The Anti-Knitting-Graffiti Manifesto

The Anti-Knitting-Graffiti Manifesto
This one’s been percolating for a while. After all, I’ve been writing about my annoyance with this “movement” for three years now. Now the founder of “Knitta Please” is visiting Australia and the media are going crazy with kooky knitting headlines. Loads of non-knitters have again been asking whether I know about it or am involved. “Yes, I’m aware; no, I don’t participate; yes, I think it’s a massive waste of time and human energy…” Yesterday when I was running in the Domain I spotted some knitting stuck on a post at Mrs Macquarie’s Point, and it just crystallized my whole annoyance with the subject. The non-knitting public needs to know that we’re not all like this. We need an Anti-Knitting-Graffiti Manifesto.I wrote this over at Ravelry this morning:

I’ve been told by my connections at the City of Sydney Libraries that this year’s “Art and About” festival will feature an exhibit called “I Love Kings Cross.” This will involve all of us knitters making squares which will be wrapped around light poles and bollards and whatever in the Cross. Then, after a couple weeks, the knitting will be taken down, laundered, and made into blankets and such for the homeless. (Edit: I’ve since been told that this isn’t necessarily the case. Please see Alasdair’s excellent comment below.)

1) This shows exactly how “subversive” graffiti knitting is. The Council has GIVEN PERMISSION AND A GRANT for some “artist” to coordinate this. When your “underground art” becomes a government-sponsored civic project, you’re hardly stickin’ it to the man at that point.

2) It’s so painfully trendy. So trendy it makes my teeth hurt. It’s so very LOOK-AT-ME-I’M-HIP.

3) Non-knitters already think knitting is a waste of time. Spending hours making squares that get wrapped around trees and light poles will only reinforce this belief.

4) I don’t like most graffiti. I don’t like it when it’s paint or chalk or stickers or yarn. I don’t think we should aspire to be like “taggers” or glorify what they do. Some of it is art, but 99% is just vandalism for the sake of it.

5) This isn’t to say that I don’t think art can be transient or ephemeral or disposable. I’m in favour of all of that. I think the idea of juxtaposing knitting with big industrial junk is a good one. I think putting a knitted cozy on a tank actually SAID SOMETHING. I also think the 99% of the people involved with the graffiti knitting “movement” are just imitating something they saw on the Internet and performing their hipness for the Muggles.

6) I’ll also admit that I’m not a big fan of purely decorative knitting. The knitting that I like is practical. The thought of spending hours making a plain stocking stitch square just so it can rot on a light pole makes me shudder.

7) Also, I hate to think what the samples in the Art and About project are going to look and smell like after hanging in the Cross for a couple weeks. “Laundering” them and giving them to the homeless seems like a tacked-on way of justifying the project, and it strikes me as fairly insulting as well (both to the knitters and the recipients).

8) Lastly, I just really resent this idea that we’re meant to drop everything and contribute to these projects, simply out of some sort of obligation to feed the media’s desire for “kooky knitting” stories at the moment, just so some tired newscaster can say: “This isn’t your Grandma’s knitting!” It’s so patronizing. This is winter. I have limited knitting time. I’d prefer to spend it making beautiful, useful things that will keep people warm.

Hmm. This is coming off sounding really negative, and I don’t want to make anybody feel bad that actually contributed to one of the “graffiti” projects. Mostly I just wanted to spell out in my own mind exactly what I find so objectionable about it. It’s like one person comes up with an interesting idea, the media latch on to it, and suddenly we all feel compelled to buy into the story that they’re selling. If even 10% of the people involved spent that time coming up with new creative ideas, patterns, and techniques, the knitting community would be a lot better off.

Added a lot later: Ugh. I was really happy with how this conversation was going before, and I really want to thank Debbieann, Denise, Knit the City, and Alasdair for taking the post in the spirit in which it was intended. I appreciate you guys arguing with me and opening my eyes a little bit.

Unfortunately I’ve been taking a lot of personal hits (mostly on Twitter and Ravelry) from people who took this post a LOT more personally than you guys did. I don’t see any more productive headway happening, so I’m going to close it off. I’m looking forward to talking to you guys more about your projects in person.

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  1. Yeah – I got asked to help with the Knitted Convenience (knitting yellow squares to cover an old toilet in Taylors Square) and felt pretty much what you wrote above.

  2. THANKYOU so much for this Kris! I effing hate knit graffiti, and people thinking that everyone must be involved in it, or that just cus we’re young and knit that we think it’s the best thing ever. Or that it’s original or groundbreaking. It’s as original as a drawing of a cute girl with a bloody knife.
    Way to devalue our craft. And I wont get started on art/craft crossover. And getting other people to do your art work and not giving them enough credit for it. I’m a gunna blog this blog entry.

