Threads of Communication

Ancient crafts are reinterpreted at the Museum of Arts and Design.

Crafters will rejoice in the newest exhibition Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City. The exhibit embraces the physicality of needle and hook crafts while investigating untraditional materials and new technological interpretations. While the basis in antiquity of these crafted forms lends an air of romance, artists are now producing bodies of work that are unique and highly conceptual.

David Revere McFadden, chief curator at MAD, searched worldwide for artists who explore craft-forms in this age of digital technology. McFadden was driven by the question, How do you define structure in a wide variety of materials? “Knitting is creating structure, one thread looped on itself, and lace is creating a structure of multiple threads that allow light to pass through them,” he explains. “The ideas are very simple and out of that grew a complex sampling of what’s happening out there.”

In this exhibit, the words “radical” and “subversive” tend to embrace the political. Artist Cat Mazza’s video project “Knitascope” uses knitting patterns to comment on sweatshop labor conditions, connecting an individual’s ability to craft with an industry’s subversion of the individual. In opposition to the digital take on craft, Sabrina Gschwandtner’s Wartime Knitting Circle invites visitors to pick up available yarn and create “wartime knitting projects.”

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Handicraft has changed in meaning and purpose over time. While industrial fabrication is now the norm, the desire for a piece of string between the fingers still has an innate appeal. McFadden sees the future of radical craft moving towards other textiles such as felt and embroidery, but for now he’s trying to “make this nebulous world—where art, craft, and design intersect to the point where you can’t tell them apart—accessible.”

Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting is on view at the Museum of Arts and Design, 40 West 43rd St in New York City through June 17, 2007. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of public programs.

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