the knitting room: knit one, pearl two

lucy hawthorne

The Knitting Room

The Knitting Room

The Knitting Room

Agapanthus, geranium and lavender bushes line the white picket fence. Inside the front door is the living room, home to an old dial telephone which sits on a small table with a crocheted tablecloth. A homemade sponge cake is ready for visitors and a turntable (His Masters Voice style) sits poised to play the nearby Elvis record. I could easily be describing my grandmother’s house; but this is The Knitting Room and all of these objects have been knitted, crocheted or woven to make up the exhibition at the Moonah Arts Centre.

The Knitting Room is intriguing for its colourful detail, its historical and cultural value and its surprisingly raw humour. A knitted tyre-swan, iced Vo-Vo’s, Flick bug-spray container, the milk bottles sitting by the door, are all iconic items now disappeared from everyday life. These specific objects of an era now passed, have been created by the over 300 participants in this exhibition whose average age is around 70, with the oldest aged 96. The Knitting Room arouses affectionate memories. The objects are so lovingly made and the room emits this enjoyment.

You enter via the front yard; and from there you are invited to step into the living room, the kitchen, the laundry and then the backyard. The living room is obviously primed for potential visitors, but the kitchen and laundry sit behind-the-scenes for the regular visitor. I feel as if I’m intruding as I observe a knitted woman relaxing in the privacy of the laundry with her feet up, a cigarette close at hand. Adding to this feeling, the rooms are all roped off giving it a distinct museum aura.

Jennie Gorringe, the Arts and Cultural Development Officer for Glenorchy Council, informs me that this exhibition is a collaboration between nursing home residents, community and environmental groups, the CWA, day centres “and artists”, which explains the eclectic mixture of styles, objects, methods of making and materials. I have to question Gorringe’s use of the word ‘artist’ however. Knitting has long been associated with craft, and more specifically with “women’s activity” and consequently, is rarely seen in the context of high art. I am aware of a number of female artists who are trying to subvert this assumption and, observing the skill displayed in The Knitting Room, it’s easy to see why. I believe all the participants in this exhibition should be acknowledged as artists. Labelling the exhibition as a ‘community project’ also somehow undermines the worth of these participants’ efforts. On the technical side, I am greatly in awe of the skill and time that created such a feat. I know from my own disastrous attempts at knitting!

The Centre expects 4000 visitors over the course of the exhibition, and has had a great deal of interstate interest following coverage on ABC TV’s The Collectors and The Arts Show. By the time I arrive at Moonah Arts Centre, the exhibition has been open only half an hour, but 55 people have passed through the doors. This is a true testament to the wide appeal and novelty of this theme, and entirely appropriate for such a moving exhibition.

31 March 2007