Knitting Nation at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston

There’s something really wonderful happening right now in museums across the country. Within the past year or so, fashion exhibitions like Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion 1920-1980 at Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art; Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Arnold Scaasi: American Couturier at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston— have all broken attendance records further stressing the demand for more fashion exhibitions in museums.

On Friday November 25th, the Institute of Contemporary Art hosted a performance by Liz Collins entitled Knitting Nation Phase 8: Under Construction, as part of the museum’s latest exhibition Dance/Draw. A textile artist, designer and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, Liz Collins’ work also falls within the realm of fashion and installation.

Performed in its first phase (Phase I: Knitting During Wartime) in May of 2005 on Governors Island in New York, Knitting Nation employs an army of volunteer knitters who operate vintage knitting machines, and produce lengths of vibrantly colored fabric. Phase 8: Under Construction, is the second phase of Knitting Nation performed in a theater setting. The first phase, Darkness Descends, 2011 was performed at the ICA on October 16th.

Knitting Nation Phase 8: Under Construction, featured 14 female knitters wearing white shorts over fishnet stockings, short-sleeve shirts, over-the-ear headphones and gray Dr. Marten Boots. It also featured 8 knitting machines, and 80 pounds of brightly colored polyester-cotton yarn.

I was reminded of the “mill girls;” the young Yankee women who worked at the large textile mills all over New England under strenuous and unsafe working conditions. While the “working” conditions at the ICA do not in any way resemble those of the textile mills of the 19th and early 20th century America, the repetitive and tiring work the knitters performed did.

Weaving in and out of the installation, I caught about an hour and a half of this ten hour long interactive performance.  Watching these knitters finish one color and start the next was exhausting, yet I caught myself unable to pull away from all the action. The body movements, the sounds created by the knitting machines, and the never-ending lengths of brightly colored yarn had me hypnotized. I lost all sense of time as I am sure the knitters did too.

VIDEO:

REVIEW – Dance/Draw – The ICA’s Newest Exhibition Will Have You Dancing and Drawing

Juan Capistran, The Breaks, 2000, Inkjet print, 40 x 40 in., Collection of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, The Altoids Curiously Strong Collection, gift of Altoids

Until now, I have not been a fan of most of the exhibitions that have originated at the ICA. Helen Molesworth, the ICA’s chief curator has organized an exciting show that traces the journey of the line from changes in drawing in the 1960’s to its explosion off the page and into three dimensional space, which ultimately finds itself in the realm of dance. Dance/Draw (October 7 – January 16, 2012) is beautiful, dazzling, dynamic and engaging (Cornelia Parker’s Hanging Fire (Suspended Arson) does not convince me yet in this show, but I can be persuaded. Possibly.).

Trisha Brown, Floor of the Forest, 1970, Metal Pipe, used clothing, Trisha Brown Dance Company, Photo: Isabel Winarsch/documenta 12.

Dance/Draw looks back to the 1960’s where artists began to make drawings with “a wide range of materials and they frequently did so using more than simply their hands.”Approximately 100 works ranging from
video, photography, drawings, and sculpture are featured in Molesworth’s first major show at the ICA. A series of live performances will also take place in the galleries and in the theater including Trisha Brown’s 1970 seminal work Floor of the Forest, part sculpture, part dance prop and part performance. This performance is a breath of fresh air.

Trisha Brown, Untitled 2007 Charcoal, pastel on paper Framed 55 ½ x 64 in. Harvard Art Museums / Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund. Photo: Katya Kallsen © President and Fellows of Harvard College

In the first gallery, Trisha Brown’s “Untitled, 2007” a charcoal and pastel drawing, is according to Molesworth “the drawing that started it all.” Re-defining the conventional meaning of drawing, the works in this gallery borrow from dance and performance to explore medium using more than just the hand. Feet, eyelashes, hair or the artist’s entire body is incorporated into the creation of a work on paper.

Janine Antoni, Loving Care, 1993, Performance with Loving Care hair dye in

Janine Antoni’s Loving Care, 1992-1996 a performance at the Wadsworth Athenaeum shows the artist dragging her “Natural Black” dye saturated hair back and forth across the floor, in the process creating an “ink drawing.” Butterfly Kisses, another work by Antoni created by battling her mascara-coated eyelashes against a piece of paper. These two works are wonderful and made my heart skip a beat. They’re flirtatious and playful, but so is the rest of the exhibition.

In curating this show, Molesworth did not forget to make it as geographically and as culturally diverse as possible (yes, this matters to me as a person of color). Not only is Dan Ranalli, a Boston artist and Professor at Boston University included in this show, but so are the works of Cecilia Vicuña, Helena Almeida, and Robin Rhode and many other interesting and remarkable artists.

Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S.065), early 1960

Ruth Asawa’s suspended wire bulbous sculptures, Faith Wilding’s womb-like web, Amy Sillman’s gouache and charcoal drawings of couples in intimate positions, and Sadie Benning’s Play Pause, a video made using hundreds of gouache drawings were all pleasantly sweet surprises that stole the show for me.

Another pleasant surprise was seeing the Mediatheque transformed by the Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña’s with a site specific work titled Water Weaving, 2011. A space wasted no more. The exhibition catalog is disappointing as it does not do justice to the show, but c’est la vie.

Dance/Draw is ambitious in scope and it delivers knockout punches that will have you craving for more. The show is the Paso Doble of exhibitions, it starts off strong and finishes off strong.

31 in 31 of Your Favorite Buildings in Boston: #12

The Institute of Contemporary Art, 100 Northern Avenue, Boston, MA 02110

Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Perry Dean Rogers Partners, 2006

 I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series. 

