Artist Janet Groenert makes bears, flowers, and fashion out of caution tape


Caution tape may conjure grim images of crime scenes for some, but when St. Paul artist Janet Groenert sees it, she thinks of flowers. (Twelve years of working with the tape will do that.) These whimsical creations will be part of the “Art of Stitch and Hitch,” an exhibition opening this Saturday at Art at 801 Gallery in Minneapolis.

The Art of Stitch and Hitch

801 Art Gallery

The MCAD alum (who spent her college years working on media art) first began using caution tape in 2004 while trying to put together a fashion portfolio.

“None of the clothing was interesting, so I started making it out of non-wearable materials: paper, then plastics,” she says. In addition to caution tape, bright orange snow fence reels served to create outfits for attendees of a Walker Art Center party.

“When I was making those, I was cutting the tape into strips and hitching it on or weaving it through, and I realized it was made so you can tear it. If you’re on a construction site, and you have to quickly put up a barrier, you might not have a knife. I started playing around with how to tear it different ways,” she says.

This experimentation resulted in flowers framed on nine-inch quilting hoops, mounted on metal stems.

The bright-yellow blooms punctuated by black lettering have appeared at the Art Shanty Projects and as a 33-flower plot installation. Outside, the flowers bend as they are blown about, adding an aura of aliveness. Inside, they’re static.


Groenert is particular about her tape; some plastic won’t withstand weight. Surveyor’s tape is too soft. In order for it to “stick out” like it should, it has to be thick. Small rolls of danger and caution tape can be purchased at most hardware stores. Online, she’s found a wider variety, and has begun incorporating new messages, like “Sewer Line Below” and “Buried Water Line” into her work.

In addition to flowers, Groenert has made a bear pelt from the tape. She also helped knot the Polar Bear Pedal Bike’s “pelt” of recycled plastic at the Art Shanty Projects. For the “Stitch and Hitch” show, she’s working on a map-inspired square piece mounted on snow fence. “I’m looking at elevation and using that as a delineation for changes, whether I’m tearing the end or rolling the tape up to see if it will change the texture,” she says.

Groenert, who uses the front room of her home as her studio and stores all these creations in her garage, is attracted to 3-D art because “it’s a different kind of presence. I can interact more with a three-dimensional work than I can with something on a wall,” she says. “Another thing I like about public art is that it can be experienced tactilely.”

Even in her day job at the Science Museum, Groenert encourages up-close-and-personal interaction with art. Her duties include managing materials and maintaining inventory of paper, rope, and plastic sheeting, among other items. “We try to use a lot of recyclables at the museum and build up our storeroom so we have materials available for whatever we want to do rather than source them when we need them,” she says.

Up to 20 of Groenert’s pieces will be on display at “Art of Stitch and Hitch,” along with work by Gail Baar, who designs abstract quilts inspired by music, and art by the Mermaid Clit Collective, a queer embroidery group.


"Art of Stitch and Hitch"

There will be an opening reception Saturday, February 27 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Art at 801 Gallery

Through June 4