lungs or even the diaphragm. It is a breath that seeps through all one’s pores and orifices. Stage three is setting up the breathing pattern and working with the textures of black, heavy, inwards and light, bright, outward breaths with whatever is most pressing, whatever is most urgent or disturbing—let that thought come in on the in breath and on the outbreath, breathe out all that you would want most to ameliorate the situation. So if you are disturbed by my leading you through this exercise, use this. Start where you are. Breathe in the disturbance and breathe out the quiet you would want, or the desire to speak. Now here is where it gets interesting. As you find a rhythm to this breathing in the hot, heavy, discomfort, anger, pain, shame, dark feelings, images, memories and breathing out the refreshing coolness, the soothing balm, the healing gestures, the “correct” actions to take in what you need most, allow yourself to drop the story line and feel the feeling ane not only for yourself, but for everyone in the world who might be and is experiencing the very same bother that you are at this very moment—or may have at in any time past and might in the future ... Breathe in not only your pain and discomfort, but that of all the multitude of people who don't have the silence they need or cannot give voice to what they need to express and go back and forth with each breath in and out, for yourself, for others ... This is the fourth stage in the traditional Tonglen. One alternates working back and forth between the personal issues and the social consciousness. Each one makes the other meaningful, concrete and heartfelt.
Ordinarily we would now meditate in silent stillness for 45 minutes or longer on what has come up during this breathing exchange. Obviously we do not have the time now for more than a few moments of contemplative silence, but herein is the key to what I think are the most important shifts in consciousness. Rather than accept an alienated other-directed world where all that is bad is pushed away and attempts are made to distance ourselves from pain and conflict, we have the choice to take account of our possibilities, to stay present and connected to what is authentic, integrated and non-alienated, now and now and now again.
Relational practice is about the process of communication, of mending, of encouraging, of risking vulnerability lived as a strength, of not assuming the position of victim nor of perpetrator, of being compassionate as a way of resolving conflict and a belief in the generosity and regenerating forces of energy.
The mechanical world view successfully gave us a science that explained “things,” and a technology to exploit them as never before, but the price paid was a kind of alienation at every level of human life ... The mechanical world view fails ultimately because it does not work towards a greater ordered coherence, it has led to fragmentation and encouraged selfish exploitation of others and our common world ... [ 18 ]
In contrast to what we assumed for so long about the physical world, the quantum world view stresses the dynamic relationship as the basis of all that is. It tells us that our world comes about through a mutually creative dialogue between mind and body (inner and outer, subject and object), between the individual and her personal and material context, and between human culture and the natural world. It gives us a view of the human self that is free and responsible, responsive to others and to the environment, essentially related and naturally committed, and at every moment creative. [ 19 ]
If we do not begin to act as if we are part of this unbroken wholeness in all our relational practice, play and experience, we are not only acting out of synch with the physical universe which we inhabit, we are also doomed to continue to repeat and recycle violence and aggressive behaviour. Sitting in/with the stillness of our own breath, coming to terms with our own terrible selves with patience, kindness, gentle acceptance and an open heart is perhaps the only way in which we can allow/perceive the space enough to dwell in (the possibility of) interconnectedness.
* this essay is a revised version of the talk given by the author at the discussion Des formes de l'art aux formes de vie, held ar SKOL, March,2001.
[ 1 ] Danah Zohar, The Quantum Self: Human Nature and Consciousness Defined by the New Physics (Quil/William Morrow and Company, Inc.,1990)
[ 2 ] Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: a Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambala,1994)
[ 3 ] Jan Cohen-Cruz, ed., Radical Street Performance: An International Anthology (Routledge Press, 1998), 6.
[ 4 ] Ibid., 6.
[ 5 ] Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Doubleday, 1959), 80-81.
[ 6 ] Gary Zukov, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (William Morrow & Co., 1979), 296.
[ 7 ] Bohm quoted by Zukov, ibid., 297.
