Through the Gendered Lens of Textiles: The Transformative Art of Lucas Morneau

22 September 2021
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If you were to squint at Lucas Morneau’s handmade hockey jerseys, they might look familiar: crew necks, raglan sleeves, a boxy fit designed to fit almost anyone. The colour combinations on the striped sleeves are retro but reassuringly sporty: red, white and navy; Kelly green and yellow; teal and white. None of this is unexpected, until you read the names of each team: The Gayside Gaylords, The Pasadena Pansies, The St. John’s Sissies, The Come by Chance Flamers….

image description: a handmade hockey jersey

Pasadena Pansies, 2020. Crocheted and rug hooked wool and burlap. Lucas Morneau.

image description: a handmade hockey jersey

Corner Brook Queens, 2020. Crocheted jersey (wool yarn) with rug hooked logo (wool yarn, pantyhose, cotton, burlap). Lucas Morneau.

These teams, named after towns in Newfoundland and Labrador, are represented by rug-hooked emblems that adorn each of the fourteen crocheted jerseys that make up the fictional Queer Newfoundland Hockey League. As a childhood hockey fan who grew up to be a trained visual artist and drag performer, Lucas started to question the conventions of speech tied to sport by the language of toxic masculinity.

“I wanted to highlight those pejoratives that are used in locker rooms and on the ice. People still use these words in everyday speech, not knowing that they have a history of homophobia and transphobia. Hockey has this culture where you have to be rough and macho,” said Lucas. “I like being masculine but there comes a point where we have to question if something is masculine, or if it is just aggressive.”

“With the hockey jerseys, I wanted to create something that people would see and think, ‘Oh, that doesn’t look right…’ But then it would lead them to think about the fact that we’ve had teams called the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Eskimos. For years, people have identified that these are not appropriate names, and yet these team names were used up until 2021.” Growing up in Newfoundland in the 1990s, Lucas knit at a young age but did not feel comfortable expressing his love of textiles in public. They learned how to knit from their grandmother and loved it. But in their home province of Newfoundland, they felt heteronormative pressure: “boys are not supposed to be knitting.”
image description: a handmade hockey jersey

Gayside Gaylords, 2021. Crocheted and rug hooked wool on burlap. Lucas Morneau.

Currently based in Sackville, Nova Scotia, and working at an artist-run centre, Lucas now freely experiments with textiles in their interdisciplinary arts practice. While earning their BFA in visual arts at Memorial University, they took a 3D sculpture class with artist Barb Hunt, known for creating knitted landmines. By introducing textiles into sculpture studies, Hunt inspired Lucas to experiment with textiles in their visual art. “At the time, the university didn’t have a fibres course, but she took the opportunity to make the most of it. We learned to embroider to begin to get a handle on sculptural fibre practices, and with her help I re-learned to knit, and how to actually do some things with it.” Formally trained to focus on lens-based work, Lucas found textiles the perfect medium to enhance and personalize their storytelling. They quickly followed their BFA with an MFA in studio art at the University of Saskatchewan. While the MFA program did not have a fibre specialization, students were encouraged to experiment. As a queer man who was active around the drag scene in Saskatoon, Lucas became interested in exploring drag performance as an extension of their artistic practice. In 2017, they began to sew their own clothes for performances and photographs, and eventually challenged themselves to knit an outfit.
image description: three brightly-dressed drag performers, dancing together

WERK OUT!, 2019. Performed during HOLD FAST Performance Festival, St. John’s, NL, Canada. Photos by Jenne Nolan and Graham Cox.

“I started to think that maybe I should pick up crochet, because crochet is a lot quicker than knitting, and it is much more free-form, allowing you to easily create 3D objects.”

During the year that Lucas began to explore textiles and drag in their art practice, they were forced out of the closet to their family when one of their costume pieces, a corset, was shipped to their parents’ house in error.

“They were completely fine with me being gay, but the reaction to drag wasn’t good. In Newfoundland, there are still a lot of stereotypes about what drag is. There are some very homophobic and transphobic beliefs about drag. So, I was dealing with that drama at the same time as trying to figure out if I wanted to work with drag… because I really enjoyed it. Whenever I would have a fight with a family member over drag, I found that crochet helped calm me down. That is one of the reasons that I’m drawn to this repetitive practise.” Teaching themselves how to crochet from YouTube videos, Lucas used the act of crochet to not only meditate on their work as a drag artist, but on their roots as well. They said, “I told myself in my BFA that I did not want to be the artist who makes work about Newfoundland, but here I am. Traditional folk-art crafts, like rug hooking, have been put down for so long, but it’s something that I think should be celebrated.”

The Queer Mummer, their drag persona and ongoing art project, was inspired by an outfit that they made using a loom knitting machine. The loom-knit balaclava reminded them of mummering, a theatrical act performed by costumed visitors who go door to door on Christmas, still practised in parts of Newfoundland, Labrador, and Ireland today. A mummer conceals their identity to those they visit, performing hijinks, music, or dance; asking the host to identify them.

“That’s when I really nosedived into learning more textile practices” Lucas said. “Mummering is ever-evolving, and still flourishing. You can find mummering in Newfoundland, which is different than what happens in Philadelphia, where there are a lot of sequins and feathers. In Newfoundland, people are working-class and don’t have access to certain materials. They just use whatever they find around the house.  A lot of times that ends up being crocheted items. That is one of the reasons that I used crochet: doilies make a huge appearance in mummering.”

image description: a drag performer in a hand-made costume

The Queer Mummer.

image description: a handmade replica hockey jersey

The Come By Chance Flamers, 2020. Crocheted and rug hooked wool on burlap. Lucas Morneau.

The Queer Mummer is memorialized in several of Lucas’s performance and lens-based series. Likewise, their hockey jerseys have become part of a greater project, photographed on hockey cards where Lucas poses as the player featured on each team card, and they crochet a hockey mask to complete each player’s assemblage.

When asked what they are working on next, Lucas replies that they are keen to explore textiles and masculinity in juxtaposition to retro car culture and WWE wrestling. There seems to be endless possibilities for Lucas to explore textiles, sport, and gender norms and heteronormative attitudes through art.

“To see me, a masculine presenting person, crochet in public is considered a radical act, though the history of fibre includes men. It is only in the last 150 years that fibre has become so gendered. Craft, because of its gendered history, and gendered present, is just ripe for activist work. I like art that is pretty and all, but I want it to make you think.”

All images courtesy Lucas Morneau.

Copyright © Leanne Prain except as indicated.

About Leanne Prain

Leanne Prain is the author of Strange Material: Storytelling Through Textiles; Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti co-authored with Mandy Moore; and Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery. Her fourth book, on the theme of creative troublemaking, will be published by Arsenal Pulp Press in Spring 2022.

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