  3. this is precisely why I didn’t get involved. It’s just not my thing but I wanted to be careful not to dump on the stuff that a lot of my Canberra knitting friends got involved in. Each to their own. the effect in the end was quite impressive at the NGA but still, not really into it.

  4. Hear, Hear. And again Hear, Hear! If you’re not knitting for yourself, knit for people who appreciate/need your knitting. And not after it’s been stuck on a lamp post.

    I’m also going to blog about it because I’m fed up with people asking if I’m involved.

  5. nice how you articulated my own jumble of conflicted emotions on this topic:) if youre going to do graffiti in any form, make it political, make it MEAN something. there are so many knitted square movements on at the moment i feel like a cad for not joining them but you just cant, just like i cant do every bloody KAL or swap, or give money to every charity i care about. after a while its just sound and fury, signifiying nothing….

  6. I’m, with you on all except 5.

    I’m a practical knitter too. Though I don’t mind knitting a square or 2 here and there for a blanket – ;cause blankets are practical I’m not knitting for a f***kin’ pole in KingsX.
    Knitta Perrrlease!

    When I walk around Newtown and see them I want to attack them with scissors. Do you think that’s how a Graffiti artist feels when he sees a wall covered in tags?

  7. ok, I get why you don’t want to do it, but not sure I understand why you care if other people do it. I mean, maybe they aren’t about sticking it to the man, maybe they just like seeing the art outside. I love the knitting I come across in Newtown, because it is a little piece of art out in a world of advertising, so how can that be bad. Sure, there is art I don’t like in museums too. some of the knit and some of the graffiti looks better than other stuff, same with gallery art.

    is your point just that YOU don’t want to do it, or that you find it objectionable others are somehow enjoying doing it? Nobody is compelled, everyone is doing it voluntarily, no reason you should participate, but it sure sounds like you are saying to other people -you are wasting your time – and I guess I think why say that about other people doing something they enjoy? I mean all these runathon this and runathon that seem also trendy, waste of resources etc etc, and yet they go on

  8. Did you read the last paragraph, Debbieann? “I don’t want to make anybody feel bad that actually contributed to one of the “graffiti” projects.” I don’t care if people participate. I truly don’t. I personally think they’re waste their time, but it doesn’t really offend me.

    What offends me is that it gets all this media attention, and I’ve been asked by maybe 10 non-knitters in the past two weeks if I’m involved in the knitted graffiti, as if that’s the only interesting and worthwhile thing that’s happening in knitting. And judging by the dozen knitters I talked to last night at SnB, they all felt the same way. Yes, it’s all very exciting if you’re new to it, but this stuff has been going on for four years now. I’m just over it.

    And HA! Let me know when you spot an article on the front page of the Herald about some international runner coming to Sydney and saying: “I don’t care if I freaking get arrested; I’m totally going to run on Bondi Beach!” Because you won’t. Because the media thinks that kooky knitters stories sell papers, and stories about exercising aren’t quite as interesting.

  9. The amount of news in the SMH is pathetic. I’ll pick up the Guardian or read the NYT online, and haven’t seen anything about knitters.

    If you don’t want to make people feel bad then why would you say it was a waste of time? that certainly sounds like something different than, I don’t want to do this and I wish the media would report on more newsworthy events.

  10. I also think World of Warcraft is pretty much a waste of time. My husband does not, and oddly, he doesn’t whine that I’m trying to make him feel bad about playing. I can accept that he finds value in something that I don’t.

    Also, I’ve had lots of people (even other knitters) tell me that they don’t understand sock knitting. “Why would you bother?” So I give them my arguments for why I bother, which sometimes convinces them and sometimes doesn’t. I don’t get, like, OFFENDED that they don’t see value in something I do. We all put different values on our time.

    It’s really weird. Most of the disagreement I’ve had on this issue is not that knit-graffiti is a worthwhile pursuit, but rather that I’m being mean-spirited in saying why I think it sucks. I don’t get that. I mean, if the inventor can travel around the world giving interview about why it’s a good thing, why can’t I (on my own blog) talk about why I think it’s a bad thing?

  11. of course you CAN, but you did say you didn’t want to make anybody feel bad, and even though I don’t knit, I still felt bad. So I just thought you had some valid points, but mixed in there is also a mean spirited thing that does make some people feel bad.It seemed easy to make the media part of your argument without deciding certain art is a waste of time.

