I. A doctrine emphasising vigorous or militant knitting activity. E.g., the use of knitting in mass demonstrations, urban interventions, in controversial, unusual or challenging ways, especially political causes.
II. The systemic use of knitting for political ends.
‘KNITT-IVISM: Weaving plastic worlds’ is a micro-exhibition featured as part of the Empresa Municipal de Aseo de Cuenca (EMAC)‘s waste management expo. Inspired by Stephanie Springgay’s concept ‘Knitt-ivism‘, this micro-exhibit is a civic engagement that links knitting and activism in a performative response to the plastic crisis in Cuenca. The exhibit involved a group of children, educators and parents from Santana’s early childhood program, Nivel Inicial, publicly knitting together using local plastic fibers and typical grasses used in traditional Andean weaving processes. With a photo series backdrop highlighting co-dependencies of plastics in the forest neighbouring the school, ‘KNITT-IVISM: Weaving plastic worlds’ radically problematizes recycling practices and proposes an alternative orientation to waste in early childhood.
In the first year of pedagogical work with Santana, educators were invited to gather for a weekly reading/knitting group. As we read, the practices of knitting together enlivened educators’ memories – stories of mothers, aunties and grandmothers with incredibly fast and intelligent knitting hands. The memories were shared with a sense of comfort in the practice. Knitting had a common familiarity as a shared past time, but was discussed as not something typically practiced by younger generations and the educators themselves. In this early days of the project, the notion of knitting as a form of feminist political agency was energizing. The educators began taking up this practice, using plastic and wool yarn, in communal spaces of the school, in classrooms with the children and out in the community. Experienced knitters shared techniques and basic patterns with novice and first-time knitters. The visual presence of collective knitters at the school became a connective force which gathered more knitters – the children’s older siblings, aunties, grandmothers, elementary school educators and members of the school’s administrative group began knitting alongside us. In response to this momentum, we organized weekly knitting meetings that began to take shape in a small room at Nivel Inicial, with materials such as needles, yarn and patterns available for use at the school or to be borrowed. This room would eventually become the children’s textile studio, where aunties and educators gathered twice a week with the intention to recuperate familial textile knowledges alongside the children. Knitting has carried a lively presence this year at Santana, and helps us to figure relations with plastics beyond Western recycling frameworks.
IS RECYLCING MAKING THE WASTE CRISIS WORSE?
In the geological epoch of the 21st century now known as ‘Anthropocene’, in which human activity has dramatically shifted the earth’s geo-biospheric systems, the explosive growth of plastic waste materials poses a pressing global crisis. Despite our wish to manage, control, and ultimately distance ourselves from plastic materials through recycling practices, this problem continues to escalate. Though the familiar ‘three Rs’ approach (reduce, reuse and recycle), attracts high levels of attention and compliance, it is ineffective because it takes waste “out of sight and out of mind” and perpetuates consumerism. Recycling behaviours create an appeasing notion of individual morality and ‘good citizenship’, while veiling capitalist systems that create the accumulative logics that now fuel human life.
Managerial and technological solutions to the waste crises are increasingly valorised, yet these solutions perpetuate human superiority from shared ecological worlds and remain situated in human-centered thinking that brought us to this very crisis. Remaining tied to anthropocentric solutions that place waste materials out of sight, humans can continue consuming with less guilt and even less accountability to the ongoing life of plastic materials that continue to live before, during and after human use.
Furthermore, such practices consider waste as static and inert. Yet, like all matter, waste materials transform, and are transforming, both independently from and interdependently with humans. In this way, our lives are inextricably entangled with the materials we produce, use, discard, and then try to manage. At Nivel Inicial, this recognition leads us into a new kind of relational ethics that decentres humans’ actions and attends instead to human-material relations—in what feminist environmental theorist Myra Hird calls an “ethics of environmental vulnerability.”
WEAVING PLASTIC WORLDS
In staying with the troubles posed by an increasingly plastic world, this exhibition avoids the comfort of a final solution or cure to the waste crises that might pacify critical thinking. Rather, our project is a response to the Anthropocene which focuses on cultivating new ways of thinking that radically reconceptualize what it means to be human.
Centering ancestral relations of Cuenca and paying attention to how these traditions are woven with place, in the midst of advanced capitalism, we experiment with the agencies of plastic through artistic weaving processes that stich together/apart familial histories and in-the-moment improvisations. Tapping into the performative possibilities of traditional art practices as a pedagogical response to the proliferation of plastic materials that threatens this community, we attend to the overlapping storylines told by both traditional/local materials and plastics. In other words, our approach does not seek to eliminate, but rather illuminate the complicated and contradictory logics of plastic in early childhood education.
Thinking and theorizing about our relations with plastics, place, and their emerging hybridities through acts braiding, weaving, knitting and crochet, children, educators and families think closely with artistic languages as collective expressions that unsettle waste management logics. We call for an artful attention to the ways in which humans affect and are affected by the vibrant happenings of waste materials, and propose a pedagogical invitation to notice our interdependencies in plastic ecologies.
Text by Alex Berry, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla & Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw
Photos by Alex Berry