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Dave Cole's Work The Knitting Machine at MASS MoCA
Dave Cole's "The Knitting Machine" presented at MASS MoCA on the 4th of July weekend, 2005. Courtesy of Dave Cole, photo by Arjen Noordeman. © Dave Cole / MASS MoCA.

NORTH ADAMS, MASSACHUSETTS.-MASS MoCA presents a truly monumental and uniquely American sculptural installation by Dave Cole. Cole is in residence at MASS MoCA with his project The Knitting Machine which comprises two excavators specially fitted with massive 20’ knitting needles. The product of The Knitting Machine is an oversized American flag – a flag which can be seen as both a celebratory gesture of pride and a commentary on America’s role in world affairs. The Knitting Machine is one part of a three-part exhibition of Cole’s work at the museum. In addition to the installation, MASS MoCA will show Cole’s Memorial Flag (Toy Soldiers) (2005), a 5 ’ x 9-1/2’ foot flag crafted of 18,000 plastic toy soldiers wrestling beneath an impermeable glaze of red, white and blue; and The Evolution of the Knitting Needle Through Modern Warfare (2001), a convincing display of hypothetical army-issue knitting needles -- what Cole imagines Army needles would have been had the Army mandated them as combat equipment for seven wars, from the Civil War through the first Persian Gulf War.

Cole explains, “The Knitting Machine combines the feminized domestic American tradition of knitting with the grandiose gesture of construction usually associated with masculine labor. The Knitting Machine challenges familiar notions of labor and production, while expressing a complex understanding of patriotism.” When the flag is removed from The Knitting Machine it will be folded into the traditional flag triangle and will be on display in a presentation case which Cole describes as “slightly smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle”, accompanied by the 20’ knitting needles, and a video of the knitting process.

From a distance, Memorial Flag (Toy Soldiers) becomes an impressive display of an American icon, the flag. Up close, Memorial Flag reveals its source of texture – plastic men wielding guns. For the piece, Cole obtained the exact specifications for an American flag from the Government Printing Office and created his piece to those specifications. Cole explains, “Memorial Flag isn’t a representation of a flag or an interpretation of a flag but is an actual flag.” In Evolution of the Knitting Needle Through Modern Warfare -- which Cole describes as “hypothetical anthropology” -- each set of needles references a specific war in American history. The piece contrasts a basic form of production, knitting, with the progress of technology made through war. It is a study of the relationship between technology and violence.

Providence-based artist Dave Cole has made a name for himself by knitting using unexpected materials. His work Fiberglass Teddy Bear, for instance, is a 14 x 14 x 14 foot pink fuzzy bear. As Christine Temin wrote in The Boston Globe, “It looks cuddly enough, but don't get too close. It's made of hand-knit Fiberglas, not a material you want to snuggle up to.” Her review continues, saying, “Cole's message is that a symbol of childhood comfort can turn sinister, that the world we inhabit is dangerous. The huge teddy is, then, the opposite of Jeff Koons's gargantuan Puppy sculptures, benign and intentionally banal. Cole's teddy is one of the showstoppers in this [DeCordova] Annual.”

Cole’s work is testimony to the laborious process of grappling with unlikely, and sometimes unfriendly materials. Whether employing backhoes or individually constructed needles, Cole contrasts the domesticity of both his subject matter and gesture of knitting with the grandiose physicality of industrial materials. Cole’s work is about the repetition of gesture, the challenge of material limitation, and the creation of delightful, unexpected objects. Cole’s exhibition is part of American Traditions, a Berkshire County-wide celebration of more than two centuries of the unique and diverse artistic bounty that only America could produce. The John Deere excavators for The Knitting Machine were donated by Schmidt Equipment in North Oxford, Massachusetts (online at

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