A KJC Interview

The Knitted Jungle Collective talks to art historian and critic Will McCrory

Will McCrory interveiws Eva Freeman and Costanza Manciani (May 2011).

WM- How did this [project] come to be, I’m really curious, is that sufficient as a question or do you need more to react against?

C- Eva was just showing me books about knitted animals… did you say that you wanted to knit some animals?

E- Well I discovered these books about knitting for children… how to teach your 8 or 9 year old child how to knit, things that are easy for them to knit and I thought “Oh look there are knitting patterns that even I could do”. So we started making animals… both of us needed a project and this was a good place to start.

C- I imagined how nice it would be to knit a jungle and then I thought, “We should definitely knit a jungle!”.

W- So is it just the two of you?

E- Well, we were inviting everybody that we meet…

[Costanza interjects]

C- We’re telling everyone who might want to participate; you know, we’re telling everyone, the more people that participate [the better] more or less. We don’t need them, but…

E- Yes, its basically open, so for example I know some people that make crochet squares and if they give them to us, well, we’ll put them in. The idea is to be really open, we’re just telling people about the project and they can make whatever they want for the project. We don’t have a scale or an aesthetic or a set number of animals [or flora and fauna] that we want. It’s all very much open to interpretation and whatever somebody contributes we’ll put it in at the end.

W- Is there a preconceived vision of what is going to materialise?

C- We kind have had talks and thought about, how we’d like it to be and did some drawings …

[Eva interjects]

E- We’ve set a provisional and self-imposed deadline of a year for the jungle to be completed. There are certain things we’d like the jungle to have, for example a river running through it, maybe a waterfall, some rocks…

W- But you’re both people that have been to art school, you must have certain ideas in your heads and also there is this kind of idea of the jungle in our head that we have, maybe within collective consciousness that is formed through images, Rousseau, for example…

E- Yeah we’re probably going to knit some Rousseau actually.

W- The aesthetic you’re drawing upon… so you are saying it could potentially be quite a disparate thing with lots of people contributing, but are you aiming to structure it around these visual models that we have… is that part of what you’re trying to do?

C- Well, Eva and I have discussed that because we don’t live in a jungle and we’re not very familiar with that sort of territory, for us to be knitting a jungle is almost like we’re working on a myth of something, a fantasy that lies in our heads and we don’t really…

[Will interjects]

W- When I was a young boy and with extreme naivety I thought that the jungle, that Africa was basically just a giant jungle with tribes people living in it and nothing that I encountered as a young boy gave me any reason to think any differently. There is this myth of the Africa as being the Dark Continent and the legacy of colonialism and colonial conceptions of the other which are quite firmly stamped in our minds (reinforced through children’s literature etc)…

E- One of the things that we decided is that we’re not going to have any humans in our jungle, that’s one of the things [that seemed important] and we’re not going to have any trace of human settlement. We were going to have tree houses but actually we decided not to have any.

[Will interjects]

W- Well is it some sort of primordial utopia?

C- Hmmm

E- Well kind of…  The jungle is disappearing really fast and in a sense all of our concepts come from people talking and producing representations and we don’t see it.  Importantly, we might also never get to see the Jungle. Our preconceptions of the jungle come from lots of different places, book that I was showing you earlier- Elma the Elephant- that is the sort of jungle imagery I’ve absorbed growing up- but then reading Heart of Darkness and that’s got jungle in and its like dense and that’s a whole other type of jungle, all my concepts of jungle come from literature really.

C- Also ‘Jungle’ is not a fixed concept, if you googled the term I don’t know exactly what would come out. Its not restricted to a certain area, Indian jungle, there is Latin/South American Jungle, so…

W- I’m pretty sure I’ve been to a jungle in Australia…

C- Okay, so maybe there’s…

E- Well there’s Tin Tin as well, he goes to Peru, when I think about where my jungle references come from its definitely Tin Tin.

W- What distinguishes jungle from rainforest?

C- I think the jungle is indian…

E- Not a lot, I think rainforest is an actual thing, for me, jungle is a fantasy and rainforest is an actual thing. In a way I associate ‘Jungle’ with Disney, you know Jungle Book

W- Well that’s interesting because Jungle Book was written by Rudyard Kipling who spent large periods of his life living in India…

E- I don’t even think of India when I think of jungle…

C- Really?