[ 8 ] D. Zohar, The Quantum Self, 17.
[ 9 ] Ibid., 19.
[ 10 ] Ibid., 20.
[ 11 ] Ibid., 21.
[ 12 ] Ibid., 22.
[ 13 ] Ibid., 26.
[ 14 ] Ibid., 27.
[ 15 ] Présence was a durational performative intervention and part of Optica's Sur l'expérience de la ville held in Montreal in the fall of 1997. See Marie Fraser, MArie Perrault et al., (Montreal: Optica, 1999)
[ 16 ] One Minute Monument was one of the artistic interventions presented under the auspices of "Public Art as Social Intervention ... Testimonies of Trauma, Resilience and Change," a symposium and series of art projects held in Montreal in November 1999
[ 17 ] See P. Chödrön, Start Where You Are, especially Chapter 9, 56-62.
[ 18 ] D. Zohar, The Quantum Self, 234-235.
[ 19 ] Ibid., 237.
Feels disjointed to write and think about this on the same day as the attacks, the terrorist suicide attacks in the U.S.A. It is so sad. Unbelievable. Makes me think the work that you do is so very, very important—for a woman gave birth to the human being who ended up destroying their own and many, many other people’s lives. Someone, at some point, held that tiny being in their arms and wondered what potential future would unfold from within. Relations. No one is outside of them.
And of course that what the wires and thread started off to resolve, or, to make physical: an undeclared space of relations. To cover the barbs, and to cover them slowly, winding the thread around and around, methodically, like some kind of reparative action. And to let the barbs cut into my skin, to give some kind of trace on the outside of my body, to make the relation equal between the inside and the outside. And thinking, after listening to you speak, that I wanted you to come and share in this, or really, so that you could take it where I could not. Somehow, Devora, it seems that it was impossible for me to really allow myself to complete the process. As though I could only go so far, because my connection to this relation resided somehow in my grieving over it. The fear being perhaps, that in giving up this grieving space I was giving up the relation that I needed to remember. I remember feeling so freed that it could pass from my hands into yours. That I could give it over, give it up, to you. That this healing realy truly does need an other to complete it. And so now the barbs are completely covered, the cotton batting becomes like white blooms, or pods, a promise. And the crotched yarn, the two colours together, becomes a protective covering. And now I can touch the cord, and still, if I want, I can feel into, inside and know what lies underneath. But I have handed the work over to your hands and in doing this something is put to rest. It rests now.
I knit a beautiful dark blue sweater for my first serious boyfriend. The blue was knubby and mixed with very subtle strands of dark green and purple; I knit this wool in a complex and lushly textured allover pattern. He loved it and wore it all the time. Maybe he loved it more than he loved me. I became too much for him but he still wore the sweater. A few years after I knit it, and after we had painfully broken up, he took a job in England. Flying home for Christmas on December 21, 1988, he was bombed out of the sky over Locherbie, Scotland along with the infamous Pan Am plane, downed by terrorists. When I first heard about this horrific tragedy, I imagined him falling from the sky, the sweater falling out of his suitcase and tumbling with him, down, down, down. His body lands in slow motion. The sweater lands next to him, unraveling in the branches of a leafless tree. In fact, I found out later from his mother that his body was completely intact and still strapped to the seat when he was found, a small bruise on his temple. I didn't ask about the sweater. And I still imagine them both plummeting together to earth.
The photo is small and in black and white. The half with my mother holding my baby brother is torn away, and I do not know why. But I remember clearly the colours of my crocheted dress. Auntie made my orange dress and dark green taffeta slip. A matching hat, crocheted with the same cotton thread and arriving at points on either side, required that I keep my head very straight. Sometimes a bobby pin was needed to keep it in place. My mother would call me “a little lady” when the purse was crooked on my folded arm. I had two copper pennies and a nickel for the tiny crocheted change purse attached by a daisy-chain stitched cord to the green taffeta lining. My orange hand bag, with crocheted strap and fold-over flap fastened around a gold button, hung proudly as a symbol of my lady-in-trainingship.
