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Fuji Textile Week 2022
Knitting Poetry: Patrick Carroll in Fujiyoshida, Japan
in conversation with Dan Thawley
In December 2019, Patrick Carroll bought a Studio SK-560, a hand-operated domestic knitting machine from the 1970s. Two months later, his father, who had suffered for years from a neurodegenerative illness, self-administered end-of-life medication at his home while surrounded by family. Three weeks after that, much of California shut down due to COVID. In a home shared with two friends at the foot of the Box Springs Mountains in Riverside, saddled with public grief of the pandemic and private grief from his father’s death, Patrick learned to use the machine he’d bought.
The American artist began his practice of the prolific production of unique garments and artworks, each with words or phrases knitted into its structure. Emerging from historical study, Patrick’s practice draws from many sources to build a resonant poetic universe that considers labor value, fantasy (via the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, Shakespeare, Dolly Parton, Pokémon), grief, gender and silhouette, and religious discourses of virtue and sin.
Fuji Textile Week 2022 is the second edition of this event that takes place in the town of Fujiyoshida. Located at the base of Mount Fuji, the town has a rich history in the Japanese textile industry and is still home to a few hundred small textile factories. The event is spread throughout the town in a variety of locations. Patrick’s works are arranged in an old and recently deserted café named Nicole, situated on the main road leading to Mount Fuji. This location resonates with different elements in Patrick’s work, housing a feeling of loss in an ever-evolving, almost disappearing world. MEMORIAM, his first solo exhibition, acts as a retrospective of these past few years in which Patrick has developed his body of work alongside experiencing loss and realignment.
Introduction by Arieh Rosen
Dan Thawley: Patrick, is there a direct relationship between your knitted designs and the texts that you program into each of them?
Patrick Carroll: Yes. I keep a long list of potential words and phrases. I think of each piece having five attributes — colour, material, form, language and its placement. Finalising a design is a matter of adjusting each attribute until the piece feels conceptually resonant, without a grand resolution but a looping multidimensional series of local ones.
How do you formulate the poems and phrases in your creations? They tend to harbour philosophical, historical, pop cultural and erotic contexts.
The phrases and words come from a long practice of reading. Some reference openly, whether as a direct quote or paraphrase. Others are my own attempts at synthesising. I’d say there are three interwoven strands of influence–one is American lyric poetry from Emily Dickinson to Mariah Carey; one is broadly Biblical, from Genesis and Shakespeare to Dolly Parton and Magic: the Gathering; and one is ‘faggotry’ & its infinite practitioners. Other ideas include textile as the original technology that catalysed industrialisation and therefore the climate catastrophe. I try to maintain a broad view in time and place.
What kind of yarns do you work with, and where do you source them?
I mostly use cashmere, wool, mohair, silk, cotton, linen and sometimes synthetics. There are a few websites that serve small-scale customers — colourmart.com is the one I go to most.
How did you choose the pieces you are showing in Fujiyoshida?
The space, an abandoned old cafe, informed how I chose the pieces. With Arieh Rosen, who invited me to Fuji Textile Week, I developed a number of smaller one-to-five piece arrangements with their own meaning, and these were the building blocks of the exhibition. For instance, one corner hosts all the Pokémon clothes I had; in another hangs a leotard that says FAIRY ARCHIVE and a shirt that says PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN AS SAINT SEBASTIAN etc.
How do you think geographic, social and cultural context might affect people’s perception of your designs?
I think my work is pretty American, for better or worse, from allusion to imagery. Clarifying what this means is one effort of the whole project. How it’s received elsewhere is a question to be answered by its dissemination, I hope!
Tell us about your invitation from Jonathan Anderson to exhibit in Milan.
In the summer of 2021, I was in New York and my friends Joe McShea and Edgar Mosa invited me to stay with them for a couple nights on Fire Island. Joe & Edgar are brilliant artists who make large-scale flag installations. I gave them a thong as a thank you for having me and Joe posted a photo of himself wearing it. Meanwhile, Jonathan was in touch with them about doing a Loewe show and he sent me a message. I spoke with him the following month and he gave me great creative leeway to make seven outfits. I spent the next several months making them, and finally in Milan, Jonathan & his team put on a fantastic exhibition of the work outside the JW Anderson show. It was genuinely wonderful working with them. They understood what I do and the degree of creative freedom on a single project expanded the scope of my work immensely.
When did you begin to create canvases with your knitted fabrics? For you, how does this format change the meaning of your work in comparison to pieces designed to be worn by the human body?
I began this after the JW Anderson show. It felt like it was time. Hanging something on a wall is very different from wearing something on the body. There’s the private/public distinction of course, but the valorisation also differs greatly — what is worn is supposed to be consumed (if very slowly), what hangs is supposed to last. I think a lot about what ‘voices’ speak the phrases and words I knit. What it means to wear something on one’s chest, on one’s sex, one one’s face — what it means to hang something in one’s home — it all changes between each canvas and garment.
You are often your own model. Is this an important statement for you, or born from necessity?
Initially, necessity, as it all started in 2020 during the early period of the pandemic. In many ways, the project remains one of the pandemic. I continue in a pattern that crystallised during that first isolation–I make something, put it on, photograph myself and post the photos. It is not an important statement, my body is just the closest at hand. I love to see the clothes on others and I also enjoy wearing them myself. There is a thrill of exhibiting my work and my body at once.
How have other artists, curators, clients, models and other bodies interpreted your designs in ways that have inspired you?
Many, many ways — I love a recent photo in Arena Homme Plus of Emma Corrin photographed by Jet Swan and styled by Harry Lambert; I love a recent editorial in Double Magazine photographed by Julie Greve; I love the photos Mateus Porto took of me and styled Jonathan Huguet for Shadowplay; I love the photos Blake Jacobsen took of me for Gayletter. Most of all, I loooooove when people buy things and stage their own photoshoots. The best is when people send me photos of themselves wearing what I’ve made.
Did you take anything away from visiting Japan that we might expect to see in future designs?
Yes, though it’s difficult just now to articulate. A few things are clear. For one, Arieh Rosen helped me experiment with printing, something I’d like to do much more of in future. Two, I was really moved by the example of Tsuyoshi Yagi, one of the main organisers of the exhibition. He also runs Hostel Saruya, where I stayed while installing, and has recently opened a cafe nearby. Listening to his description of civic duty via institution-building inspired me greatly. Three, in the sushi restaurant where we ate during my last night in Fujiyoshida, there was a Banzuke, a sort of poster that lists sumo rankings in a very distinct, beautiful, overloaded textual arrangement. I look forward to making textile banners that emulate this form.
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