About the Institute of Contemporary Art:

In December of 2009, the Boston Herald selected the new ICA building as one of the top ten buildings that placed Boston in the same architectural league as New York City (at least, that is what they were suggesting) within the last decade. The building is a box with a small slit on one of its sides to allow for a breathtaking view of Boston Harbor. Other than the view, the ICA building is not welcoming and has nothing special going on for it besides the excellent contemporary art exhibitions which are transforming the way Boston looks at contemporary art. Susan and Michael Southworth, authors of the AIA Guide to Boston think that “[the] building is a surprise in the era of sustainable architecture. South American hardwood, overindulgence in glass, an inefficient shape, and massive elevator-cab dimensions contrast starkly with other major art institutions in the neighborhood, the ultra-green Artists for Humanity EpiCenter” (95).

What do you think of the ICA’s new building? Do you love it or hate it? Comments please!

New York City vs. Boston

The Macallen Building, South Boston, Architect: Office dA

Recently, the Boston Herald published a list of the top ten best new buildings of the decade in the city. These buildings break away from the typical brick and brownstone architecture that canvas most of Boston. Architecturally speaking, Boston has yet to distance itself from the puritanical and conservative ideals deeply rooted in its history. Looking at the past for architectural inspiration has allowed Boston to achieve limited freedom in creativity.  The buildings on the list have been praised for pushing Boston out of its conservative architectural envelope and redefined the world class city that it is!

The Macallen Building, South Boston. Architect: Office dA

Boston has never been able to get out of the shadows of New York City and the list proves that the rivalry between these two world class cities is alive and stronger than ever. It is not a secret how much Yankee fans and Red Sox fans love each other. They can barely wait for baseball season to begin to call each other names and brag about which team has won the most World Series. Wait, what am I talking about?! These fans will harrass each other regardless whether is baseball season or not. If you ask me to chose a team, I prefer the Red Sox, but if you ask my brother, he prefers the Yankees! One can never win. This love hate relationship between these two cities is captured in the list of the top ten best new buildings in Boston. By my count, Boston wins with 5 Boston/Cambridge architectural firms making a name for themselves, while placing the city at the forefront of the architecture world.

The WGBH Headquarter Building, Brighton. Architect: Polshek Partnership

Office dA, one of my favorite Boston firms makes the list with the Macallen Building in South Boston. Considered one of the first LEED-certified, environmentally conscious multi-housing buildings in the state of Massachusetts, the Macallen Building stands out for all the right reasons and the city is a much better place because of it.  The building was recently honored by the American Society of Landscape Architects with a 2009 Professional Design Award. The partners at Office dA, Monica Ponce de Leon and Nader Tehrani proved that Boston possesses the talent and genius to award architectural commissions to local firms, instead of inviting architects from Los Angeles, New York City or from abroad to leave their imprint on the city.

The Boston Convention and Visitor Center, South Boston. Architect: Rafael Viñoly

Among the New York City firms on the  Herald’s list include Rafael Viñoly for his design of the Boston Convention and Visitor Center in South Boston, Diller Scofidio + Renfro for the boxy Institute of Contemporary Art also in South Boston and Polshek Partnership for the WGBH Building in Brighton. And yes, I do prefer the Boston architects over New York because they are excellent examples of what our local talent is capable of producing, but the New York architects (and I hate to say this), placed Boston on the international map this past decade with buildings like the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Boston Convention and Visitor Center.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, South Boston. Architect: diller scofidio + renfro

Although New York pushed the architectural envelope in Boston, the building that always captivates me is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Stata Center by the Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry. To borrow a word used recently by the Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert in his critique of Broken Embraces by Pedro Almodovar,  Gehry’s 2004 Stata Center is a “voluptuary” of a building. Its textures, materials, colors, and soft sexy curves punctuated by geometric shapes and hard edges are a reflection of yours truly. No, not in the soft sexy curves (in case you wanted to know), but in the multitude of colors and textures that make up my daily wardrobe! The Stata Center is a building that keeps me engage, it makes me feel like a kid in a candy store, excited and hyper, waiting to indulge my senses in all the sugar. It makes me want to hug every one of its shiny surfaces and scream to the world the audacious and bold step Boston has taken forward with this building.

In all fairness, New York architects have been dramatically influencing the architectural fabric of Boston for decades. The prestigious firm of Carrere and Hastings, McKim, Mead and White and even H.H. Richardson have all left their mark in Boston, designing buildings like the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church, which have served as sources for countless other buildings around the country. The New York architectural firms who left their mark in Boston this past decade have broken the barriers of creativity in Boston!

As groundbreaking as any of these buildings were during the last decade, there were two other notable buildings that did not make the list, but which deserved to be mentioned in this post. So here I go, take note.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stata Center, Cambridge. Architect: Frank Gehry

Simmons Hall at MIT by Steven Holl, one of my favorite New York firms, stands out for being a building that belongs in New York or Los Angeles and not in Boston.  It breaks away from the puritanical and conservative ideals associated with Boston architecture, adding a funky, cool sophisticated feeling to the fabric of Massachusetts.

The other building that deserved to be listed is the Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library, designed by the Boston architects of Machado and Silvetti. Distancing themselves from the brick so typical of Boston architecture, Machado and Silvetti incorporate slate sculpings and slate shingles with glass and various other rich textures creating a visually enticing building in one of Boston’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods.

To see other buildings on the list, click on the link above and let me know which ones you think deserved to be listed and which ones were omitted!

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Simmons Hall, Cambridge. Architect: Steven Holl