Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Further the Distance, the Tighter the Knot

Linden Centre for Contemporary Art
Melbourne, Australia
October 31 - November 8, 2009

Featuring Craig Woodward on fiddle, banjo and mandolin
Project Coordinator Cheryl Adam

The Further the Distance, the Tighter the Knot was a performance installation that used Victorian mourning rituals, Old Time American folk songs and knitting to explore my longing for home as a recent transplant to Australia.

Linden is a repurposed Victorian mansion, built in the 1870s as a family home. The piece drew on Linden’s history and architecture to reflect on ideas of home, migration and memory.

I filled the exhibition spaces with hand-knit memento mori, riffing off the domestic crafts Victorian women made to memorialize loved ones (such as jewelry made from human hair) while they were sequestered in their homes during long periods of mourning.

Dressed in a Victorian-inspired costume that I designed and hand knit, I led the audience on a "tour" of my installation. Playing with the convention of the didactic tour guide you might encounter at a house museum, I slipped back and forth between historic narrative on 19th-century mourning rituals and personal confessionals about my yearning for the home and garden I left behind in America and how my memories of that home were being clouded by nostalgia. Singing folk laments about lost loves and longing for home, I knit and unraveled love tokens for the audience as polite Victorian mourning customs gave way to more cathartic expressions of loss.

I was interested in how labor-intensive hair work and embroidery helped 19th-century women cope with loss and survive their forced isolation but also in how the obsessive nature of these craft projects must have driven them a bit crazy. I spent 8 months in my studio hand knitting the costume and the objects, including a 35-foot banister cozy, and found the work at turns deeply comforting and totally maddening.

During the performance, I was in a constant state of knitting and unraveling to express this contradiction.

I was also interested in how these painstaking crafts forced me to slow down and reflect on the passing of time. I wanted to audience to experience that so at one point in the piece, I spent nearly 10-minutes unraveling a 12-foot-long knitted panel to the accompaniment of a solo fiddle.

My knitted interventions in the gallery ranged from simple representational objects referencing 19th century embroidered samplers and hair work like this vintage jewelry set...

...and this period hair wreath and bouquet...

…to more psychological environments where I performed a series of gestures in real time to reflect the isolation women endured during mourning and to meditate on the passage of time and the unstable nature of memory.

The piece began with me on the balcony and the audience on the front lawn. At the end of the performance, I led them out onto the balcony.

Then, like a bad tour guide, I snuck down the fire escape and out onto the lawn, abandoning the audience on the balcony. With our positions were switched, they were trapped in the house and I was free to leave. I removed my “widow’s weeds” and exited the property singing, my mourning complete.

Performance and installation photos: Christian Capurro

Camera and editing by Anne Scott Wilson.