Artist and activist Lacey Jane Roberts admits her knitting looks “wonky.” Taught to knit by her grandmother, the young Roberts at first didn’t take well to the task in part because of her lack of coordination. But it wasn’t until she was in a very bad accident that knitting became a passion. That zeal for knit and purl ultimately led into installation art that focuses on feminist and queer action.
For Roberts, knitting is a queer, feminist and political form of creating and it is the crux of her work. “When I first started knitting it was using needles, but now I use a toy knitting machine, like a vintage Barbie Knitting Machine from 1974 and small glittery machines made for children ages eight and up. I love that I can take a way of making considered amateur and low--especially with the use of the knitting machines, and make huge installations out of them.”
The themes behind Roberts’ work focus on political, queer, feminist action that are conveyed via textiles. “I think the use of textiles has always been affiliated with politics. I focus on the dynamics of contemporary queer cultural production with queer histories and representations of queer militancy. I want people to see how histories are embedded in contemporary objects,” she says.
Her most recent work includes The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in the Three Towns of Breukelen, Boswyck and Midwout in the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era. The idea for the piece came about from a drawing a friend had made for an event in Brooklyn called Queer House Field Day that occurs during the summer. “The map struck me as both wonderfully historical and contemporary at the same time, with all of the current names of the collective houses on the map as well as the old Dutch names for Brooklyn. It really showcased the creativity that the members of our loose community puts out into the world.”
Not able to get image of the map out of her head, Roberts was inspired to produce a piece of textile art 40 Under 40 Craft Futures, which will be at The Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian. “I had to produce a piece fairly quickly and I just kind of dove in knitting and quilting it; working somewhat site-specifically with the gallery space dimensions that I was given. It was more a spontaneous act of creation with very pointed references to queer culture such as the AIDS Quilt and the histories embedded in knitting along with a lot of glitter.”
Working with friend and illustrator Buzz Slutzky, Roberts incorporated illustrations that are drawn one-inch buttons, which are replenished often and given away free to the public. “That element came at the end of the piece's creation but I really feel like it ties the piece together and is a nod to artists like Felix Gonzalez-Torres who gave away objects in their work as an powerful and of generosity and remembrance.”
Inspiration and influences come from a number of sources that she says are radically DIY and takes on many creative privileges. Mark Bradford’s painting from his show in Boston played an influential part in her last work. She lists a number of artists like Louise Bourgeois, Harmony Hammond, Tracey Emin, El Anatsui, Nick Cave, and Josh Faught. But it’s political art like by Gran Fury or Dyke Action Machine that factor largely into her work. “When I was at the University of Vermont I lived with a bunch of activists who where very involved with the group EARTH FIRST! I leaned a lot of direct action maneuvers from them, and that has played a huge part in my work. I've had a lot of great mentors over the years as well, which has been very lucky, they have provided me with invaluable guidance. I also get a lot of inspiration by just being in space--I like to work site-specifically, so if there is a space in mind, knowing the ins and outs of the architecture is helpful.”
And now that she’s in Brooklyn after her stint in Virginia, Roberts is currently without a studio, making it difficult to make some of her bigger projects that are continuations of the map work in knitted and quilted forms. But she keeps busy and is working on a set of embroidered portraits of people of friends or people in her community. “I feel very lucky to have the people in my life that I do so it's nice to have stitched mementos. They take forever to do, but eventually I'd like to make a larger installation out of them.”
For more information about Lacey Jane Roberts, please visit www.laceyjaneroberts.com.