In the present, Devora, and later Noreen, sit with me and exchange stories in a way that binds us to the given moment and to each other. I have requested a tea cozy as it represents extending the warmth of such time shared with friends.
here nothing much is happening. life is changing for me...not being able to take care of my house, my garden, i passed the time reading, knitting , crocheing, and that made me think of the black sweeter you left here for me to fininsh...remember?.... ii've tried to match the pattern again: i grabed some wool and knitted back and forth using the basic pattern....i was very excited thinking that i had matched the pattern, but, when i tryed to apply it on the sweeter it looked totally different. but i will not let it bring me down....i will look for a teacher that putted an add in the newspaper.
and Antonella? it was her that gave you this pattern, wasn't it? is it possible that she still remembers..(15years!)
i would love to finish it so you could wear it when you come to brazil.
i don't know if the wool will be enough to finish the long leaves, and i cannot find that one to buy anymore...
i missing you a lot...one big warm kiss, and god bless you.
from your grandmother
My beatiful mother taught me how to knit when I was five years old. Having a heart condition, she was required to be inactive—but she accomplished amazing creations as she sat quietly knitting with her graceful hands and an impeccable eye. She also had a loom in our living room on which she wove pillow covers (in colors that I now find reappearing in my knitting). She died 62 years ago when she was 44 and I was 10.
I occasionally knitted for my children when they were young. But four years ago, one of my sons died of a heart attack at 33 years old. From the week of hearing that incomprehensible news I have knitted. When I wondered how does the sun dare to shine, when I could not sleep because of the pain of waking up to remember the truth, when I could not cook or eat, when I could not concentrate on reading a book, when it was hard to interact with more than one person, when I should not have been allowed to drive, my comfort was to knit. Knitting kept me company. The repetitive motion lulled my pain as my mind roamed or rested. At the beginning my son was in every stitch. The first projects were for my little grandchildren, then a heavy jacket for myself. Now I knit for family and friends mostly modifying a design by the use of color. Other than clothing I am working on a pillow cover knitted in embroidery thread on the smallest needles. I am blessed by the comfort of a delightful local yarn shop and the supportive friendship of its owner. I never allow the completion of a knitting project without the yarn in the ready for the next undertaking and usually have two of three projects going at the same time for safety.
I bless knitting for being in my life every day.
[…] I am already finding that this discourse with you is helping me make a lot of connections … most of them are sitting right there, I only have to LOOK at them. For example, listening and crocheting I did just about every day this winter but I didn’t realise it until your talk. I find that there are things that my body knows, things that I only realise or remember or KNOW by doing. I hadn’t crochetted for years when I took it up again and I just found myself making these rows and rows of perfect stitches. I was amazed and delighted! It became such a huge pleasure to watch it grow and to have the sensual feeling of the wool in my hands. I love making things, and usually it doesn’t much matter what I make. Sometimes I’ll just take the wool I like and start knitting it. Stitching and listening work together so well because one is tangible and the other is not and there’s a kind of comfort in it. […]
Ils sont arrivés le matin assez tôt. Nous avons déjeuné sur la terrasse et je crois qu’avant même le repas, Devora avait déjà commencé le gant de toilette d’après un croquis grandeur nature. Les couleurs étaient celles d’une grenouille jouet que je m’étais procurée pour un atelier de dessin dans une école d’intégration linguistique. Devora était un peu troublée par les couleurs qu’elle disait trop vives. Moi je les trouvais joyeuses et accueillantes. Un premier essai nous a paru désastreux et c’est à regret que nous nous sommes résignées à l’abandonner. Pendant que Devora commençait la version finale, Léa, Zev et moi sommes allés chercher des films. Puis j’ai fait du maïs soufflé. Plus tard nous avons soupé ensemble.