E- I think of South America…

C- Really?

W- So would you say that part of the project is dealing with our western preconceptions and stereotypes of what actually a jungle is?

E-  To an extent but also that thing of how important jungles are, how important their infrastructures are…

C- The fact that we don’t know about them and that there are doubts about what they actually are is important because what we think of as ‘nature’ is of secondary importance these days and we tend to underestimate it. Above this there is the western ignorance of certain forests/jungles.

E- For me it has a type of romance, they’re really attractive…

C- But actually their quite rough places, hostile.

E- Yes, they are hostile, but there is still a romance, I would love to live in the jungle and see the flowers and trees and live in a tree house. Yes, they are hostile, but for me there is something that is quite exciting and attractive. So is making one. I can’t get to one but by making one I can make it how I would like the jungle to be…

C- I’m also very interested in this very Western attitude of thinking that you know somewhere or something when you’ve never been to that place or seen that thing.

W- But then there’s this utopian non-place, this jungle utopia that doesn’t exist a part from in our minds, so you wouldn’t actually be able to go the place that you want to visit because quite simply it doesn’t exist. So you guys are realizing it for yourselves, basically you’re realizing that vision.

C- Also, this is not going to be that hostile, its soft and attractive.

E- It’s also very personal, I’m interested in representation and I like the idea of making a tree blue and pink and seeing what happens. I want to make it intentionally fun and friendly and visually exciting, an unusual place as opposed to…

[Will interjects]

W-But then there is this thing called Craftivism, I’m not sure I properly understand it myself, but have you come across this term and is this what you’re doing?

C- What’s Craftivism?

W- I imagine it’s the merger of craft and activism, or the combination of…

E- You’ll have to wait and see, wait until it’s realized.

C-We decided to call this Knitted Jungle Collective, so basically there is this idea that it doesn’t really belong to Eva and me, and it can carry on. We’re doing this project and we want to have a show by probably the winter…by the way we need to talk about the crochet… but when we discussed it would be quite nice if other people could take it on and keep on doing it…

E- We don’t want to take ownership of it, the idea is that anybody can contribute… When people contribute they’re not making us look better, they are taking ownership or responsibility for this particular aspect of the jungle

W- To me it sounds quite a lot like the idea put forward by two critics Basualdo and Laddaga, this notion of Experimental Communities. They talk about artists who no longer really… there might be a physical artistic outcome… but it is more about the set of relations engendered, creating representations collectively, less about single authorship and more about collectivity. Also it’s about providing people who are maybe non-artists the means to actually create their own visual representations, rupturing the specialization of the role of the artist and bringing into play previously who wouldn’t necessarily be involved in artistic production. That coincides a lot with what Ranciere talks about, this notion of bring the part of no part into being….

C- We’re doing this consciously? No. Now I think about it I should go to the local Knitting Club and start knitting there and maybe get them to do some knitting for us, for the Jungle.

W- How do you then stop it from being some sort of community arts project? Because I presuming, that’s not quite what you want to happen?

C- Well, Eva and I have thought about where its going to be placed…

E- That’s what I mean, we’ll see if it becomes Craftivism, once it’s realized because at first we thought we’d quite like it to be an art thing, an actual show.

C-  We also decided we were actually going to sell parts of the jungle, which we might have to discuss now that other people have contributed.

E- Yeah, but also I went to a talk thing and started thinking about artists and spaces and then I just started thinking about just claiming a space, you know, just putting up a gazebo in the park just outside my house and that is our show. So it would depend…

C- We went to see this show, I was telling you about, at the Barbican, with work of Gordon Matta Clarke and Laurie Anderson and there was this Tricia Brown. (Eva went to see the talk and I went to the show) I think there is this idea of not having to do it in a gallery space necessarily or in an artist run space but to do it where we think it will work. I think this is important.

E- Claiming a space for ourselves, there is quite a long history of artists doing that, but I’m also quite interested in…

[Will interjects]

W- But is it political art?

C- Hmmm

W- In a stated polemical way…?

