Katherine Knight: Portraits and Collections

Date: February 22 – June 25, 2017
Curated by: Sarah Quinton

Opening reception: Wednesday February 22, 6:30 – 8pm; artist will be present

Portraits and Collections is the culmination of an ongoing project by Toronto artist Katherine Knight. Her multi-dimensional documentation of Jane Webster’s highly personal textile collection and its rural Nova Scotian setting examines the idiosyncrasies of a handcraft craze that was all the rage in Canada 150 years ago. Through her meticulously conceived inventory of 173 stitched decorative mottos, Knight introduces a nuanced reading of the persistence of memory, tradition and narrative. She responds to the allure of this singular collection through photography, video and audio recordings, revealing how the meaning of an object can shift as it passes from hand to hand. Knight has captured the entire collection both as a series of individual objects and as they were hung throughout the collector’s home in their thoughtful, at times witty, groupings – as portraits of a collection. Room by room, she photographed the home’s living spaces where the textiles were kept on permanent display for the enjoyment of family and friends. Knight’s images are transformative records – close-ups of these delightful examples of handwork from another era.

The exhibition resonates with the spirit of the mottos’ anonymous makers through spoken word and musical experiences. At the core of the installation is the multi-media work Forget Me Not. Here, the artist has recorded the at-once distant and familiar voices of four generations of girls and women from Pictou County, Nova Scotia, where the collection is housed. As they recite the mottos through memory, imitation and interpretation, their voices produce a somewhat disquieting air that reverberates across time. In adjacent galleries, new audio recordings of traditional hymns and popular songs, from which many of the needlepoint texts and images are traced, are performed by York University music students, building sustained human connections through the intimacy of individual voices.

Portraits and Collections is Katherine Knight’s way of connecting with and caring for this collection and the collector who selected, lived with, and shared it with friends and family for much of her adult life. As she creates and amasses her own series of images and sounds into a personal body of work, Knight participates in the human impulse to collect. Through this process, she has evocatively called up a past and given it new character by translating tradition, history and memorabilia into a new body of work that extends the reach of Jane Webster’s legacy into a new creative project.

Portraits and Collections is a Primary Exhibition of the 2017 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival.

The exhibition is organized by the Textile Museum of Canada and curated by Sarah Quinton with the generous support of the Anne Angus Contemporary Program Fund. The artist acknowledges the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Ontario Arts Council and York University for the research and development of the exhibition.

Portraits and Collections is a companion exhibition to Kind Words Can Never Die: A Personal Collection of Victorian Needlepoint, curated by Anna Richard.