Le gant de toilette que Devora confectionnait était destiné à mes invités, pour lesquels je venais d’aménager une petite pièce. Après l’achat du fil, Devora a déclaré qu’il y en aurait probablement assez pour crocheter une petite serviette pour les mains, ce qu’elle a fait d’ailleurs après avoir terminé le gant. À mon grand étonnement, ma première invitée, qui était une amie commune, n’a utilisé ni le gant ni la petite serviette. Il y aurait eu un malentendu parce que, m’écrira-t-elle plus tard, elle avait cru que l’ensemble était « an art piece » pour la chambre d’amis. Je me suis rendu compte qu’il y a souvent des malentendus quand on ne connaît pas parfaitement la langue de l’autre et me suis aussitôt inquiétée en pensant qu’il y avait peut-être, entre nous, d’autres malentendus dont nous ne sommes pas et ne serons jamais conscientes.
Je partirai bientôt pour la Turquie où ce sera à mon tour d’être l’invitée de cette amie. J’apporterai le gant de toilette, ainsi que la débarbouillette rouge qu’elle a oubliée lors de sa visite chez moi.
Première image qui me vient à l’esprit pour le projet avec Devora : envelopper d’un crochet mon exemplaire de La schismatrice, un roman de Bruce Sterling que j’ai lu plus de quatre fois à ce jour. Il s’agit probablement de l’expérience littéraire la plus intense que j’aie vécue.
Sans trop encore m’expliquer cette vision, j’imagine un tissu noir crocheté autour du livre comme pour l’enclore à la façon d’un mémorial – quelque chose qui marque l’événement passé de la lecture tout en interdisant l’accès ultérieur au livre. Lors de notre première rencontre, Devora se montre emballée par l’idée – elle a elle aussi un lien étroit avec les livres. En lui parlant, j’ai l’idée d’étendre le projet à quelques autres œuvres qui ont pu me marquer – Fictions de Borges ou L’espace littéraire de Blanchot, par exemple. Ces livres seront dès lors marqués, indiqués dans ma bibliothèque comme autant de jalons de ma propre histoire intellectuelle (mais pas seulement – histoire affective, existentielle, aussi). À partir de là, nous réalisons tous deux que cette idée fait de ma bibliothèque elle-même le lieu de notre intervention ; les dos des livres crochetés peuvent en effet donner lieu à tout un ensemble de variations de couleur et de texture, à un jeu dont il nous revient d’inventer la règle.
Avant la prochaine rencontre, Devora – qui entre-temps lira La schismatrice en version originale anglaise – me demande d’amorcer mon choix de livres et de penser à ces paramètres d’enveloppement. Je me rends compte que nos échanges à venir seront pour moi l’occasion d’explorer, presque, des moi anciens, en (re)découvrant la signification que ces ouvrages ont pu avoir pour moi.
Depuis plus d’un an, j’occupe le poste de minou à la résidence d’un artiste – c’est très, très chic comme travail. L’essentiel des tâches de représentation consistant à plaire et à divertir, il sied d’être toujours bien mis et de se présenter avec tout le prestige relié à la charge. Pour les fonctions officielles, mon patron a fait réaliser une fraise d’apparat spécialement conçue pour mettre en valeur mon noir pelage et l’éclat de mon regard. Je me suis prêté de bonne grâce à cette entreprise, constatant que la finesse de l’ouvrage n’avait d’égale que la douceur des caresses de sa créatrice. Cette tenue réjouit nos invités, qui me prodiguent alors mille attentions. C’est un travail très, très bien rémunéré.
My grandmother used to be a prolific crochet artist.
As a child I had numerous crocheted hats, dresses, mittens, scarves and all the other crocheted items a child might reasonably expected to wear. She also had various beautiful shawls and a fabulous pink trouser suit that she had crocheted for herself. One day when I was about five years old we were playing together, she was in a crocheting mood and asked what I would like her to make. I said "crochet me breakfast" and she did:
A fried egg, two strips of bacon and a tomato, all beautifully crocheted in 3D onto a crochet plate, stitched onto a square of green gingham. A cuddly breakfast, which I cherished for many years.
