I arrive at Kirsten Fredericks’ house on a sunny Sunday morning. We’re here to talk about penises. As I’m taken on a tour, I expect to see them peering at me from bookshelves and side tables but they are relegated to a single mantelpiece. These are penises in disguise – willies dressed up as grandmothers in floral shawls with purple wigs and gaudy accessories.
After 14 years of selling scarves and knitting for fashion labels, Fredericks decided to head in a new direction.
“It was a conversation that started it, with a friend of a friend in London. I told him I knitted scarves and clothes for work and he asked if I could knit him a black man’s cock to wear as a scarf. I think he was joking but I said, ‘yep, I can do that’.” Fredericks came back to Australia and realised crochet was far easier than knitting for creating 3D objects. “I went to a crochet class with a wonderful elderly women. She was Christian. I said, ‘I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing’, but she loved the idea. So I made a black man’s cock, a beautiful long scarf with a pink knob and balls and everything. I thought: there’s something in this.”
Since then, Fredericks has exhibited her crocheted penises numerous times and is about to start a monthly Monday night crochet club at The Bearded Tit (she had a display in the window when the bar opened).
“Being female, I’ll never have one so I love looking at guys’ relationships with their dicks. It amazes me – for some people it’s so normal they don’t think about it. Other guys have a real problem with how people perceive them. When those kind of people come across my work, they automatically move to touch it because it’s fluffy, soft and feminine in bright colours. Then they realise what it is and [recoil]. Why can’t they [touch it]? It fascinates me.”
Indeed, the penises are extremely tactile. One mottled, pea-green penis sits upright in a crocheted pot with pink flowers at its tip. Another duck-egg blue penis has a unicorn’s horn; a shapely, black dick has a second, hot-pink penis protruding from in between its black balls.
“What I do – not even consciously – is make them so feminine. Ultimately [penises] are quite ugly looking (even though they are wonderful). So I feminise the whole thing. Not because I hate them. For my own amusement more than anything, to see how far I can take this.”
Fredericks uses vintage angora from the ’50s and ’60s for the colour palette, which she says is completely different. “Wool is used primarily for fashion, the colours you can get now are colours that are everywhere. Stuff like this [she holds up a bundle of a bright salmon wool] you can’t get anymore.”
Ideas will pop into her head and she’ll try and draw them quickly; sometimes they’ll sit there for a month or a year. “I might flick through and think, I’ll build on that one. I’ll look at the colours in it and see what I’ve got that will be good for it. It will end up very different to how it started. Then I’ll put it on the mantelpiece and keep adding bits until it feels ready.
Fredericks has only ever based her work on a real penis once, from a naked man she saw in an artwork. The rest have been from memory. “I’ve been in situations with guys, you know, when they have been fully glorious with their hard-ons and I think, yeah I’m going to do that one. The more interesting ones, I remember the way they bend. It’s just for my own amusement, no one will ever know it’s their penis.”
So is Fredericks trying to get us to the point where we can happily touch a fluffy penis without qualms?
“In my own head, I’m trying to make it [gender] neutral – even though I know I’m not – using a traditional feminine craft with all the pretty colours to make penises. But by being a female, working with a penis all the time, I’ve become so blasé and desensitised.
“My favourite part is definitely adding appendages – like tits on dicks and dicks on dicks. Messing with gender. But that’s me just playing around. Its such schoolgirl humour – well, schoolboy humour.”
Kristen Fredericks is currently showing at the temporary gallery space run by Brand X on level 3 of Central Park in Chippendale.