Kate Just: The Knitted Works 2004-2011
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17 May 2012 to 8 July 2012
Kate Just is an American-born, Australian artist who is well known for creating tactile sculptures and installations reinterpreting historic, mythic and iconographic objects and figures often linked to women's histories. Her work encompasses knitting, mixed media sculpture, collage, video and digital print. Just forefronts the female body as a storehouse of psychical experience and identity.
Since 2002, Just has created a singular body of knitted work which extends from representations of the body, text-based sculptures and wondrous, abstracted installations.
‘Kate Just: The Knitted Works 2004-2011’ is the first exhibition of its kind to bring together these ambitious knitted works. The exhibition provides a context in which to present Ararat Regional Art Gallery’s newest acquisition of Just’s major sculpture, ‘Paradise’ (2006). ‘Paradise’ boldly reinvigorates the gallery’s collection development and makes powerful connections to earlier works of soft sculpture in the collection, from 1970s craft-based and second wave feminist art to more recent postmodern investigations into materials and process. Just describes ‘Paradise’ in the following way:
‘At first glance, this is modern day suburbia, safely sealed, without a hint of the wild, until we see that she is sinking into an earthen, muddy crack that has split through the grass. She has dropped her long, snaking garden hose and her eyes are closed in surrender... The work references both Eve, and Greek goddess Persephone, evoking rich associations of 'the feminine' in nature. Persephone’s is one of many stories that tell of goddesses’ descent into the underworld, literally under the surface of the ground, and symbolically this refers to a woman’s journey into the dark and unknown regions of the self’.
Joining ‘Paradise’ in the exhibition are two other major knitted works by Just: ‘The Garden of Interior Delights’ (2008), on loan from the collection of the City of Port Phillip, and ‘Boundary (LOVE)' (2004).
Just spent the first ten months of 2008 producing ‘The Garden of Interior Delights’, reworking of the strange pink fountain from the first panel in Heironymous Bosch’s painting 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' (c.1500). Bosch’s paradise is a fantastical one, featuring wildly imaginative structures, which appear to be a blend of plant, body and man-made forms, and a natural environment abundant with fruit, water holes and happily cavorting, naked humans. Although in the painting the structure operates as a focus point and metaphor for for Eden, Just reclaims it's pink fleshiness, orifices, folds and liquid spray in her giant totem to femininity and sexual reproduction.
‘Boundary (LOVE)’ (2004) is knitted hedge-work inspired by Just’s interest in the way people create boundaries to contain what they own and cultivate. Early gardens were enclosed for practical reasons - privacy, exclusion of pests, and to limit cultivated ground. But by carefully constructing and planning a boundary hedge, giving it a unique form or investing in its beauty, the person contained within sends a message to the outside world. When creating the hedge, Just recalled a childhood of Decembers in frozen Connecticut (USA), where her family used to drive through the town at night, observing the elaborately conceived Christmas messages out of lights, decorations and shrubbery in neighbours’ front yards.
Just took a hiatus from knitting in 2009, though her practice has remained focussed on sculpture and installation. For a 2011 residency at The Kunsthalle Krems Factory in Austria she reimagined her knitted oeuvre through the collaborative mixed media installation, ‘Venus Was Her Name’. ‘In My Skin’ (2011) is from the installation and is the most recent work in this survey exhibition.
Just’s knitted works are often ambitious in scale and inevitably challenge perceptions of knitting as a domestic craft. The reclamation of domestic craft practices and the repositioning of textiles in a gallery context as art are ideas that were pursued by earlier feminist artists, and Just's work is connected to this history. But her pursuit of knitting as a culturally resonant medium for sculpture is more of a conceptual than material investigation, and this connects her more broadly to contemporary artists of her own generation.
Image: Kate Just, ‘Paradise’ 2006, hand knitted, machine knitted and hand rug-hooked wool, clay, fibreglass, plastic, metal, glue, 150 x 300 x 280cm, Ararat Regional Art Gallery Collection, Courtesy of the artist and Daine Singer. Photo: Kate Just.
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