Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Performance knitting with StephenBe

StevenB with Wing Young Huie over his right shoulder
Photo by John Whiting
As Steven Berg, he worked in the fashion industry, designing for Monsanto and Versace. He had learned to knit from his mother at age three and was making clothes for his friends' Barbies by age eight. Educated at Parsons and the Fashion Institute of New York, he saw the world on the corporate dime.

Today, as StevenBe, aka the Glitter Knitter, he owns a yarn shop in an old firehouse on Chicago Avenue and is an outspoken, charismatic part of the area's artistic renaissance, along with the Pillsbury House Theatre, photographer Wing Young Huie, and others who are taking a chance in a neighborhood many avoid. (Steven calls some of them "the ladies in their Mercedes.") He believes that gentrification might as well start with him; that there are no mistakes, only variations; that no continuous strand should go unknit.

The night we saw him, he was knitting multiple strands of yarn, plastic tubing, and long strips of clear plastic on custom-made needles that might have doubled as Louisville Sluggers. He was seated on a throne, which suited him perfectly. 

One of StevenBe's creations
Photo by John Whiting
At an event billed as "a live action knitting performance," hosted by Wing Young Huie at his gallery, The Third Place, StevenBe held court for the 60 or so people who came, some with their knitting, some wearing garments they had made under his loose tutelage. Steven himself wore a sweater he called (if memory serves) "Home Movies," being knit in part from 35mm film. Arranged around the perimeter were other StevenB creations: sweaters knit from fabulous yarns and materials including pull chains and hemp (that one an homage to Willie Nelson). 

He regaled us with stories of his life, introduced his staff, and made everyone in the room believe they could knit, should knit, or (if they already do knit) would go home resolved to knit differently, more creatively, perhaps with a bit more flash and pizzazz, and have more fun. 

We talked about whether knitting, specifically StevenBe's creations, were art or craft. No one really cared that much, but the general consensus seemed to be art. 


About The Third Place, from the gallery's website

"The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. Ray Oldenburg ("The Great Good Place," 1989) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place. Oldenburg calls one's "first place" the home and those that one lives with. The "second place" is the workplace, where people may actually spend most of their time. Third places, then, are "anchors" of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction.... Oldenburg suggests these hallmarks of a true "third place": free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars  -- those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there.

The StevenBe knitting night took place on Saturday, March 23. The suggested donation was $5-$10. Boxed wine and simple snacks were plentiful. Afterwards, people hung out upstairs or went downstairs for karaoke and pingpong. 

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