To the performers of Cirkus Cirkör, knitting can be a solution for world peace.
Cirkör is a contemporary circus group from Sweden. The circus’ “Knitting Peace” premiered in America at the Kimmel Center on Friday. The event showcases trapeze artists hanging from recycled yarn with live music, and is part of the 2016 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.
“[Cirkus Cirkör] asks the question: ‘Is it possible to knit peace?’” said Jay Wahl, artistic director at the Kimmel Center. “As we make things in our lives, whether it be knitting, clothes, art or food, we do that because we are striving for something. Their question is, ‘Could those things you make strive for peace?’”
“These are major international artists,” he added. “It’s always great for Philadelphians to realize the international city we are, so therefore, we deserve the best in the world. I think Philadelphia wants to have a deeper connection to what they’re made of. We want to be a part of that.”
While curating PIFA 2016, Wahl said he considered the idea “we are what we make,” and how the things people create affect the world and how the world affects people in return.
Wahl was attracted to Cirkör because of its willingness to reach out to Philadelphia artists to submit knitted pieces for a lobby display at the Merriam Theater. The circus will also take these pieces as they continue to travel the world.
Peggy O’Neill started the KnitKnights, a knitting group that has held weekly meetings at the Conshohocken Free Library for the last 10 years. The KnitKnights submitted 10 pieces to Cirkör for the display.
Part of O’Neill’s motivation to knit are the friendships she’s formed as she meets more “fiber people,” or a community of artists who work primarily with yarn. Submitting work to Cirkus Cirkör was an extension of that network.
“Knitting is such a global community in every way,” O’Neill said. “It doesn’t matter where you live. … Knitting is not native to any one country. It travels all over the world. I don’t think of [“Knitting Peace”] as a foreign production or if that has as much significance as joining the whole world together.”
Cirkör will channel more talent from Philadelphia’s art community with the installation of a white knitted awning on the Merriam created by a team of students from the University of the Arts. Mi-Kyoung Lee, associate professor of crafts and the head of fibers at UArts, led the students in making the creation.
Lee said the collaborative aspects of working on this project, ranging from Cirkör’s blending of visual and performance art to the cooperation she saw amongst her students, was the greatest benefit of this project.
“I think the students’ willingness to learn and engage in another culture was amazing,” Lee said. “The whole metaphor of peace … I think the process put my students at peace. That was wonderful to see.”
Wahl, like Lee, recognized the contrast of the visual and performance art Cirkör provides with “Knitting Peace.” To Wahl, the movements of the acrobats say as much about the concept of peace as the all-white knitted pieces in the display.
“Circus in North America is often about tricks and how bodies can do magnificent flips,” he said. “What Cirkus Cirkör does that I think is so interesting is they have asked if they can use that circus vocabulary to create emotional stories and landscapes, asking the audience to consider things about their own lives and their own bodies.”
Grace Shallow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.