Artist Movana Chen is spinning us a yarn – literally. With delicate fingers, she lifts up a six-metre-wide scrap of fabric that, at first glance, seems like an intricate rug fashioned from recycled paper. “It’s not recycling,” she gently corrects. “Each bit of paper in my artwork has a story.”
Chen presents her largest solo show, Kniterature, at ArtisTree this month, displaying knitted projects (some still ongoing) from her nine-year career. For one project, Knitting Conversations, Chen sat down with over 150 people across the globe to converse and knit with them, eventually helping them create a representative work of art created from shredded scraps of their favourite books. Two years later, since the inception of the project, the finished products range from tiny deformed squares to full carpet-length fabrics. But Chen stresses the importance of meaning, not quality, in this project. They are all connected in a 15-metre long piece.
“This man I met chose One Day [by David Nicholls] as the book to knit,” Chen remembers. “I wondered why. Eventually, after knitting and sitting with him for a while, I discovered he identified with the book because of his own similar sad story about him and his ex-girlfriend. These pieces are all about the books, but they’re also about the people who chose these particular books. They’re all my friends, family and also random strangers I happened to meet just by chance. My mission is to connect people through this project.”
Another project, Body Container Comes to Life in Hong Kong, culminated in a short film by James Vyner that shows Chen encased in a full body knitted ‘sock’, created from pages of travel maps. The film documents the various reactions and conversations that take place during Chen’s docking in Central and in markets.
“When I did this in Paris, people were curious and asked about the artwork, the meaning behind it and where they could find my work,” Chen says. “But people in Hong Kong either completely ignored me or asked questions like: ‘Who are you? Can you hear me? Can you see me?’ One man grabbed my face quite aggressively, and some old people offered me water because it was so hot.” Chen’s body containers have been commissioned by Shanghai Tang and displayed at Louis Vuitton’s Espace gallery in the past.
Chen keeps a scrapbook of all the people she’s met over the years who have knitted and shared their tales with her. As a tribute to her knitting elves, Chen has also installed a video screen of 100 pairs of hands knitting, and invited over 50 participants to perform a sort of flash mob knitting show for the exhibition’s opening. She hopes to invite many more literary lovers to take part in this ongoing project, eventually threading together thousands of novels, stories and people.
Kniterature ArtisTree, until Oct 19, islandeast.com/eng/events/venue/artistree.htm.