When I meet them, LJ Roberts is sitting cross-legged on the floor in the East Gallery of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in Manhattan. They’re knitting colorful yarn tubes to make a border for a rectangular expanse of black and silver fiber on the floor, which will eventually hang on the wall. Roberts got into a biking accident this morning, and their hands are covered in brightly colored Band-Aids that complement the yarn tubes and Roberts’ pink Barbie-branded knitting machine.
As confused museum visitors walk by, they ask, “But where is the van?” in a manner that reminds me of Ashton Kutcher in Dude, Where’s My Car?; they know Roberts’ piece is inspired by the Van Dykes, a band of nomadic lesbian separatists who traveled across the United States in vans in the 1970s.
Roberts isn’t finished with the piece yet, and that’s the point. They and fellow textiles artist Sarah Zapata are creating their work in real time and in view of museum-goers during their shared eight-week residency at MAD. Their installations, on view through October 15, are part of a MAD exhibition called Studio Views: Craft in the Expanded Field, which offers visitors the chance to watch artists in action.
Born in a suburb outside of Detroit, Roberts, who is genderqueer, now splits their time between Brooklyn and California. They use techniques such as embroidery and knitting to create art that honors queer history.