Knitting Values Installation with an I Love Lucy episode and sound. Size is variable. 2017
This video shows my installation called Knitting Values. Jane Austin made the video for me.
The size varies with the venue. It was produced in 2017 but took years to gather the objects.
This mixed media artwork goes on a side wall of the installation. The title is American Values and it is 48" wide by 66" tall. It is shown in the video as a still, but was present on the left wall.
This Installation is about a neighbor lady that I knew when I was a child growing up in the United States. Her name was Helen and her life was typical of women of that time.
This installation depicts Helen’s lifestyle. The TV, the knitting, her cat and the ceramic knick-knacks were all a part of her environment. She is absent from the installation but her presence is suggested by the cat on the chair and the television playing and an episode of I Love Lucy.
After the Great Depression and the Second World War, Americans found that they had some extra money for the first time in years. Buying ceramic knick-knacks was a cheap and entertaining. These ceramic knick-knacks are racist by standards of today, but when they were purchased, it wasn’t out of malice, but simply because they were thought of as quaint, cute and humorous. However, the effect upon children and grandchildren was insidious as they absorbed the belittling display of attitude towards African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian peoples.
When a couple married, the wife would promise to ‘obey’ her husband. The bride’s father would ‘give her away’ to her husband, thus making the woman the property of the man. We see these attitudes in the very popular I Love Lucy television show which is playing on the TV. The women in this show are depicted as conniving, manipulative, and sneaky. If a wife wanted money for any reason, she would have to ask her husband for it. He could refuse and she was not only expected to accept his decision, but to be thankful that a man would even marry her. Lucy is adept at manipulating her husband, Ricky, but in this show it doesn’t work. Both of the husbands have the final say as to what everyone does on the Mertz’s wedding anniversary.
The church had a great deal of power in those days. Divorce was not an option for the average woman and the church systematically oppressed women with doctrine. This was accepted by the populace at large. It was extremely difficult for a woman to leave her unsavory husband for any reason financially or morally. If she did somehow get a divorce, the home or farm would still belong to the husband, leaving her with the children and no means of support. In this episode of I Love Lucy, Ethel Mertz is alarmed at any mention of divorce and is very clear about not wanting a divorce from her husband, even though she is systematically bullied and ridiculed by him. This was considered funny at the time and a viewer was expected to join in with the canned laughter. This was a very popular television show among women. The ironic aspect of all these values is that Lucy was bullied and beaten in real life by her husband, Desi Arnaz, and later divorced him. She was a shrewd and successful business woman. She commanded a place in the male dominated television industry and in spite of the obnoxious roll of her character in the show she was a skilled comedian when women comedians were rare.
Knitted toys were made by elderly women and donated to church bazaars or hospitals to give to sick children. In other words, women gave these things away for charity and were not paid for their labour, which was totally expected of them by society. These acts of kindness were once a part of the role of women as they aged. The knitted toys were once common but have virtually disappeared from the second hand stores where they were collected for this installation.
The large framed piece hung on the wall contains photos of Helen’s grandson, Jimmy, and herself. Over the years we see Jimmy growing up and Helen growing older. Each of these cards is signed with the names of her daughter Charlotte, her son-in-law Harold and the grandson, Jimmy. Helen’s name appears on none of the cards which diminishes her importance and somehow makes her invisible.
Photography and video by Jane Austin.
Memorial to the Fallen Canadian Moose Moose antlers covered in glitter. Fake fun fur, Steel pipes. 2016
photo by Jane Austin