I read about your endeavour and was intrigued by it. I am also a poor student who could use some nice woolies. Although I am only 22, I might be able to tell you an interesting story, about love, heartbreak and rebirth. I can also tell you a story about a Dutch woman I once knew and lost touch with, though I wish I hadn’t. […]
[…] Your work and you speaking of it stirred so many different responses, not the least is my interest in pursuing similar areas of expression. I felt, listening to you that you were articulating something I’d felt all my life but hadn’t had the words to articulate. I was tremendously moved at your courage to venture into the fray of confronting societies attitudes toward women’s so-called domestic arts. […] Currently I work with young people but I have also worked with women in shelters and as a welfare worker. In all of these positions you are very privileged in that people share aspects of their stories with you routinely … things that possibly even their closest friends and family may not know. Because of the burden of hearing so much pain or sharing so much pain, one has to be careful not to take this for granted, the privilege I mean, and not to either harden or burnout. As a matter of fact, as I work on the phone I am usually or often crocheting as I listen. Probably not a coincidence …
... in Les commensaux.
Quand l'art se fait circonstances/When Art Becomes Circumstance,
edited by Patrice Loubier and Anne-Marie Ninacs,
Montréal, Centre des arts actuels SKOL, 2001, p. 99-105
Rendez-vous intimes ou Partir à la recherche de l’autre
« L’espace où je rejoins l’autre, est-ce mon espace qui se dilate ? Ou le sien ? Ou bien nous rejoignons-nous dans un espace commun que nous reconnaissons, un espace qui devient nôtre ? »
« Ce qui compte, c’est de donner quelque chose de toi et de veiller à ce qu’une forme quelconque de contact véritable soit réalisée. »
(...) Les affects sont sensiblement les mêmes dans One Stitch at a Time de Devora Neumark. En échange d’une conversation, l’artiste nous offre sa présence et l’objet crocheté qui nous ferait plaisir. D’abord, je n’en sais pas plus, sinon que la durée de la rencontre, qui a lieu au domicile du participant, s’ajuste à la confection de l’objet. La suite dépend de chaque situation et se base sur le partage des trésors de la mémoire. Mes histoires contre les siennes. L’idée me séduit, malgré cette la réticence que j’éprouve à partager mon temps et mon intimité. L’objet choisi ? Il sera certainement petit car j’imagine un rendez-vous bref, intéressant mais peu exigeant.
Nous avons amorcé, au contraire, une longue aventure. Une fois par semaine, Devora Neumark vient, chez moi, fabriquer des petites housses pour une partie – voire la totalité, l’avenir le déterminera – des pierres et des fossiles que j’accumule depuis nombre d’années. Contrairement à la proposition initiale, c’est l’artiste qui, interpellée par les centaines de roches empilées sur mes bibliothèques, a choisi la forme et la direction du projet. Les différentes facettes techniques et conceptuelles du processus, pourtant longuement discutées, viennent m’éprouver au-delà de ce que j’avais imaginé, notamment parce que sa dimension rituelle requiert une disponibilité difficile à assumer mais aussi parce que le résultat vient soustraire à ma vue des objets signifiants – fragments géologiques soigneusement choisis pour leur couleur, leur texture et pour la mémoire qui y est inscrite. Ce dernier aspect soulève une réflexion sur le pouvoir symbolique des objets qui nous entourent – pouvoir intimement lié à leur contenu mnémonique – et sur le pouvoir que l’on accorde à l’autre de transformer cette mémoire, voire de changer littéralement la dimension symbolique de notre environnement.
Depuis maintenant plusieurs mois, Devora Neumark recouvre mes souvenirs d’une enveloppe de coton rouge, jaune ou bleue. Chaque housse est unique, conçue spécialement pour la pierre à laquelle elle se colle comme si elle en avait toujours fait partie. On pourrait penser qu’il s’agit là de gaines protectrices. C’est peut-être vrai. C’est extrêmement fragile, la mémoire.
