Small Gestures and Acts of Grace: an interview with Germaine Koh

Barnett, Pennina. 2002. Small Gestures and Acts of Grace: an interview with Germaine Koh. Women: a Cultural Review, 13(3), pp. 356-369. ISSN 09574042 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Knitwork is an 80-metre long work generated by unraveling cast-off garments, and reknitting them into a wide blanket. The piece is visually rich: bands of bright colours, softer shades and painterly mixes. The artist Germaine Koh, who lives and works in Canada, conceived the piece in February 1992 as a life-long project. It has since been shown in galleries across North America, Australia and, most recently, in 2002, at the British Museum in London, where it cascaded down marble steps in the Great Court. Knitwork is reminiscent of the work of feminist artists of the 1970s (such as Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro in the United States, or the Feministo group in Britain), work that commented on the devaluation of both domestic labour and craft, particularly with regard to textiles, traditionally associated with women. Although Koh intends this reading, Knitwork is one of a series of-what might be described as-conceptual art projects that she has exhibited over the last decade. These focus on the ways in which we invest time and effort in seemingly mundane activities, what Koh describes as 'the weighty psychic accretion of everyday habits and mundane debris'. By using commonplace objects, abstracting them or changing their context, she aims to stimulate reflection about how we interact, and the tokens or gestures we use. Sometimes Koh knits alone, privately; and, at other times, publicly, when the piece is on exhibition, transforming it from object to performance. By 1998 the piece had 'consumed' more than 260 garments and was over 60 metres long. By 2002 it had grown to 80 metres, including nearly 300 garments, and weighing 400 pounds. Koh describes Knitwork as a comical object, somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous. Yet, because it has both its past and future written into it, it contains a certain melancholy. It is a measurement of a life, its output, and also its duration, each stitch a record of a decision, and of a moment in time.

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domestic labour, Germaine Koh, knitting, time, gender, craft, narrative, sublime, ridiculous, future

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June 2002Published

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Date Deposited:

12 Mar 2009 15:41

Last Modified:

23 May 2016 16:38

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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