edited by Jools Gilson and Nicola Moffat. Bloomsbury, January 2019. 240 p. ill. ISBN 9781350027527 (pbk.), $26.95.

Reviewed July 2020
Dai Newman, Cataloguing and Instruction Librarian, Columbus College of Art and Design, dnewman@ccad.edu

gilsonGilson and Moffat compile thirteen perceptive essays on the Knitting Map, a cornerstone event of Cork, Ireland’s year as the European Capital of Culture in 2005. Volunteer knitters, mostly middle-aged women, met every day to knit with weather dictating the color and a computer algorithm, based on CCTV-monitored city activity, determining the complexity of the stitches. The writers chart how the project, with its non-literal understanding of mapping, hidden budget, and traditional associations, quickly morphed in public understanding from curiosity to exemplary failure of the entire year. A decade and a half later, these essays reconsider this reception to highlight the fraught relationship of craft and art, tradition and progress, and ownership of knowledge.

Gilson, director of group half/angel that led the project, notes the friction of granting “cartographic authority to working-class older women” and other thinkers reflect on the nature of mapping. This includes Moffat’s argument about the subjugating power of maps in her lyrical, experimental chapter, and Barkun’s unpacking of the lingering sense that the Map has gone missing, despite merely being in storage following its exhibitions in Cork and later Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 2007. The media’s response forms a key site of interrogation though reliance on recurring quotes (like “an army of knutters”) raises questions about how widespread the scorn and controversy were.

Several writers home in on how the Knitting Map’s associations with feminine labor, rural necessity, and a feminized, colonized Ireland shaped its reception. The tension between craft and art feeds the public confusion, and writers grapple with the implications of women reclaiming traditional skills for feminist intervention. Writers provide useful contextual frames for understanding the Map, including Barkun’s tying it to broader feminist conceptual art and Hemmings’ aligning it with other long-term fiber projects that shift attention to process over product, such as Angela Maddock’s Bloodline and Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger’s Unitlted (Pink Tube).

Ample color photographs of the finished map, the work in progress, media pieces, and Gilson’s community events during the year provide a clear sense of the project. Sweeney, a photographer who recorded the durational project, and local historian McCarthy, who compiled an oral history of the Map, provide perspectives from those directly involved. The mediation of the knitter’s own voices (who found the project rewarding) through these scholarly pieces, however, does little to continue the democratizing impulse of the project.

This is a solid, convincing example of the theoretical possibilities generated by a collaborative, disputed, ambitious art project. Recommended for collections that support graduate students and researchers in craft and feminist art theory, but general audiences and undergraduates might find the complexity unappealing.