“…I want to be raw, I want Blood in my work.”
Sometimes you don’t really know what you’re doing until after you’ve already done it. That was the case with my latest piece, Knit Veins: Fiber of our being. The concept behind the work documented here revealed itself slowly to me, not fully taking form until the installation was complete. All I knew at the get go was that I wanted blood in my work.
I’ve been knitting veins from the very beginning. Knit Heart in Bell Jar, the first knit-sculpture I ever made features veins inventively cascading down the organ’s chambers. And two years ago, without any real reason or purpose, I began knitting veins in my Los Angeles work-space. They were larger than life, and almost textbook-looking, but decontextualized from the body, divorced from any identifiable human form. I’d been hoping for a chance to do something with this knit veins idea but I needed space to let the concept grow. So when Ivey Barker, the curator at Salem Art Works (SAW), offered me forty feet of wall space in the group show Fiber 2 Form, I knew this was my opportunity to make the impact I envisioned.
“But what exactly is that impact, beyond mere wow factor,” I wondered to myself as I crafted the veins on a manual knitting machine at Art String Boutique in Hollywood (that’s my friend Emilie Odeile’s custom knitting atelier). The answer was eluding me, and I had more pressing things to worry about (like finishing the veins in time for my deadline and making sure I had enough of them to cover such a large space), so I pressed on, hoping things would eventually come to clarity.
The “aha moment” came to me late one night at SAW. I was furiously installing the veins at three in the morning, when out of the ether the title came to me (probably influenced by lack of sleep, coupled with my playfully Foucaultian attention to linguistics and Descartesian perspective on the mind/body/spirit). If our bodies are knitted together like cloth, either by some higher power or eons of evolution, then veins are like a kind of yarn, a fibrous network of connective channels that allows us to be. Veins are part and parcel of the fiber of our being.
Our is the key word here (not my being, or your being, but ours). I wanted to call attention to the idea of some sort of meta-body: one that speaks to “the nature of matter, or body considered in general, [and] consists not in its being something which is hard or heavy or coloured…but simply in its being something which is extended in length, breadth and depth,” as Rene Descartes puts it [emphasis added]. The knit veins, installed in this way, speak to the idea of a body transcending the individual, extending beyond our own identities, corporealities, ourselves.
As much as I wanted to transcend the idea of the self in this piece, there’s no denying my own personal (originally subconscious) influences behind the work. I’ve had a fascination/repulsion with blood for some time. David Wojnarowicz, with his mouth sewn shut, blood dripping down his chin; Ron Athey suspending paper towels soaked in his own blood over his audience – I’m drawn to blood’s beauty as an object and power as a symbol. Blood holds a special significance for us queer, male-bodied, HIV-positive artists: it is the bringer of both life and death. But I didn’t want to portray my actual blood here, spilling out confrontationally (It’s already been done to great effect. Plus that’s just not my style). Instead I chose to portray the blood here almost as an abstraction, in veins and in its proper channels. An uncountable number of tiny little stitches, certainly gory in subject matter, but not intended to repulse, instead demanding the viewer to step in closer and engage more intimately with the work
It’s almost like my way of giving blood, because since my sero-conversion I’m no longer able to do so (and neither is any man who’s had sex with a man since 1979, regardless of HIV status, thanks to the Red Cross deeming men who have sex with men untouchable, despite the fact that all donated blood is tested before being approved for transfusions). So in lieu of giving blood to sustain a person’s life, I give these veins to you, the viewer: to make you pause, to make you think about the biological body as extending beyond its fleshy boundaries, and hopefully, to inspire in you an attention to the vast social body we inhabit, together.
Special thanks to Emilie Odeile, Ivey Barker, all the artists, interns, and staff at Salem Art Works, all my fearie weavers, and everyone who helped make this work possible.
©Ben Cuevas, all rights reserved 2013.