‘Extreme Knitter’ Daniel Nilsson finds rewards in the risk of artistic expression.

By Leslie Petrovski

Publish Date: September 4, 2013

Daniel Nilsson's (B.F.A. ’13) extreme knitting started as a statement
about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of art. Photo: Melonie Mulkey

Irked by seemingly random expressions of contemporary art like Wim Delvoye’s neo-gothic filigreed dump truck, Daniel Nilsson (B.F.A. ’13) brought an old exercise bike to class and began pedaling and knitting.

Amused, his professor at MSU Denver goaded him to take risks outside the studio and “go do something with it.”

So Nilsson did. The practiced rock climber began hanging his bike off trees on campus, Denver city bridges and electrical towers. He set up on pedestrian malls, in front of the Colorado capitol and in fast food restaurants. After receiving a ticket for trespassing, Nilsson took to the wilderness, suspending himself and his knitting off Colorado cliffs and Utah’s sandstone arches.

Although his extreme knitting started as a statement about the meaning (or meaninglessness) of art, it became less about going nowhere on his stationary bike and more about seeing, being seen and performing in different contexts.

“There was no clear meaning,” Nilsson says. “It repeats again and again; it’s the basic cycle of life and death, even cyclical daily routines and ruts. There is something hopeful about a bike suspended for the heck of it and knitting something that doesn’t become anything, just for the joy of the act on an exercise bike because things spin and it’s fun.”

Nilsson has retired his bike in favor of other projects. “I had a lot of fun doing it,” he explains. “But it doesn’t have the same charge. There are things that are much more scary to me now, because I don’t know why I’m doing them or what the world will think of them. I tend to follow the fear. I will look and leap and hope.”

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in Vogue Knitting magazine and is being reprinted with permission.