Spinning a Yarn or Two: The Subversive Art of Crocheting
Knitting and crocheting - anyone who thinks that these are out of style couldn't be more wrong. Here's a look at some of the Polish artists who have joined the world's trend and taken the old tradition to the streets, literally. Knitting as a street art? No way you say. So let's have a look at what it’s all about.
Over the last few years, a practice called yarn bombing - the use of knitted or crocheted cloth to modify and beautify one's surroundings - emerged in the US and has spread worldwide. Yarn bombers have been seen targeting existing pieces of graffiti for beautification. More often than ever, residents in many cities around the world have awoken to find knitted cozies hugging tree branches, sign poles or local monuments, which gain attention anew.
While yarn installations – called yarn bombs or yarn storms – may last for years, they are considered non-permanent, and, unlike other forms of graffiti, can be easily removed if necessary. So while other forms of graffiti may be expressive, or territorial, and often categorized as vandalism, yarn bombing seems initially to be about reclaiming, personalising and beautifying public places. It has since developed with groups knitting and crocheting graffiti worldwide, each with their own agendas and public graffiti knitting projects.
Agata Oleksiak, otherwise known as Crocheted Olek, is a Polish-born artist living in the United States. According to the artist, she treats her work outside of the yarn bomb movement and she feels that her art explores sexuality, feminist ideals and the evolution of communication through colours, conceptual exploration and meticulous detail. With the old-fashioned technique of crocheting, she has used the ephemeral medium of yarn to express everyday occurrences and inspirations hoping to create a metaphor for the complexity and interconnectedness of our body and psychological processes.
One of Olek's recognisable traits is the bursts of bright colours which often mask political and cultural critiques woven into the fibers of her installations, mirroring her respect for artists and writers. She highlights that which already exists in the current time and environment. Her transformation of public spaces and objects reflects cultural evolution, mirroring the public response, from those watching and from those within the art community.
The artist explains:
My work changes from place to place. I studied the science of culture. With a miner’s work ethic, I long to delve deeper and deeper into my investigations. My art was a development that took me away from industrial, close-minded Silesia, Poland. It has always sought to bring color and life, energy, and surprise to the living space. My goal is to produce new work and share it with the public.
Her intention is clear, and like other artist in today's world working in other mediums, her imperative is to give feedback to the economic and social reality in their community.
Another Polish artist who has strongly worked with her community's response to the world of today is Gdańsk's own Julita Wójcik, better known for her Warsaw Rainbow installation that fired up the public's attention last year. For those of you who have not heard of the events surrounding the piece, the work, a giant rainbow made of artificial flowers was meant to serve as a symbol of peace and tolerance for Polish and European society, unfortunately some didn't see it the same way and the installation became a source of frustration for certain groups in the community who vandalised the piece on several occasions by setting it on fire. To read more about the vandalisation of this piece and the public debate around it, see our article Seven Questions About Poland's Most Divisive Artwork.
Before Rainbow, however, Wójcik took to the art of crochet and adopted it as a critique of its supposedly intrinsically feminine character. She created several crocheted sculptures and wall pieces depicting communist era prefab buildings. Her piece titled Falowiec (Waver), pictured above, is the most frequently loanded out piece of the collection of of the Zachęta National Art Gallery in Warsaw.
Inspiration, however, does not mean affirmation, and Wójcik often engages in criticism of an everyday environment, by introducing an element of irony, playing with scale, surprising material illusions, or reworking a concrete legacy into a knitted form, as if commenting ironically on the monumentality of architecture, in this case. It is no wonder that she has also been called the "chronicler of provincial home aesthetics".
Speaking of home aesthetics, here's Monomoka – a Polish design group known for its unique furniture crocheted out of linen, wool and cotton. Created by twin sisters Monika Gwiazdowska and Katarzyna Gwiazdowska, and in 2008 joined by Piotr Saladra, Monika’s spouse. