I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen

I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen (2011) was my contribution to the group show, the DarlingARCADE, which used the device of a shoe store to involve visitors in an virtual exploration of a particular neighbourhood, in this case, the Griffintown location of the Darling Foundry where the show was sited. The installation consisted of a series of single shoes, each linked to a shoebox ‘cabinet of curiosities.’ Altered, designed, beautified, made monstrous, shoe and shoebox together served as an artist’s interpretation of some aspect of Griffintown. An historic Montreal neighbourhood that until the middle of the 20th century had been home to may of the island’s working class Irish-Canadians as well as an industrial hub, the since-deindustrialized Griffintown was exploding with gentrifying condominium developments. Responding to the history of the place as much as to its overwriting by property speculators, the fifteen participating artists created audiovisual dioramas as well as hands-on experiences for visitors to the event, presented over the weekend of the Journées de la culture/Culture Days, September 30 – October 2, 2011.

Titled for a favourite Irish folksong, I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen — sung by stars as varied as Elvis Presley and the Platters — begins with the Irish heritage of Griffintown and Irish cultural traditions of textiles and dance to propose a story of immigration and longing that is enacted through knitting.

Dancing Shoes
Irish step dancing shoes, loaned for the occasion by Rossetti’s.

The single shoe on display linked to the box, which features an image of water – the nearby waters of the Lachine Canal or perhaps the watery divide of the Atlantic Ocean, that separated the Irish immigrants from their homes and families, usually forever.

I appreciate that the photo of the water’s surface is somewhat abstract, a visual metaphor for a kind of storytelling distance, a “once upon a time”-ness that is embedded in this work.
While many of the boxes provided audiovisual spectacles, mine asked something of the visitor – that they try their own hand at making. (Instructions were provided in the text and I hovered near by to offer a hands-on demo, if indicated.)

Inside the box, the visitor encounters a length of knitting on needles, a text that tells a story of an imagined Irish immigrant girl, and an invitation to add to the work.

This young knitter was among the most committed of participants, resolutely staying at the task until she completed a whole – LONG! – row. New to knitting, she worked with concentration to form each stitch; her work was more careful than most others who took part.

As thanks for participating, each visitor was offered a small skein of Aran-style ivory wool to take away as a gift. Over the course of the weekend, several dozen participants added rows to the piece, extending its length by multiple inches. A lifelong knitter myself, I was surprised to find out how few were familiar with the practice, despite its contemporary resurgence in hipster craftivism.

Developed as part of Urban Occupations Urbaines (curated by Shauna Janssen), the DarlingARCADE project was conceived by Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard, visual and performance artists of 2boys.tv, and of course references Walter Benjamin’s considerations of the arcade as a trope of urban modernity, linked to questions of consumption and the flâneur, that metrosexual dandy who strolls through the city for his own amusement.