    Maybe because I don’t knit, don’t read the media, and nobody bothers me with questions, then I think wow, you are sure mean about art knit works around town that I enjoy seeing.

    that’s all, it is a small point I guess. Just saying you don’t want to make anyone feel bad, and then going on to say something that does, well, there seems to me a disconnect there. I’m sort of in the ‘your art is ok, it just isn’t my art’ tolerance camp. The more art and artist the better. Saying you don’t understand why they want to do it is even different than saying it is a waste of time.

  12. No, I do understand why the original artist wanted to do it. I think that juxtaposing handmade knitting against mass produced items is very interesting. I’m not questioning the intentions of anyone who actually feels that are making an artistic statement with their “knit graffiti.” I just also think that most of the people nowadays who participate are just imitators who haven’t actually given it any thought; they’re just participating because they saw it on the Internet and they want to get in on the bandwagon. It’s knitting’s version of a zombie flash mob.

  13. wow..

    What a great thread.

    Let me say that I am the Newtown knit graffiti chick,

    AND
    I have just come back from Canberra installing the knits

    AND

    I wasnt the one who was the media ho.

    And boooooooooy do I have stories….

    So if you want to hear them go on and ask me.

    I am also knitting the Taylor Square thing precisely becasue it is a spot close to MY heart, for my reasons.

    And the council or Powerhouse museum isnt giving me a cent for it.

    I have had to finance it all myself because I want to. Had to get permission because I wanted to. And if you think the Knitted toilet is going to be ugly, wait till you see the bloody gross make over they are planning.

    It’s a piss take.
    On a toilet.
    Dosen’t anyone get it?
    It’s knit.

    So good on you for having your say, I loved reading every bit.

    If you dont like it, un pick it.

    And SOME of us guerilla knitters really do knit with passion, in our style. Others chase the media and dont even knit themselves.

    Oh, and Bec?
    I’ll take you off the facebook list if it pisses you off.
    No pun intended.

    cheers,

    love,

    grrl+dog
    Newtown Knitter
    http://www.dneese.blogspot.com

  14. We love the wool-burnin’ smell of graffiti knitting conflict in the morning. 🙂

    There’s a ton of stuff we can say but rather than get into it all we’ll just state that we love what we do. And judging by the silly grins and lovely comments that we get, there are people out there that disagree with your words.

    Each to their own. If something other than yarnstorming gives you that silly grin then more power to you.

    We sincerely hope you are as happy with your knits as we are with ours.

    Knit the City x

  15. Yes I get it. Still want to attack your art with scissors tho’.

    Mostly tho’ I don’t walk around with scissors in my pocket. Just the knitting needles and wool.

  16. Hi Denise,

    Thanks for your email – and the nice comment! I’m actually really interested in hearing your opinion about it. I expected more argument from folks within the “movement,” but I’ve been surprised how little there was. I really was looking forward to debating it with someone who actively participates and sees worth in it. I’d love to hear more about your position.

    Here are a couple things I’m really curious about in particular:

    1) Do you consider yourself mainly a knitter or mainly an artist? (Or do you even make a distinction?) Do you do knitting other than the graffiti items?

    2) How do you justify participating in graffiti culture to those who think graffiti = vandalism and visual clutter? Do you ever go back to clean up or remove the items after they’ve been hanging for a while?

    3) When/how did you hear about knit graffiti? Was it through Knitta Please, or did you come up with it on your own?

    4) What do you think about all the media attention? You mentioned the “selling out” aspect. Is that something you’re seeing from within, or do you think it’s just a false perception based on the media?

    Love to hear more from you, either as a comment on w-g or at your own site. (I’ll post this as a comment there as well.) I’m looking forward to it. Like I said, I didn’t want to come off as tarring the entire movement with the same brush, but my perception (as an outsider) is that only a very small percentage of the people doing it have any concept of it as an art project. Everyone else just seems to be jumping on a bandwagon… but I suppose it’s debatable whether that is necessarily a bad thing anyway.

    Look forward to hearing from you!

  17. Just a point, debbieann: no-one can ‘make’ you feel anything. If you were offended by Kris’s opinion, it’s your choice. She’s free to write what she thinks here and you’re free not to read it if it offends you.

  18. Just a point, debbieann: no-one can ‘make’ you feel anything. If you were offended by Kris’s opinion, it’s your choice. She’s free to write what she thinks here and you’re free not to read it if it offends you.

  19. Good to hear such spirited discussion.

    I’m one of the artists running the project in the Cross and thought some clarifications might be in order as well as a couple of thoughts on your most recent questions, Kris.

    Firstly, to clarify what we’re doing (or not).

