Precision with an excavator is important on a jobsite. Ensuring the depth and length of a trench or reaching a particular grade is critical.
What if an operator was using a full-sized excavator to hold a knitting needle?
Artist Dave Cole has taken that idea to the extreme a few times over the past 15 years with his art installation known as The Knitting Machine.
It is labeled as the world’s largest knitted American flag. For this year’s celebration of Independence Day, Cole and his team made the giant flag at The Momentary in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas.
Opening in February 2020, The Momentary a satellite to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, is a decommissioned cheese factory turned contemporary art space for visual, performing, and culinary arts.
Starting on Saturday, July 1, and using utility poles as “knitting needles” and two 20-metric ton excavators to hold them, Cole put together the flag.
One stitch is approximately five feet with “yarn.” Cole told Fox News and other news outlets that he was using the material by the yard.
“I’ve got two phenomenal operators who can operate these machines with a precision that I can only imagine,” he said in the Fox News report.
The two operators and Cole worked as a team to bring the piece together. As the machines balanced the poles, Cole managed each knit of the flag from a boom lift.
In celebration of the holiday, the flag was completed on July 4, capped with a fireworks display. It is set to be on display through July 16.
Watch this video from 5NEWS a CBS-affiliated television station serving the Arkansas River Valley and northwest Arkansas:
During an interview with Fox News, Cole noted that he had used textiles and knitting in his practice for 25 years. He described this installation as taking it to the “logical extreme or illogical extreme.”
“It has been a challenge,” he said, noting that the whole process is certainly a workout.
Cole has used the flag as a subject matter for many years.
“I find that it’s rich territory for talking to people about things in a way that maybe they don’t get talked about often,” he said.
Cole recalls the highest compliment he has ever received came from a military veteran.
“A fellow comes up to me and says, ‘I’m a decorated combat veteran and yours is the first piece of art that ever brought me to tears that it represented my experience in a way that no art ever has,” he said.
Cole grew up working with iron in his grandfather’s blacksmith shop in New Hampshire. He has had solo art exhibitions at Mass MoCA, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, and The Norton Museum of Art, among others.
Pieces of his work are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Brown University.
“I think that a lot of contemporary art kind of demands advanced degrees and a complex understanding of art to even engage with it and that’s not what I want mine to do,” Cole said.
“Contemporary art can be whimsical, and it can be joyful, and it can be uncynical and it can be something that makes us look at the world a little differently or something that we think about now,” he said. “Maybe it helps to shine a light on it in a slightly different direction.”
From the start, the artist said the response in Bentonville has been amazing.
“I think there’s a place for contemporary art that’s both intelligent and accessible,” he said. “It often isn’t, but I think there’s…maybe even a need for contemporary art that’s respectful and also relatable.”