E- No, Well, maybe. Its hard to say, because obviously me and Costanza have our certain politics and these are very important to us and we talk about it and I think it would be very hard to make something that didn’t contain our political ideas.

C- Yet another thing that we noticed, like your reading club (C-Referring to The Sitting Room University which at the time was unintentionally male only) that we only have women. I mean there are no men that I know that will do the knitting.

E- It’s very open, it just seems to be only women, and I would be very surprised if we got anything other than a token gesture from a male contributor. But also we are ultimately just doing it for ourselves, we’ve decided we wanted to do it and we are going have a show…

C- I think it will be definitely political but not in a…

W- But not a direct way you’re not trying to convey a particular message or politicize on a certain theme.

C- Yes, exactly.

E- We’re not being directly challenging…

C- Because we’ve looked at ArtsAdmin workspace and realised that it wasn’t the ideal space for this project at all.

W- Yes, like Ranciere I don’t really agree with this idea that if you present information about a certain thing that it’s necessarily politicizing. I think most people in the UK/Europe are pretty much aware of Climate Change, the way in which oil is exploitatively extracted from the Niger Delta, people are generally aware. People know about civil rights abuses in many different countries, but this information doesn’t compel them to stop, perhaps because they can’t. Also, I think people get caught in a representational loop, where they, they hear about a certain geopolitical phenomenon and feel compelled to act, but the only sort of channels that are available for people to act are actually representational themselves, for example, going to political protest. This doesn’t make a direct intervention.

C- What does this have to do with the project?

W- Well I do think this has something to do with the project, because, um, a lot of so say political art is actually very non-reflexive and has a very antiquated idea of what it is that art can do. Currently there is this idea that if you present which relates to the 18th Century and certainly before- going back to antiquity- there was this idea that if you represented a virtue or idea about how to behave or whatever, in a play for example or a painting, that people would see it and think “ah” “well that’s how I should conduct myself then”. But then we think that’s ridiculous, but yet what… actually it’s no more ridiculous than thinking that showing a photograph about genocide in Africa…

E- I don’t think that’s ridiculous though- isn’t that what advertising does?

W- Well maybe advertising works because you can see an advert and then go and buy something, but you can’t see a photograph of genocide and then immediately go and sort it out… You can’t encounter information about the deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest and then stop this process… stop the lumberjacks or the loggers whatever… the channel open to you is ‘protest’. What I’m trying to say is that this kind of paradigm of representing a certain thing and then people being politicized and then acting upon it… but the way they act upon it is caught within a representational loop. I think its important to note that because what you’re doing is not highlighting a particular political phenomenon its more like informing without informing, you seem to be a taking step back and providing a concept but not necessarily an activist agenda… I think what you’re doing is more subtle and intelligent [than instrumentalizing artistic production for an activist agenda].

C- I think that’s spot on really… neither of us would feel comfortable making work that was so straightforward. When you look at an image and you draw from it some feeling and sensation, you always translate it into something else. We would feel very uncomfortable about making something with such a straightforward translation. You know, discussing oil, and then covering yourself with treacle like Liberate Tate for example. One of the things they did was a performance at the Tate,  one person was naked and others covered them with an oil like substance. I thought it was aesthetically quite good, but I think that neither of us would have come up with something so straightforward, it’s just not in our nature.

W- But it’s so recognizable and classifiable, people see it and think “Oh, that’s a bit of weird performance art” and it can be quickly assimilated into a regime of understanding and then spat out.

C- Exactly, and as easily rejected as forgotten.

E- I would be very surprised if anybody managed to recuperate our jungle in any way!

C- The thinking range of this project is much wider.

E- The politics is not in what It is, but what it does… the politics is embedded in the fact that anybody can join in and that it’s just us sitting at home, we’re not simply getting somebody else to make it for us… There are lots of different things that mean that its politics are engrained within it.

W- Its’ non-specialist for example, specialization is an intrinsic feature of capitalism and capitalist production.

E- Yeah, we’re going to teach some of our friends to knit and that’s totally fine… We’re not skilled knitters, we don’t know how to knit and we don’t really know how to shape…

C- This elephant is the first thing I’ve ever finished, I’ve never even finished a scarf, which is generally what people start with when they start knitting!

E- It’s kind of a personal challenge to us too…

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