I have been involved for a couple of years in an online art group called @platea. I’m part of their steering committee and earlier this year, devised and led a performance called #PlateaKnit on 25th -29th January 2010. As our strap line says, “@Platea is a global collective of individuals interested in the power of public art carried out in the digital megacity of social media.” But what does that really mean?

@Platea was founded by New York artist An Xiao in 2009 in response to her feeling that social spaces online (Facebook, Twitter etc) had become new forms of public spaces. Like any other public space, these social media platforms allow users to meet with friends, people watch and connect with others. The main difference is one of scale and access: all you need is access to a computer or a mobile phone to join in. In founding @platea, An wanted to explore how these new public spaces could become sites for public art.

Some of the projects can be subversive, tucked away in hidden locales in online space for only the most dedicated to find. Others can be overt (but not obvious), causing most daily users to pause and take notice. Some can be playful. Some can be serious. Some “local”, some “city-wide”. Almost all, we hope, will challenge members of the digital city in the same way the best public art does.”

#plateaknit wristwarmer, copyright Ingrid Murnane.

Some of our previous projects have included The Great Yawn, a flashmob status update over Twitter; Co-Modify an imagined sponsorship by big-business as a commentary on the commodification of social media and as an extension, our lives and more recently The Dive which took advantage of the ‘real time’ feeds of Facebook and Twitter. Take a look at the @platea blog to find out a bit more.

…but back to the knitting.

Project VI: Plateaknit

I had been thinking for a while about combining social networking and knitting more than I do already, by crowd sourcing tweets to make a knitting pattern. I thought that I would decide on a basic pattern to follow, perhaps for a hat or scarf, but would receive the instructions for any other details from my twitter followers. It was something which I’d sort of done before, with the aid of a few friends, but not on such a scale.

I mentioned it to An Xiao and the rest of the @platea Steering Committee and although not all knitters they thought it could be an exciting idea to try out over Twitter. Thus was born the first @Platea Project Space residency.

@plateaknit by Christi Nielsen. Used under Creative Commons Licence.

The idea was to perform #plateaknit by crowdsourcing knitting instructions and make up designs via the Twitter hashtag #plateaknit. There were two types of participants in #plateaknit: instructors and makers. @Platea asked the instructors to use the hashtag #plateaknit when they gave the makers abbreviated knitting instructions in a tweet. These were be picked up by the makers and incorporated into the piece they were knitting, or making in some other way. Although we primarily made use knitting abbreviations, it was important that makers used whatever media they liked to interpret and perform.

I performed #plateaknit as both an instructor and a maker. The project gave myself and others the freedom to instruct in uncommon ways and without necessarily knowing how others would interpret it or indeed if they would at all. Due to none of us knowing how the finished items would turn out, the conventional order of succession of the pattern, and even the usual abbreviations within the language of a knitting pattern were suspended.

Plateaknit 2, copyright Joanie san Chirico.

Several things stood out from the volley of instructions given across Twitter. As well as the conventional knitting recipes tweeted, there were instructions which pertained to transient events which even now are no longer current and that may in the future defy easy explanation or interpretation. The two main examples were Apple’s launching the iPad and the UK’s Iraq Inquiry. Some people gave instructions to knit morse code too (to document such things as what you had for lunch), but unlike our interest in Tony Blair’s apparant misdoings, lunch remains a constant.

There was also the option of ReTweeting an instruction at will, in order to repeat it:

RT @Bungy32: Weave an 8″ bit of yarn into the next 9 stitches. Let leftover tails dangle on RS of piece. RT this instr. to repeat. #plateaknit

Plateaknit Scarflet, copyright Elseline T

I felt that the instructions given by those who were not knitters were particularly interesting. Although some did make use of ‘conventional’ abbreviations, most gave us rather more interesting tweets including the following:

Hello #plateaknit crew! For the next row only: close yr eyes & trust yr inner-knitter (@sortingtrolley)

#plateahat, copyright Ingrid Murnane

As knitters we are used to following a pattern, but this was really different. In being a maker, I dipped in and out of the feed, as and when I was on twitter. I knitted for about 5-6 hours each of the five days and ended up making two hats, some wrist-warmers and starting a full-instruction scarf too that you can knit yourself from the final recipe here [link to plateaknit recipe]. Initially I had chosen two greens as my base colours and knitted predominantly with them. I changed colours when instructed, adding and subtracting stitches and yarns, and interpreting others’ instructions as I pleased. I did wonder though, whether my instructions were being influenced by what I was making, rather than the other way around. For instance, I fancied a bit of zing in my hat, so I tweeted an instruction to ‘make the next five rows sparkle’. I’m not sure whether that matters or not either.

There were a lot of scarves knitted from the instructions and a long, flat item does lend itself to the instructions rather well: much like a visual print out. There were also interpretations in beading and a lovely drawing too.

Hat by _randomthoughts. Used under Creative Commons License

I think that artist, Christi Nielsen summed up the project best of all when she described her #plateaknitting as ‘a roadmap, of sorts, of your tweets the last few days’.

Here’s mine.

Copyright Ingrid Murnane.

You can see more of the #plateaknit objects on the @platea Flickr pool and if you would like to get involved with our future projects, then be sure to follow us on Twitter.

I’d like to say a big thank you to all of the #plateaknit performers: both instructors and makers who made this project such a success and to An Xiao for letting me be the first resident for @Platea Project Space.

If you’d like, you can make your own scarf by following the #Plateaknit Recipe pattern on knitonthenet. I’ll be publishing it on here tomorrow too, if you can wait that long!

Getting the lowdown on #plateaknit
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