Hero With a Thousand Sweaters

When I saw that first “Spider-Man” movie with a friend of mine, I marveled at Peter’s ability to hang upside-down and make out with Mary Jane. Not because of the physics of it, but because she had a boyfriend, Pete’s pal Harry. I leaned over and asked my friend if Mary Jane, then, was cheating on Harry by kissing Spider-Man.

“I don’t think so,” she said after a pause. “I mean, he’s Spider-Man.”

See the lesson here? The lesson all children everywhere secretly hope to someday reveal as truth through a magic ring or Space Age knitting needles or a can of spray paint: that for some special people, the rules don’t apply.

That liberation is what makes heroes the stuff of myth, the idols of everyone tethered to something or other. But because laws are a form of rules, heroes have to hide their identities. And so it’s come to pass that liberation from the rules can only be made possible by wearing a mask, by becoming someone else.

Which is what “Transformer,” the latest show at the Anderson Gallery, is getting at. Curator Amy Moorefield got the idea for the show from watching her children explore their own identities, “realizing they can put on costumes and masks,” she says. She got to thinking about alter egos and began looking for artists who perform the aesthetic equivalent of kissing Mary Jane upside-down.

“It’s really a core component of what we are and how we entertain ourselves,” she says. And the show promises bright colors, flashing images, a comic book made live. Artist collective FEAST creates an alternate reality, a place they call “Mexico,” and photographs their experiences. The six-person group, starring Chris Norris, Stephanie Lundy, Terral Bolton, Terry Brown, C.J. Hawn and Sherry Griffin, craft these worlds that appear to be the distillation of a place and time, be it the 1980s or as a mariachi band in the latest show.”We wanted to mythologize it a little bit and make it lush and lovely,” says Norris. FEAST shows are immersive — whereas First Fridays shows offer pretzels and box wine, the collective puts together events with pretty cigarette girls handing out candy and bowls of doughnuts. This show opens with Rebecca Witt singing.

“Part of the show was the presentation, and that’s where the installation came in,” Norris says. FEAST’s work ushers the Anderson visitor into that alternate mental landscape where they, and the other artists, break the rules of identity.

In video and photos, Bradley McCallum and wife, Jacqueline Tarry, cut off each other’s hair with a razor, a sinister and sensual act; Annie Schap gashes her thumb and uses it to mimic a mouth singing for a video work considering adolescence (and who hasn’t done such strange things while in the grip of hormones?); and Mark Newport knits intrepidly.

Newport has kids, too, kids who are just now at an age where they want heroes to look up to. Newport, now living in Arizona, began thinking about how to protect them, about being a hero for them. And so he began knitting a suit.

“Using pretty much the cheapest acrylic yarn you can get at any craft store or Wal-Mart,” Newport says. He began knitting costumes, superhero costumes like Batman and Superman, this after constructing an entire quilt out of comic-book pages and going through a period of embroidering on the covers of comic books. He admits there’s a more personal reason, too, for the cheap yarn: a memory of his mother using that yarn to create her cable-knit sweaters. “It ties into previous protective gestures,” he says.

Newport learned knitting from his grandmother; it was her way of keeping him and his brother from destroying her house — using their powers for good, you might say. His costumes, and a video of him knitting the costumes, reveal the strange paradox of masking your identity before leaping into action: You have to patiently make your own costume first. Newport’s work, he says, considers the idea of the action versus that two months of knitting.

And in that is the other big contradiction: the bold masculinity of superheroes meeting the quiet, traditional and feminine practices of knitting. You can defy the rules, sure, but you better have a few homemaking courses under your utility belt first.

“The ideas have been pretty much the same, but they’ve grown as I’ve grown,” he says. His suits have evolved, as well. He’s got a series of Sweaterman costumes, notable for being unremarkably beige and cable-knit, as well as a manically colored suit, 10 feet tall, made of the “ends,” the yarn leftovers. That’s Every-Any-No-Man.

“I was interested in the way the size of that piece interacted with the viewer,” he says. When Newport wears the big suit, all soft and baggy, he seems more the wrinkled grandmother than the upside-down seducer. But that, too, is another identity. S

“Transformer” at the Anderson Gallery runs through Aug. 11. 828-1522.


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