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Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Downstream by Kris Percival

OBJECT: Toilet Paper

BODY OF WATER: All Over

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Artist Statement

I wanted to explore the ‘preciousness’ of knit goods within the proscribed aquatic theme. Many people think of knitting in terms of quaint baby gifts or treasured sweaters that someone’s grandmother toiled over. When I saw ‘toilet paper’ as one of the Underwater New York objects, I immediately thought ‘why not?’ I used thin cotton yarn and a variety of differently sized needles and stitches to create the distressed fabric I had in mind. Then Keith Carver cut the fabric into pieces, floated them on the water, and photographed them. When I was in my late teens, I was lucky enough to see an exhibit of Mike Kelly’s work at the ICA in London. He had taken heaps of hand knit and crocheted stuffed animals and amassed them in different configurations. Upon seeing them I immediately burst into tears – and I didn’t know why. Later, as I furthered my art history studies, I began to realize that I had responded to what he refers to as ‘the emotional usury’ of the handmade item. I come from a family where it is stressed that true love is displayed by making, not buying, a gift for a person. How I struggled to love some of the resulting gifts! The mixture of guilt and anguish at not being able to do so – after someone had spent so much time and effort on their creation – is what Mike Kelly’s work dredged up in me. But I can’t help myself. I knit for people all of the time and I cross my fingers that they truly like what I make for them. So it was balancing and cathartic for me to knit something as repugnant and ugly as toilet paper, something that has no use or value whatsoever except as a thought.


Kris Percival is an unabashed reader, secretive writer, and discreet observer of the minutiae of everyday life, Kris Percival earned an MS in Education from Hunter College and an MFA in Film from Ohio University. Her knitting books, published by Chronicle Books, have been praised in publications ranging from O Magazine to The Wall Street Journal. She has an extensive background in teaching as well as film production. You can monitor her obsessions (both healthy and unsound) and take a gander at the things that catch her eye at http://www.tumblr.com/blog/lightandtexture.

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