My favorite icon to come out of the 2008 Presidential election wasn’t Shepard Fairey’s Barack Obama “Hope” poster, it was Lisa Anne Auerbach’s “If Nothing Changes, It Changes Nothing” knit ice skating uniform. Red, white, and blue, starred and striped, the sweater-skirt set used the recto-verso power of the human body to pronounce a balanced message: even if Obama’s audaciously hopeful campaign doesn’t fruit the change we want, it doesn’t change the symbolic weight of his election. It’s a message perhaps better suited to this precarious 2012 election.
Auerbach’s statement sweaters took shape during the 2004 election when, as a bike commuter in LA, she sought an equivalent to the bumper sticker. Knitters for Kerry was her group. Two elections later, Auerbach is still knitting.
Alongside associations as feminine craft, knitting has a rich history of political intervention and subversion; think Afghan war carpets, “Knit for Victory” wartime volunteerism, post-9/11 yarn bombing. Auerbach tells me her main inspiration was Cheap Trick Rick Nielsen’s sweaters. Here, the artist chats with me about sweaters, this year’s election, and what she’s up to now.
I love the origins story of the sweaters as an LA bike commuter version of the bumper sticker. Are you still biking?
Yes, I’m still biking, though not as much as I was when I began making sweaters since my commute now is unbike-able. But I still ride around town quite a bit.
The first sweater I saw of yours had to do with the 2008 election. Red, white, and blue, it boasted, “If nothing changes, it changes nothing.” What would your slogan for this 2012 election be?
Geez, that is hard to say. I haven’t made any sweaters for this election, just haven’t felt super inspired. When Romney first got the nomination, I thought maybe “Mitt’s the Pits.” But what’s the point of simply stating the obvious?
Why knit? We have this association with knitting as feminine craft but your sweaters are more punk rock than anything else.
I was obsessed with Rick Nielsen’s sweaters, the ones he wore while playing in Cheap Trick. Sweaters have a seriousness about them that a T-shirt just doesn’t share. They are also super nerdy and warm. I learned to knit because of his sweaters; it didn’t have anything to do with feminism or craft. It was a way to explore an idea about how language can be displayed on the body. As an artist it’s also important for me to work within my means, and at the time I learned to knit I had a whole lot of time and not much money and knitting is super time consuming and not that expensive to do.
Did you ever consider serializing your sweaters for sale? [I ask because I’m dying to buy one.]
I would welcome the opportunity to mass produce one of my sweaters! Some of my sweater patterns are in a book published by Printed Matter called Charted Patterns for Sweaters that Talk Back.
What are you working on now?
I just finished a sweater project in Malmö Sweden called “Chicken Strikken.” I designed 25 sweaters in the style of Hønsestrik knitting that were then knit by 8 Danish women. The exhibition of sweaters will be seen worn on the staff of Malmö Konsthall. I just finished working with the Konsthall on the catalog and I’m heading out to Sweden for the opening of the show and to photograph more of the Hønsestrik sweaters. I’m also working on some non-knitting photographic projects, and my new zine BOOKSHELF will be launched next Saturday at an event here in Los Angeles.