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Yarn Theory presents a sampler of some of the NYC area’s most interesting artists, who test and push what can be done with the medium. The impetus for the show was triggered as a response to former Harvard president (now director of the White House’s National Economic Council for President Obama) Larry Summers’ assertion that women are less mentally able to do math and science, which, he reasoned, explains why there are fewer women working professionally in that arena. We counteract that assertion; this is not a plausible explanation of why the professional field is not level. We believe there are other, more sociological forces responsible for that inequality. We can show that, far from being repelled by such subjects, women practice them for fun, for recreation, and for artistic satisfaction, and are increasingly focused on it as a pure topic of interest. There is a vast back and forth between the hard sciences and soft sculpture, by both artists and practicing mathematicians, which yields surprising and visually stunning range of possibilities. Many of the artists in Yarn Theory are in fact, professional scientists and mathematicians, modeling their forms through the flexible and very visual means of yarn. My goal with curating Yarn Theory has been to show how visual, exciting and absorbing the logics of the sciences are, and I sincerely hope that visitors seeing this show will be inspired to pursue their own takes on what we present.
This exhibit is at the tip of a very large iceberg. A bigger portion can be glimpsed on the internet, at sites such as Ravelry, Knitty and Etsy, yet this movement is impossible to behold in its entirety. There are vast numbers of people out there knitting, crocheting, and doing yarn-work in a plethora of styles, intentions, and arenas. We have chosen to limit ourselves, in the face this enormity: for Yarn Theory there are no garments, no socks, blankets, or other wearables, no matter how ingenious. We have focused instead on the rich field of hand-worked sculptural objects, and their relation to math and science. This too, is too large a topical scope for our one gallery: There is more out there, much, much more….
To investigate this further, we suggest you look on our blog at: ps122gallery.wordpress.com, click on any number of the provided links and jump down the rabbit hole.
Daina Taimina, who actually invented the method of “hyperbolic crochet” so popular now, models topologies which echo the forms of sea and plant life. This play between the abstract and the actual is poignant, a reminder of variety and commonality in organic structures. Dr.Taimina’s work began as she saw William Thurston’s paper models of hyperbolic forms, and she realized that crochet would really work intrinsically better to model the complex bends, folds, and curling inherent in the structures she was working with. Her forms are as notable for their aesthetic variety and wonderment as for their theoretical clarity.
Also paper-model inspired are origami master Miyuki Kawamura’s crocheted platonic solids. These are strikingly clear models of geometric forms and an inventive use of her paper folding skills, applied to the very different medium of yarn.
Sarah-Marie Belcastro has done perhaps more than anyone to bring the mathematical possibilities of knitting to the fore. A professional mathematician working in the field of topological graph theory, she found knitting a natural way to construct shapes and surfaces that made her ideas easier for her students to follow. Her tori, Klein bottles and non-orientable surfaces show clearly and wonderfully what is so difficult to verbally explain. This project resulted in the book she co-edited with fellow knitter/mathematician Carolyn Yackel: Making Mathematics With Needlework. This marvelous and accessible book is a must for anyone interested in the sculptural possibilities of knit work. We eagerly await its companion volume.
Artist Nancy Cohen in conjunction with her mother Rita, and son Anschel, takes ideas from the same geometric realm as Dr. Belcastro, transforming them into a highly personal family story through the use of recycled yarns and intergenerational collaborative work. Her piece, made specifically for this exhibit, fuses topological geometry with the intimate and biological. Also biological, but on a more physiological level, are the works of artists Emily Barletta and Christine Domanic. Both artists deal with images of the interior of the body and its basic structures, with very different results. New photo-imaging technologies have brought us closer to our basic make-up. Barletta’s work offers a kind of hand-made extreme close up of our cell structures, our blood, the physical components which cluster together make up our bodies. Domanic’s work comments on the externalization of our internal organs, and references the culture of laboratories, cloning labs and curiosity cabinets with her collection of stuffed bottles and tubes. The didactic urge is taken up by Amanda Gale whose stop-motion animation film The Journey Of The Nucleotides turns educational filmmaking on it‘s fuzzy head. This charming and personal take on the genre offers a playful glimpse into our own internal micro-makeup.
While yarn-work is often perceived here in the United States as women’s work, many men do crochet and knit, in some parts of the world, traditionally so. Daniel Yuhas is a splendid example of the male new-wave in knitting. His offering for Yarn Theory is a Fibonacci-sequence constructed sculpture, I Have Been Circling for Thousands of Years, which is being shown for the first time. I am excited to be able to include as well, Dr. Ted Ashton‘s marvelous lace fractals as an example of the interface possible between the delicacy of the hand-crafted and a rigorous mathematical theory. A professional mathematician, Ted has ventured into tatting lace to show beautifully and elegantly the structural logic of fractals.
Another innovative example of contemporary lace work is biologist and medical doctor Margaret Ooman’s stones covered in crochet, which offer a kind of wry solution to the buffeting effects of erosion and a make tender meditation on the beauty inherent in natural structures. Her works echo snow flakes, sea urchins, sunflowers, the vast and the tiny, and all by using the minimal materials of vintage string and some beach pebbles.
Kate Fenker’s Blue Dew Drop elegantly takes the ripples and a movement contained in a tiny single water droplet hitting the ground, and captures it into a crocheted floor sculpture with astonishing effectiveness.
On a vaster geological scale, Gail Rothschild’s drawings are no less keenly observed. An avid rock climber she scribes works which align knitted fabrics seen close up with monumental rock formations. The results are epic and vast drawings presented with economic and modest means.
In addition to the rich output of people working individually, yarn-work lends itself beautifully to collaborative efforts and has been harnessed to create a sense of community, to voice political and social ideas to formant change, and to transform traditional notions of ‘craft-work” into something contemporary and relevant. In conjunction with the exhibition Yarn Theory, there is an exciting series of special events. Under the direction of one of the founders of PS122 Gallery, artist Karen Eubel, there is an exterior guerilla knitting project underway to alter the exterior of the building. Her 9th Street Fence project will include knitters and crocheters from throughout the region. There is also a musical performance by knitter-singer Lisa Daehlin, a mathematics workshop for children led by Daina Taimina, as well as gallery workshops and informal gallery knit-ins, all with the idea of bringing the community into our gallery, to participate and to try doing it themselves.
We are very lucky to be able to present, in its New York City premiere, artist Robyn Love’s Knitted Mile in the hallway space. Her installation wittily segues the exterior projects and the outside city with the interior world of the exhibition.
For Yarn Theory and it’s satellite programs we have tried to present the best of what is locally available right now in terms of knitting and crochet. All of the work here is original to its makers and presents ideas and images that are profound, original, elegant, funny and thought-provoking. I am proud of this show and it’s participants, and I hope that it encourages the people who see it to explore further.
There is more out there: just go find it.
Martha Lewis, Exhibition curator