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Knitting Superhero: Mark Newport

If you are looking for a knitting superhero, Mark Newport may be it... or at least he's got the costumes knit.  These lifesize superhero costumes as well as prints that use the act of knitting as subject matter will be on display this summer at the Arizona State University Art Museum Nelson Fina Arts Center this summer.  

Newport learned to knit from his grandmother as a youngster, but didn't keep up with it.  More recently he decided to pick up the needles again so he could use knitting in his teaching of textiles and artwork.  His wife taught him to cast on and he's been stitching away since.

Newport began with his series of knitted superhero costumes with Batman in 2003. Long fascinated with the imagery of the superhero, he had been making quilts and samplers from comic book covers, embellishing the heroes and softening them with embroidery.  "I was interested in the image of a hero and how that informs males about what their roles and personalities can be. Also how [these heroic images] prepare them for life as an adult."

Mark's work is about providing safety and protection -- the superhero as ultimate (usually male) protector, but also combined with the less active or public nurturing protection of the (usually female) handknit blanket or sweater.  Says Newport, "I think the knitting sums up all of those stereotypical images of women sitting quietly -- of accumulated quiet action --and when I thought about my memories of my grandmother and mother knitting they seemed so self contained and protected by the process that I imagined the knitting as a kind of forcefield -- a way to generate saftey and comfort for themselves and those they cared for."  Newport believes that the quiet protectiveness summoned by the image of knitting is the perfect foil for a costume meant for "a man of action."

In addition to the superhero suits themselves, a number of prints with knitting as a subject will be on view.  He Knew He Could Help shows a man knitting surrounded by sort of a force field. The caption reads, "He knew that if he could just finish this, he could help." This evokes a potent feeling of the generalized powerlessness many feel in contemporary society. As a knitter, his Sisyphean task is clear -- an endless number of stitches. The uselessness of his usefulness. "Why knit when you can buy a sweater?" What does knitting as a subject summon up in the viewer?  Says Newport, "These prints are meant to draw on the perfomative nature of the [superhero] suits - even hanging on the wall one wonders what the guy does in these things, how do they work? So I am trying to mix photographic images of me in the suits or making the suits with comic book like spaces, action and narratives to bring my heroes and their struggles back to their sources. I see the prints as making the process more visible and allowing me to play with narratives and other elements that the suits suggest but do not spell out."

Mark Newport's work will be on display throughout the summer, but if you want a chance to meet the man in action, he'll be at the gallery knitting and talking at the museum's Family Fun Day on July 16.

MARK NEWPORT: Super Heroics
Arizona State University Art Museum
Nelson Fine Arts Center
June 25- September 3, 2005
Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Opening Reception: Friday, June 24, 7-9 p.m.

Machine Knitting: Dave Cole

Two 25 metric ton excavators.  Twenty-foot-long knitting needles fashioned from utility poles. A truckload of acrylic felt.  And over 800 carefully executed stitches.  Orchestrated in a complex, noisy ballet to create a knitted American flag over the Massuchusetts Museum of Contemporary Art this Independence Day weekend.

Dave Cole doesn't see himself as a performance artist and believes that the finished product -- in this case an American flag -- is the art.  However, it's hard to argue that the process of creating this piece is not spectacular, absurd, and well worth watching.  If you happen to be anywhere close to the Berkshires at the beginning of July, head out to Mass MoCA to watch Dave and his crew knit with heavy industrial equipment. 

The flag is just one part of his exhibition.  Inside the gallery you'll see more of Cole's work.  A series of knitting kits that he imagines would be appropriate for a number of U.S. involved conflicts.  The army never issued knitting needles, but what if they had? 

Cole sees his knitting as taking something domesticated and feminized and injecting testosterone into it -- it's bigger, louder, more dangerous, more expensive -- "just what boys do."

Dave began knitting during lectures at Brown University to help him sit still and maintain focus in class.   He moved away from wool and conventional yarns though and began exploring other substances and fibers.  Steel wool, Kevlar, lead, and porcelain spun like cotton candy at temperatures that would vaporize steel.

We typically view knitting as a soothing, sometimes meditative activity -- at its best when the stitches flow easily from our needles.  Cole's knitting stands in stark contrast: each stitch is slow, difficult, and mindful. A test of perseverence.  "I'm knitting with lead.  I'm knitting with lead..." Each stitch.  5000 times. And for each new project Cole has to fashion equipment.  The technologies of knitting are among the simplest tools there are, but to create an object from steel wool, Cole not only had to manage to knit the stuff, he had to create a spinning wheel to spin the steel wool into yarn.  Taking simple technologies to absurd ends.

Even his seemingly more benign pieces -- teddy bears and baby blankets -- are tinged with an edgy violence.  The lead teddy bear is both cute and deadly.  The porcelain baby blanket that could withstand the most raging inferno is so rough that the knitter had to work under industrial safety conditions to complete it. 

Go see what all the noise is about. Dave Cole and his crew will be casting on July 1st and finishing up on the morning of the 3rd. When the heavy knitting's finished, you'll be able to meet Dave Cole and partake of a cook-out at Mass MoCA on the 3rd.

The exhibit begins June 30th and runs throughout the summer.

For more information:
Dave Cole's website
Mass MoCA
Judi Rotenberg Gallery


Kristi cannot believe her luck: She's got a design gig with Curious Creek Fibers. She's teaching at Knitting in La Jolla. She's Knitty's Advertising Manager.

And she's got a book coming out this fall called Knitting for Dogs. Really.


Larissa Brown is on maternity leave and will return when Baz says it's okay.