by Jen Graves
on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 11:00 AM
Mark Newport and Sweaterman 5 at Greg Kucera Gallery earlier this week.
When Mark Newport has a show, sometimes he performs. That means doing two things: patrolling the area, and sitting in a chair, knitting. In costume as a superhero on the prowl, he represents action and heroism. In a chair, knitting, he's like a grandma and a guard, a nurterer and protector of another kind entirely.
You can catch him doing none of this at Greg Kucera Gallery this month, but his knitted suits and his performative photographic prints are there. Some of the suits hang against the wall, but just so you know: they all have buttons down the back and can be put on. Newport can get in them to perform them, but their creation is also a performance—he knits them at home, in public, on airplanes, everywhere. He still gets weird looks for it. A guy knitting? A flight attendant recently told him it was "the most amazing thing I've ever seen."
The genderbending inherent in Newport's work is important to him. For him (and many of us), a guy knitting is old hat, but we're the isle of misfits. And prevailing Victorian perceptions of masculinity still affect and interest him, especially as a dad (the original hero). In one of his photographs, his son sits on the couch, engrossed in something, while Newport, dressed in one of his supersuits and with his hands on his hips, stands guard outside the windows. The other photographs in the show are funny—role reversals of the old European paintings of women protecting themselves from lecherous men by doing their handwork; Newport dressed as Gene Simmons, knitting (called Backstage—though Gene Simmons is one man who makes me want to keep up a steel wall between men and women); Newport as a headbanger dreaming of white cable knit (pictured). Each one is a fantasy. They're low-resolution prints, dreams rather than documents.
His suits, already characters just dangling there both poignantly and eerily, have also become remixes of the cheesy remixes of the natural world that yarn-makers envision. He's begun using variegated yarns with symbolic titles: The first such suit was Naftaman, with a patriotic stars-and-stripes yarn on top and one called "Mexicali" for the lower body. Four suits devoted to the elements (water here) are portraits based on the mass-manufactured yarns-o-nature.
In the center of the gallery when I was there was a Hulk-like suit set near a print called Commando, featuring a soldier in uniform sitting against a tree, knitting. That one came from a story Newport was told: When he's out in the world knitting, people tell him things. A stranger told him that her son, a commando in the armed forces, is a knitter, so Newport made the photograph to honor both the man and the knitting-inspired interaction.
Newport's latest scheme is to become the official knitter of the NFL. He's already written a proposal for the head of the league and just has to send it: he wants to knit costumes in football team colors, working at one home game a week at every stadium in the country. It would take him two seasons, during which he'd also want to work at playoffs and Superbowls. The suits and the documents—video of a Jumbotron appearance, perhaps?—would become art. "It's a perfect sport for knitting, if you think about it—if you miss something you can watch it on replay," he says to me.
You may see Newport soon at an NFL game near you. Talk to him.