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Stan Shellabarger and Dutes Miller’s Untitled Performance (Pink Tube) 

As we talked about “radical artists who use yarn”, this duo immediately came to mind. So I added this to the “Best of” list. Originally posted on September 29, 2009.

Gretchen Holmes

Since 2003, husbands Stan Shellabarger and Dutes Miller have been crocheting away from each other vis-à-vis a tube of pink acrylic yarn: in their ongoing project Untitled Performance (Pink Tube), the couple sit at opposite ends of an increasingly massive needlecraft and work on making it bigger.  The project emerged at the confluence of sculptural and social questions about time, labor, gender, and materiality and has, quite successfully, remained in dialog with these questions for the past six years.

Miller and Shellabarger

Miller and Shellabarger

By working with traditional craft materials and processes, Miller and Shellabarger align themselves with a tradition of reframing domesticated expressions of creative genius within the sphere of High Art.  This tradition is rooted in the feminist art movement and was pioneered by artists like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, whose work argues to recognize activities like embroidery, china painting, or quilting as creative practices capable of providing the kind of critical, aesthetic engagement typically associated with Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture.  In the fifty years since Womanhouse and The Dinner Party, craft-based sculpture has become a wildly important postmodern genre, and, over the past decade, craft-based work has dominated conversations around labor, globalization, formalism and decoration.

Miller and Shellabarger

Miller and Shellabarger

Material and process connect Miller and Shellabarger with the challenge craft traditions pose to an ideal of creative genius that precludes comparisons of Michelangelo’s legacy with your grandma’s potholder; but pink yarn and crocheting don’t simply link the piece to some postmodern current, they are also shorthand for femininity, domesticity, and marginalization.  As the two men invoke these signifiers, they expose a struggle between queering masculinity and replacing it with conventional femininity: If not blue, then pink?  If not hard, then soft?  If not chopping firewood, then crocheting in front of the hearth?  Where we have become accustomed to celebrating gender and sexuality as a spectrum, Untitled Performance (Pink Tube) suggests that navigating queer masculine domesticity is not a lawless project, rather it is one mapped across already paved ideological paths.

Miller and Shellabarger

Miller and Shellabarger

The pink tube’s sculptural appeal and significance as an ambivalent metaphor for intimacy, the work of a relationship, an umbilical cord, a penis, a baby (and the list goes on) provide more than enough to engage the audience, and the object itself announces the labor and process that Miller and Shellabarger present as performance.  It is fair to question whether the couple’s live bodies merely replicate the tube’s efforts; however, the labor Miller and Shellabarger stage for their audience becomes a public demonstration of queer masculine domesticity.  The men at either end of the soft, pink sleeve activate the object as an extension of their intimacy, and the performance’s informal presentation encourages the audience to converse and interact with the artists.  This may not be a radical approach to process performance or relational aesthetics, but the work’s intimate dynamic creates a setting that is both challenging and tender.