by Jessica Schouela
On October 14, as part of the University of St Andrews’s 2015 research seminars, Shetland-based American artist Roxane Permar delivered a talk titled “An Art of Place”, in which she traced her creative interactions with various communities in the Shetland Islands and, more particularly, with Shetland Island knitters. Permar discussed her engagement with the knitters as collaborative research that sought to revitalize and celebrate the history of the artistic tradition. Describing her practice as faithfully as possible, she drew a distinction between works that are site-specific and her artist-led projects that aim to create and respond to situations and to interrogate a landscape as a way of evoking traditions and memories, hence her phrase: “An art of place”.
Mirrie Dancers – the Shetland term for The Northern Lights and the name given to a project led by Permar and her former student and multimedia artist Nayan Kulkarni – was commissioned by the Shetland Arts Development Agency, with the condition that the project be a social and public interrogation into light. Between 2009-2012, Permar and her collaborators installed temporary illuminations in ten different public sites across Shetland as well as permanent interior installations that projected delicate knit patterns produced by lace knitters in the community.
While, admittedly, it is true that community projects such as these do raise ethical questions, what is clear is that both artists delivered fine outcomes in their culturally sensitive projects and facilitated encounters that were ultimately both encouraging and fruitful. Additionally, it should be noted that both Permar and Clintberg were first to acknowledge that the collaborative core of their works was the foundation for the success of their projects. In this way, significant attention has been given to sharing credit for the objects or images that act as final, testimonial documents of the meetings and congregations that fueled and materialized the works. Before long the respective islanders not only engaged generatively with the projects, but also helped to assign a new role for artists as mediators of communal activity and, more than anything else, as metaphorical seamsters of creative encounters.
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