    No details about the project have been finalised. I can only presume the information that has filtered through are our preliminary conceptual thoughts as I’m still drafting the exact details of the project. Specifically, issues like laundering and re-fashioning into blankets for the homeless is nothing more than an idea that we felt might be worth exploring post-event given the relatively short installation time and generally fine weather at that time of year. Obviously if the work’s degraded too much then we’re not going to be giving it to anyone.

    Also we’ve never really thought of the project as knitting graffiti or guerilla knitting. On the first one, there’s no intention to make a political comment nor illegally deface public or private property. Sure, the streets are the location for the works and yes we think that there’s a place for quality street pieces given the vibrancy they can add to the concrete, but there’s oodles of non-graffiti public art out there on the streets. On the later point, its obviously not a guerrilla activity given the project’s condoned by City.

    Are we artists or knitters?

    Both. Personally, I haven’t knitted much for some time but yes I do knit, but not generally for my art. My main co-conspirator in this project is a knitter (as well as a weaver and general textile / soft-sculpture artist) who generally knits for the practical benefit of lucky friends who take receipt of her wild creations.

    Its maybe also worth mentioning at this point how we work on our art projects together. For many years we’ve been collaborating on a whole range of artworks from small paintings through to large public art installations (see http://reefknot.wordpress.com/a-brief-history/). For the majority of these projects we choose to collaborate with other artists and non-artists to explore the scope of what is possible through working together creatively. Periodically we also work on very community-based projects. This work in the Cross is explicitly a community-based project. It’s designed to provide a forum for members of the community to come together, knit a little, meet some folks and then see their labours displayed for the enjoyment of others.

    Why do we do it?

    Like any artist, its to illicit some response. Generally we’re on the ‘add a little beauty to the world so that even one person might raise half a smile’ category. There’s enough crap going on in the world without every artist needing to comment seriously on it. So, why not add a little colour, a little gesture, a little thought that offers someone a few seconds out of their everyday?

    Whilst we don’t want to offend anyone (is it really possible to offend someone by simply displaying a knit in public?) I think it’s equally great that so many people care enough about knitting and the role of art in public in Australia to have carried on this discussion for so many days.

    Alas, this is a community project and it’s important that people other than the established knitting communities have a chance to engage with the idea and decide for themselves what value this all has in their lives.

  20. Alasdair – thank you so much for your comment. I’ve been dealing with some nasty blowback from this post online and it’s heartening to see it taken in the spirit in which it was intended. I think with regards to your project, my initial objections to it can mostly be attributed to bad timing. I couldn’t help but see it in light of all the media attention that “knit graffiti” has been getting, so it looked as if you were jumping on a bandwagon. I apologise for tarring you with the “guerilla knitting” brush.

    I also apologise for sharing details of the project if it hasn’t been finalised. When you spoke about it at the Knitters Guild workshop, I assumed that it was happening as presented. I’m really glad to hear you’re not wedded to the “turn it into blankets” idea, if only because the cheap yarn people use for outdoor projects isn’t usually nice for people. (Granted, it’s better than nothing…)

    > is it really possible to offend someone by simply displaying a knit in public?

    Heh. You haven’t seen some of the shocker jumpers I’ve seen in the Knitting Guild. (Three-dimensional cockatoos, anyone?)

    Seriously, thanks for your input. I feel much better about recommending the project now…

  21. You’re welcome and glad its all feeling in balance, Kris.

    Yes, the presentation at the Knitters Guild workshop was a bit of a juggling act between being strongly recommended to talk because of the workshops’ infrequency and not wanting to say anything as nothing was yet signed off. At the end of the day we felt it best to put a face to the project and put something out there and follow-it up with more detailed information when it came to hand. Always a tricky one to present with certainty what doesn’t technically exist.

  22. Kris, I’m not sure I was all that mean. I think I gave as good as we got. You called it “so very LOOK-AT-ME-I’M-HIP”, you said what we were doing would make non-knitters think knitting is a waste of time, you said “99% is just vandalism for the sake of it”, you said “99% of the people involved with the graffiti knitting “movement” are just imitating something they saw on the Internet and performing their hipness for the Muggles”. I think if you are expecting people not to have a slightly emotional reaction to that then you perhaps need to rethink. Of course we are going to be a bit put out. And you admitted it yourself when you said “This is coming off sounding really negative”. A quick ‘I didn’t mean it’ at the end won’t take away what you said before.

    I can’t speak for these people who seem to be trying to force you to join in. In my case I am fighting off people who want to join in. It’s an odd world, eh?

    As for being a ‘real knitter’ and being more sensitive to the ‘trendy hipsters’, I consider myself okay on that scale. I run the biggest knitting group in the UK, raise money for charity, organise the London Knit Crawl every WWKIP day, and teach people to knit at every single weekly meeting almost every week of the year (we get Christmas off). What I love about our group is that we teach for free, and tons of those trendy hipsters come along to learn, get taught, fall in love with the knit, and pass it on to others. I couldn’t be more thrilled with that.

