Cold Comfort was a site specific work for the Old Melbourne Gaol. The work consisted of a long white scarf-like piece of knitting which hung from an iron bar between the stairs, facing the gallows. The piece trailed down to the floor and then back up to a small table where it was still attached to the handmade knitting loom that was used in it’s creation. Next to the loom were printed instructions, glued to the table. This invited viewers of the work to participate, continuing the knitting.
The work was an attempt to inject some warmth and humanity into the cold, solid gaol. As the piece developed, it introduced growth and movement into a place devoid of life and hope.
The knitting itself referenced the fact that women prisoners were set the monotonous tasks of making and mending their own clothing as well as making shirts and waistcoats for the male prisoners. The warm, knitted fabric also offers some protection to the cold temperature inside the gaol, while the soft white material contrasted sharply with the hard, dirty fabric of the building. Cold Comfort’s position and installation also mirrored the white hanging rope of the gallows opposite.
The work referenced care packages sent to prisoners and refugees while the act of knitting itself created a bridge between the participants and each other, between the participants and those who lived and worked in this place. Labour intensive repetitive tasks were often given to prisoners to break their spirit and wear them down, here instead Cold Comfort provided a calm, gentle task to allow for space for contemplation. However, the action of the participants, sitting and knitting at the loom cast them in the role of a Tricoteuse, the women purported to knit between hangings during the French Revolution. The table and chair was set up in a prime viewing spot for the hanging act itself.
The work was created on a handmade loom, rather than on knitting needles, referencing the fact that prisoners are not allowed to own anything that could be used as a weapon. The loom itself was created following the tradition of prisoner ingenuity in constructing items from materials that can be begged, borrowed or stolen; the wood for the base was found at the university and the dowel pegs created from scraps from the studio.
Cold Comfort was installed in the Old Melbourne Gaol as part of the RMIT Masters exhibition Grimland, 13 September – 12 October, 2012