Kate Just 2021 THE NATIONAL: THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART AUSTRALIA
Kate Just’s Anonymous was a woman is an ongoing work that involves the repetitive production of hand knitted panels (16 x 16 inch) bearing the text ‘Anonymous was a woman.’ It began while Just was on residency at Art Omi in Ghent, New York on June 10, 2019 and continues through to April 2021. Stretched around canvas, each uniquely coloured work resembles a textile plaque. The muted tones of the work refer to a palette of jewels or minerals, natural or long buried treasures. Assembled on the wall in a grid, the works conjure a columbarium or monument to past lives or lost artworks.
The work is inspired by a quotation in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1928). In this feminist polemic, Woolf questions the ways women’s authorship has been judged as inferior to that of men, and systematically made invisible. Woolf says, “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” Over time this quote has been rephrased as “Throughout most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Just states, “Through the making of the work, I meditate upon the immeasurable contributions that women have made to culture and society, and mourn the losses sustained by the erasure or exclusion of many of these gifts from the canon of art history.”
Each panel is comprised of over 17,000 stitches and 25 hours labour. Just produced two panels a week over the course of the year, while juggling parenting, family life and a full-time job. The work is carried and produced at work, including in teaching spaces and meetings, in public spaces, in galleries and on public transportation, and at home over breakfast, or late at night. People witnessing the making of the work are invited to sit beside Just to talk, ask questions, or discuss feminism. These discussions have centred on gender, money, the art world, racism, sexuality, mothers, notable and forgotten women throughout history, forms of privilege that still prevail in feminist spaces, and the exclusions within the term woman. This knitting opens up a space to share the small details of life.
The work figures on Instagram at @katejustknits where the progress of the knitted work unfolds. Posts detail the thoughts and ideas behind each panel, updated statistics on the underrepresentation of women in the art world, as well as reflections on feminism and the artists own life. The work’s positioning within social media posts is both a vehicle for the work and a paradox, as social media spaces often invite distraction, constant scrolling, a loss of productive time, and a movement away from the present embodiment and patience required by crafts such as knitting. Against the odds, the hours in the project simultaneously manifest and make visible the ongoing labour required to sustain an art practice, to overcome barriers to success and to effect forms of social change.
Once completed the project will comprise of 140 panels and two million stitches. Recording more than a year of the artists life. Presented and performing the ongoing knitting of the live work in The National, curated by Rachel Kent at the at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney from 26 March– 22 August 2021.