    You also talk about ‘laundering them and giving to the homeless’. I find this a bit much. It’s got a very ‘holier than thou’ feel to it.

    It’s like I said above, sure there are practical uses for all materials people use for art. Wood can become a chair for ill people to sit down on rather than a carving, paint can make the front of a rundown shack in the slums seems like home rather than be stuck on a canvas on a museum wall, metal can be fashioned to make a boat to sail to sea and fish for a whole village rather than be twisted into a sculpture. I see your point. I really do. But that surely means that for every single thing you do that isn’t ‘for the good of humankind’ and it merely for pleasure, that you need to think about maybe giving that away to improve the quality of other people’s lives. Yes?

    You also called us “lazy (in the sense of creativity)” which made me sigh. So much thought and work goes into my stuff. And every one of those knitters has sat down and made stitch after stitch themselves. That’s what is so lovely about knitting. The creating part that you do with your own two hands.

    There are copy cats. There are people who did not knit that scarf for that lamppost specifically. But the fact is that it’s fun. It’s just fun to do. And people want in on the fun. When you’re out there doing a small yarnstorm, or a big one, people stop by with smiley faces and they like it. I have never once had an angry person shake their fist at me and tell me to stop being so bloody ridiculous. People came up and hugged our phonebox cosy. They hugged a phonebox in Parliament Square in the rain. Sour-faced commuters in Covent Garden went all giggly, and thought of their grandmas and wanted to get their paws on something crafty then and there.

    So some of it isn’t Van Gogh of the Yarn. Beginner knitters and ugly-yarn users are still ok by me. And some of it does get stinky and soggy. I personally think any graffiti knitter worth their cashmerino would wander back and chop it down if they felt they needed to because it was becoming a bio-hazard.

    I also think tired council workers probably sigh over their scissors sometimes. It can’t all be a fun fair for everyone. But I’m not sure it’s the blight on the world you seem to be pointing at.

    And lastly your main point is that “It’s like one person comes up with an interesting idea, the media latch on to it, and suddenly we all feel compelled to buy into the story that they’re selling.” The media are to blame for a lot. The worldwide panic that shoved us into recession, the swine flu horror that everyone is threatening to go looting over. So they are a bit in love with graffiti knitting at the moment. I can’t see what’s so bad about that. To me the fact stuff is out there reminding people that they don’t have to think inside the box with their crafts is great.

    I’ve met Magda Sayeg. She came to London and we did a bit of sneaky stitching. Far from the shouty in your face I’m-gonna-graffiti-knit-the-universe American you apologised for, I found her to be a nice chick. She takes herself with a pinch of salt, and can’t quite believe putting a bit of knitting on her door handle got her where she is. I’m not sure if you have alerted Magda to the fact you felt you had to apologise on her behalf. Hopefully you have.

    When you write something on the internet people are bound to respond in lots of different ways. Some will hooray and some will click disagree. Sometimes it’ll be to your face. Sometimes it’ll be a link via a link via a link, and unless you hunt for it you won’t see it. That’s how the internet works. It may not be the politest of societies but there you are.

    Hopefully I’ve been fair and rational about this. I’m happy to hear opposing views. I’m happy for people to insult me too as long as it’s funny. I do appreciate funny. 🙂

  23. Reposted from Ravelry:

    Hi Lauren, I appreciate your reply. But I definitely don’t agree that you “gave as good as you got”. I don’t I agree that me saying that I thought knitted graffiti was overly trendy and hip was equivalent to you guys calling me a Communist and speculating on what I was knitting to cover my vibrators. (Edit: That was on Twitter, for those who haven’t been following.)

    Look, I’m happy to hear opposing views too. But the fact that you read my rant and immediately took it personally, that you thought that my opinions about a knitting fad (overly) reported in the media was somehow a reflection on you personally and your own knitting, that you took that as an excuse to snark on me personally… that’s not the kind of debate or discussion I want to be involved in.

  24. Ugh. I was really happy with how this conversation was going before, and I really want to thank Debbieann, Denise, Knit the City, and Alasdair for taking the post in the spirit in which it was intended. I appreciate you guys arguing with me and opening my eyes a little bit.

    Unfortunately I’ve been taking a lot of personal hits (mostly on Twitter and Ravelry) from people who took this post a LOT more personally than you guys did. I don’t see any more productive headway happening, so I’m going to close it off. I’m looking forward to talking to you guys more about your projects in person.

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