Don’t Accuse Olek of Yarnbombing!

by Kathryn on May 20, 2011 · 12 comments

in Yarnbombing

charging bull crocheted agata olek Dont Accuse Olek of Yarnbombing!

The New York Times just ran a fresh article about yarnbombing that I found really interesting. We’ll get to just why it grabbed my attention so much in a minute …

First, I want to talk for a moment about why yarnbombing is so controversial. People seem to have a really “love it or hate it” attitude towards yarnbombing. Those who love it think it’s a beautiful way to take needlearts to the street in an activist statement about this traditionally feminine art form. Those who hate it think that it’s a waste of yarn that defaces public property with pieces that may or may not be pretty.

So, the topic is controversial and that’s okay. In fact, I think it’s great. Good art usually is. I’d recommend again that those people who don’t like yarn bombing at least take a chance on reading the Yarn Bombing book (which can be found in libraries) to get a better idea of why people are doing it. But clearly I’m biased in favor of being someone who likes this art form (although I’ve never done it myself.)

So, I have come to realize that yarnbombing is controversial. What I didn’t realize was that it is controversial not only with people who love/hate it as viewers on the street but also with artists who have been accused of yarnbombing and don’t want their artwork to be called that at all. That’s why the NY Times article interested me so much. It quoted crochet artist Olek as being vehemently against having her work called yarn bombing.

Olek (who you can learn more about here) is well known for a few major pieces of work. One is her entire room of crochet in which she has created pieces from movies she’s watched, text messages she’s received, STD status reports and other areas of life. (This installation is about to travel on exhibit but it’s actually available for sale for $90,000.) Another is the brightly colored cozy she made for the Wall Street Bull, which was taken down shortly after she put it up.

The first piece of work can’t be called yarnbombing. It is an artist installation put into a privately-owned space with permission. However the second piece of work would theoretically fit into the yarnbombing category – hitting the streets with guerilla crochet and placing crochet pieces illegally in a public space. That’s the basic definition of what yarn bombing is. And yet Olek DOES NOT want to be called someone who yarn bombs. And I hesitate to say here that it’s potentially a form of yarnbombing because the NY Times article says that this really upsets Olek.

The article continues:

Olek, whose work has been shown in museums and galleries worldwide, considers yarn bombing to be the trite work of amateurs and exhibitionists. “Lots of people have aunts or grandmas who paint,” she said. “Do you want to see that work in the galleries? No. The street is an extension of the gallery. Not everyone’s work deserves to be in public.”

I think this is a fascinating argument. And one that in itself is hugely controversial. Should you have to get approval from the public via a gallery show before doing graffiti work on the street? Who has the right to determine which art is worthy of public viewing and which isn’t? On the other hand, there does seem to be an intrinsic difference between Olek’s crocheted bull cozy (with it’s intricate detail and undeniable technical skill) and some of the random yarnbombs that are placed here and there.

Personally I think that art has room for a lot of different voices. I think that there are people who crochet in the privacy of their own homes and never public display their work but whose creativity is undeniably an art form. I think that there are crochet artists who get permission to do public art pieces (such as Carol Hummel’s current tree cozy exhibition) and this sometimes gets lumped in with yarnbombing when it’s something different entirely because the work has been created for a specific purpose that has been approved and has a deadline for removal. I think that yes, there are people who create really ugly small pieces of crochet or knitwork and they stick it out there in the world and that’s more an act of activism than a celebration of crochet art. But I think that all of this crochet / art is valid for what it is.

And while I don’t necessarily agree with Olek’s point of view about who should and shouldn’t yarn bomb … I do think that she’s an artist who has the right to self-define and that if she doesn’t want her work being called yarn bombing then there should be some respect for that.

What do you think? About yarnbombing? About Olek’s statement? And about crochet as art?

pinit fg en rect gray 28 Dont Accuse Olek of Yarnbombing!

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  1. [...] a little while back when Olek said that what she does isn’t yarnbombing? There’s certainly a case to be made for that since many of her works are public art works [...]

  2. [...] this time last year there was an article that came out about Olek saying that she didn’t want to be called a yarnbomber. I thought it was an interesting [...]

  3. [...] week I came across an article about two women who yarnbombed a tree after being inspired by Olek’s Wall Street Bull. The work doesn’t look anything like Olek’s but it does have a whole story behind it [...]

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