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To the bone

By Sophie Carter

Standing in a wool shop in 2004, sculptor Michele Beevors planned to knit a hat. Then she thought perhaps she could knit something a little more complex...

Choosing the most complicated thing she could think of, a human skeleton, she began a project that would last over 15 years.

Michele Beevors working on the Giraffe

Beevors now has quite a knitted menagerie, including three gorillas, 50 woolly frogs, and a host of other skeletal beasts. Her life-sized giraffe sculpture was inspired by an adolescent giraffe skeleton she saw at Tūhura Otago Museum. More than 70 balls of yarn were knitted to cover the structure, which was made from materials from her Dunedin studio.

Michele Beevors, Giraffe, installation view from Tūhura Otago Museum, 2022

Originally from Australia, Beevors studied Visual Arts at the Australian National University, and obtained a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia University, New York. She settled in New Zealand 20 years ago, and is principal lecturer in Sculpture at the Dunedin School of Art.

Beevors has previously used fibreglass, faux fur, and soft toys to create large-scale sculptures. Her art is embedded with messages, tackling issues such as feminism and cultural politics. Her work, she says “is about extinction of species, ours included.” A skeletal circus elephant balanced on an orange ball is a clear gesture to humans’ impact on nature.

Michele Beevors, Elephant, install view from Tūhura Otago Museum, 2022

Beevors sees a clash between the uncomfortable subject matter and the softness of wool. A knitter since she was young, she describes the activity as “intimate and solitary,” and mentions the importance of making goods by hand “when most of our knitted goods come to us from factories.”

“Each of the works,” she says, “represents a relationship developed through this lengthy process with each animal.” And in the process of knitting, she mourns the passing of the individual animal and the species that will one day become extinct.

“To keep grief present by knitting is both a political and a futile gesture. What after all does a dead giraffe need with a woolly sweater?”

Find Michele Beevors exhibition Good Bones at the Dowse Art Museum until 28 April 2024.

First published in Art Zone #91


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