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Shima Seiki
Shima Seiki

Carlo Volpi

Knit Blog

1st December 2014, London

Knitted bodies

Apparently when I was three years old I got really ill with a very high temperature and was taken to hospital for a couple of weeks. My parents could be there most of the time, but they were really worried about those few hours they couldn't be at my bedside: would I be ok? Would I cry? Would I miss them? I presume I would have been ok, but just in case they decided to buy a teddy bear to keep me company.

Of course, I don't remember any of that, and I can tell you the story of the toy they got me only because a few years later I found this horrible, smelly furry thing in a drawer and wondered what it was. I find it fascinating, however, to observe how most sentient beings need company, whether it is a human, a pet or a replica of the two(a doll onto which we project human feelings, or even more eerily, a fake or stuffed pet).

Other people carry lucky charms with them, but it is the affection of the human towards objects of a human form that is intriguing: when do we start empathising with something that only remotely looks human? How similar to a real person does the object have to be in order for us to develop certain feelings?

Recently Channel 4 broadcast a documentary about men living with real life sex dolls: these people turned to their latex ladies for companionship after their wives had died or when they found it hard to establish a long lasting relationship with another individual. Some of them simply enjoyed being with a doll rather than a human being, and when some of them even come with interchangeable body parts, who are we to judge?

Danish photographer Benita Marcussen spent over a year finding these men on online forums, and after winning their trust she was able to get into their home and photograph them with their plastic wives.

Dutch designer Noortje De Keijzer also made her own boyfriend with a pair of knitting needles: "My Knitted Boyfriend" is a "cushion with a story", as she calls it, a presence that is always there, at your service, whether you need a cuddle, some comfort or some warmth.

Her work really made me question the speed of relationship in our times, our need to own what we want and the way we want it (partners included of course), and our ability to discard the object of our desire when it doesn't fulfil our needs anymore. The use of knitting in Noortje's work suggested similarities between our relationships and our commodities (she called her knitted boyfriend a cushion) and it also made me question our social and ethical value: it seems that if we work hard enough, we can pretty much get anything we want, even the perfect boyfriend.

Lucy McRae uses very simple props in her analog photophraphy that completely reshape the human body, blurring, transgressing and at times violating its boundaries. The visual simplicity of her work is a very direct reminder of who we are, as individual and as a race of human beings. We identify so much with our "normal" bodies that any drastic cosmetic changes can make us feel disoriented, depressed and at times suicidal.

The human form is also central to Elena Papaioannou's "Agoraphobia". In this collection of photographs, the artist depicts a knitted structure in the form of a body in a dark space, confined by the narrow perimeter of the canvas. The loose knitted structure is hollow, like a cage, and the frail body is crippled by what seems a very painful torment. I felt a certain sense of voyeuristic guilt when I looked at these paintings, they are so private, so intimate that nobody other than their creator should look at them.

Jimini Hignett goes even deeper into the body, knitting a floppy skeletal structure that is both humorous and morbid. The union of knitwear and a human skeleton conjures ideas of fashion and the frail bodies that inhabit the clothes on the catwalk, but rather than dressing them with glamorous creations, Hignett strips them down, showing the crude essence of their questionable beauty.

Dutch designer Sonja Baumel's work also deals with the human body, but rather than distorting it or analysing its internal structure, it questions its boundaries: she explain how the skin, the thin layer that separates our bodies from the outside world, is a mere visual confine.

Very seldom we consider our bodies as a clever amalgam of cell structures and bacteria, and her work is inspired by these invisible organisms. Baumel's crochet pieces are a visual rendering of an innovative fabric made of bacteria colonies: the smart textile would theoretically envelop the body like a second skin, becoming thicker in those areas that need extra warmth or some padding (like the soles of our feet). In return, the needs of our body and possibly climatic changes would design ever changing silhouettes.

Mashallah Design and Linda Kostowski created some garments based on similar principles: human bodies were scanned and translated into digital files, where each part became a cluster of polygons. These shapes were then flattened and used as pattern pieces to sew the garments.

This idea of creating instruments to decode the already existing patterns of nature frees up our minds from what we know and what we like, it provides us with unexpected results and it is very democratic. Anybody can do it. I'm not going to discuss here whether "democratic design" at the click of a mouse button is fair, it probably isn't, but it would certainly be a very useful tool. 

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  • Carlo Volpi 7th December 2014 20:45PM

    Hi Stephen! Thank you so much for your comment, it's always good to get feedback, really glad you like the blog :-)

  • Stephen Robinson 4th December 2014 11:30AM

    Absolutely loved this blog! The mixture of humour with some really thought provoking psychology is right up my street!

    We're definitely living in a world where our belongings can means so much to us one minute, and then in an instant we can detach all emotion from them!


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