Plus qu’un simple jeu de mots sur les difficultés posées par les pratiques « relationnelles », le terme « confrontationnel » nous indique que la confrontation appelle toujours le rapprochement. Ainsi, ce que je nommais « un envahissement de mon espace » peut très bien, comme le mentionne Pirson, s’avérer une dilatation de cet espace. Ce que l’Autre me propose, en bousculant ainsi mes limites, c’est de les repousser un peu plus loin. Aussi, les mots qui se disent entre Guerrera et moi, pendant que nous attendons que des cerises refroidissent dans un seau de glace; les idées qui s’échangent entre Neumark et moi pendant que des motifs se construisent autour d’une pierre fossilifère, toutes ces conversations participent clairement à la dilatation de nos espaces respectifs, à la création d’un espace qui devient nôtre.
L’objet passé de sa main à la mienne
L’objet – sa charge symbolique ou son « aura » – occupe une place encore importante dans les approches relationnelles, notamment chez Neumark et Guerrera où il devient l’élément autour duquel le projet se construit. Mais parfois le contact « réel » avec l’autre ne dure que le temps de sa transition de main en main. C’est le cas, par exemple, de la Petite Enveloppe Urbaine : chacun repart avec l’objet à découvrir, une enveloppe contenant une portion du quotidien de six inconnu(e)s, ou du moins de ce qu’ils ont laissé transparaître dans les images ou les histoires offertes. Dans une telle proposition, la « relation » prend plutôt une dimension symbolique et se trouve directement liée au pouvoir d’évocation de l’objet. C’est en retrait de l’Un que l’Autre prendra connaissance de l’œuvre, et sa lecture fera probablement appel à l’imaginaire, voire à la fiction. Nous pourrions ainsi, d’après les indices qui nous sont offerts, inventer des histoires riches de diverses rencontres, ou encore imaginer un rendez-vous devant les marches du Décor 9.
Il en va de même lorsque l’on se retrouve en possession d’un billet de banque estampillé par l’Internationale Virologie Numismatique, qui arrive souvent dans notre poche sans même que l’on ait porté attention à la main qui nous l’a transmis. C’est encore une fois un peu à l’écart, au moment de faire l’inventaire du portefeuille, que l’on découvrira le billet tamponné, occultant l’acte d’échange au profit d’une réflexion sur le contenu du message (par exemple « L’argent est un espace public que personne ne partage », « Resistance is fertile », « Less contrast, more brightness » ou « Vivre pour conspirer »). Il y a néanmoins un lien symbolique qui se crée entre l’auteur du tampon et le détenteur du billet, ainsi qu’entre tous ceux qui ont été en possession de ce billet : « celui qui s’en fait donner un tient un objet-signifiant qui le lie à tous les relais humains par qui le billet est passé . » Ce lien est d’autant plus accentué du fait que, dans ces deux derniers projets, le détenteur de « l’objet-signifiant » devient un individu privilégié – la rareté et la circulation aléatoire de cet objet le rendent exceptionnel.
L’idée d’aborder l’art relationnel, qui « prend pour horizon théorique la sphère des interactions humaines », par le biais du rapport symbolique ou de la fiction peut sembler arbitraire . Peut-on réellement parler de rencontre, de dialogue ou d’échange signifiants si l’un n’entre pas en contact avec l’autre ? Comment apprécier un banquet où les commensaux ne partagent pas la même table ? Il s’agit peut-être là d’un acte de foi envers les propositions conceptuelles de telles pratiques. Ce que l’on retient pourtant, c’est que le processus même pourra engendrer le dialogue, sinon entre l’artiste et le récepteur, du moins entre les autres « convives », ceux qui, pendant ou après, se servent aussi de l’œuvre comme prétexte à l’intersubjectivité. (...)