1 North Square, Cambridge, ON
Toque is a 4 meter tall knit cap complete with pom-pom that is dramatically suspended in the shared foyer of the Library and Gallery. Installed topsy-turvy, it appears to have been upended by a gust of wind or a well aimed snowball and left to float in a state of perpetual free-fall. Hovering just out of reach, the piece is tantalizingly close and tempting to touch. Although its scale threatens to overwhelm us (the pom-pom itself weighs well over 15 kg.), the familiarity of the form and material suggests warmth and comfort.
For the past twenty years Janet Morton has used knitting, installation, performance, and sculpture to explore issues of labour, home and the domestic. The Guelph, Ontario based artist is known for several interventions in public spaces, including Cozy (1999-2000), a cover made of recycled, knitted sweaters sewn together, that was installed over an old cottage on Ward Island and on a free standing frame in Trinity Square Park in Toronto, and Before Flight (2012), a recent permanent sculpture made of metal and stone, installed in the Donald Forester Sculpture Garden at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph. In several new video collaborations Morton explores ephemerality and challenges productivity by unraveling knitted sculptures that represent hours of labour. Morton holds a BFA from York University (1990) and is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art. Morton’s work is included in the collections of the Cambridge Galleries, The Royal Bank of Canada, Museum London, and in numerous private collections in Canada, Switzerland, India, and the United States.
by Ivan Jurakic, Curator.
Janet Morton makes art out of fabrics and recycled textiles. She first gained national attention with Memorial (1992), a monumental hand-knit work sock originally installed on the lap of a statue of a stoic Queen Victoria located in front of Queen’s Park in Toronto. The piece proved to be both eye catching and iconic, and over the intervening 16 years, her practice has continued to evolve and encompass a variety of subject matter and materials.
As an artist, Morton is often identified with her large scale textile installations, projects that often border on the absurd. Artworks such as Cozy (1999), in which she literally fitted a home on Toronto’s Ward Island with a gargantuan tea cozy made out of recycled sweaters, or Femmebomb (2007), where she enveloped the façade of a municipal building on Queen Street West in Toronto with a monumental quilt-like covering, display the artist’s fearless and compulsive need to push the boundaries of her materials.
Invited to debut a new project for Cambridge Galleries, the final result titled Toque, is a 4 meter tall knit cap complete with pom-pom that is dramatically suspended in the shared foyer of the Library and Gallery. Installed topsy-turvy, it appears to have been upended by a gust of wind or a well aimed snowball and left to float in a state of perpetual free-fall. Hovering just out of reach, the piece is tantalizingly close and tempting to touch. Although its scale threatens to overwhelm us (the pom-pom itself weighs well over 15 kg.), the familiarity of the form and material suggests warmth and comfort. And while it is hard not to smile when confronted by a giant woolly toque looming overhead, upon further consideration one must also reflect upon the time and labour that such a large endeavour necessitates. The artist knit the entire piece by hand over several months, using yarn left over from other projects in her studio.
Considered alongside previous larger-than-life size artworks, Toque makes a welcome addition to the artist’s growing wardrobe of sculptures that reference common articles of clothing, items that at normal size might otherwise be taken for granted in a laundry hamper. Her new installation harkens back to the artist’s earliest large format knit-works, including the aforementioned Memorial, as well as an oversized lumberjack shirt ironically titled Canadian Monument #2, and the self-explanatory Big, Big Mitt (both 1994). Initially, one might be forgiven for not seeing beyond the sheer and spectacle of some of these projects, but taken as a whole there is a clear sense of mission that informs the artist’s work.
Contemporary artists such as Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen have long understood the perceptual punch that can be achieved by increasing the scale of ordinary objects. Morton plays with similar aspects of scale and dislocation, but is also very interested in playing her work off of the hard forms of architecture. Toque offsets its environment by contrasting the steel, concrete, and rock that define the foyer with its enormous warm and fuzzy softness. As such, the piece quietly subverts the inherently authoritarian nature of the space.
Regardless of their size, Morton’s works exhibit a decidedly blue collar sensibility. The labour intensive nature of her process questions the low cultural status afforded to knitting, and by association the piecework and stitching that women have traditionally performed both at home and in the garment industry – labours once commonly denigrated as ‘women’s work’.
Morton’s work is a repudiation of this second class status, and increasingly, it is clear that her artwork is a significant precursor to the reemerging interest in knitting by a younger generation. Skills once handed down from mother to daughter, are inevitably now being rediscovered at trendy boutiques like The Knit Café on Queen Street West or at popular communal gatherings with colourful names such as Stitch n’ Bitch.
Like the eponymous wool cap it is named after, Toque is intrinsically Canadian. It encapsulates everything from vernacular traditions of craft, to our national identification with winter, hockey, and the antics of Bob and Doug McKenzie. It is a gesture that conflates this quintessential item of winter clothing into a gargantuan folly; a labour of love brimming over with humanity and humour.