There is always a starting point. For multimedia artist, Ben Cuevas, it started with a knot. A knot in yarn, from there Cuevas took yarn and intertwined and intersected and turned it into intricate sculptural fabrications of skeletons, organs, and pharmacology. When he visited Ohio State recently, to teach a workshop on yarn bombing, Cuevas started his class with this simple instruction-- start with a knot, a slip knot and then a loop.
To watch what happens from the humble beginnings of a knot and loops is fascinating. Cuevas wanted to keep the workshop simple so the project was confined to making a long, crocheted rope that then could be wiggles into a word that then could be set in place with a water and glue solution and left in a place for people to see. This is the main idea of what is known as “yarn bombing.” Yarn bombing is similar to marking with graffiti except yarn bombs do not harm public property.
Cuevas was a guest artist at the invitation of Ohio State associate professor, Dr. Guisela Latorre. Dr. Latorre teaches in the Department of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and had been on a recent trip to LA where she attended a Latinx queer art show and came across Cuevas’ work. She crafted the plan bring Cuevas to campus to work with students and talk about his work. She was able to arrange for his visit with the assistance of Livable Futures, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Department of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Knitting and crocheting have usually been associated with women’s craft genres. This association makes an obvious connection to feminist art practices–yarn bombing challenges this hierarchy and its subversiveness is a way to twist its origins.
Cuevas wanted all of the 20 or so participants to fashion their ropes into feminist statements. For most people that meant crocheting enough yarn to spell “feminist.” After some very quick instruction the folks attending started making their ropes. After learning the process it seems relatively simple until you realize “feminist” has an “i,” well two of them, and a “t,” which require very short lengths, which are actually more difficult than making the longer lengths. This simple fact of smaller things are more difficult speaks to the idea of the importance of handwork and how the idea of details make all the difference in art as well as society.
As part of the workshops the attendees were encouraged to take their words and display them and photograph them in their spaces
Dr. Latorre emphasized in the workshop that public space is often patriarchal and craft is a way to intervene in the narrative of hierarchy. Yarn bombing allows for strong messages without an accompanying destruction of property. When one uses a public space for a message they need to be aware that any destruction of the space will ultimately create a destructive message.
Cuevas had originally planned on studying film in LA but after some time at CalArts decided he wasn’t interested in the medium and took some time off of school. After backpacking through Europe and later spending time with a friend who had worked on the Whitney Biennial, Cuevas decided to move to the east coast to attend Hampshire College. He been taught to knit earlier by a friend, as a way to relax but in school Cuevas made the connection between fiber work and fine art. One of his first major shows was an installation titled “Transcending the Material” where Cuevas displayed a knitted full-size, intricately detailed skeleton. He had taken a forensics anatomy class and was able to include landmarks on the bones including the suture lines in the skull. His sophisticated knits were soon included in other shows and Cuevas branched out to knitting complex organs, circulatory systems, and pills.
Cuevas uses his perspective as a queer, HIV-positive, person of color to explore ideas of embodiment and the space between the ideas of women’s craft and art. He works deftly, though he was teaching crochet and not knitting, his fingers worked expertly with the yarn and the hook. Watching him create the rope was like watching any professional who has logged thousands of hours at their craft. He is patient and quick of humor but serious in his quest for meaning.
This notion of using craft to make serious, yet playful statements about feminism and even the nature of art can provide a platform for us to think about what is usually overlooked can still be profound. Craft has often been dismissed as not art and public spaces are not usually seen as galleries. It is intentionality that changes and challenges these ideas. Craft, art, women...are all subjects that have been dismissed, yet are invaluable to our society. Cuevas and Dr. Latorre created place where dismissal is rejected and rewoven to prove substance and need. We are all interwoven, our relationships, our work, our being, all leaves marks. When we work with intention we can make these marks to better ourselves and others.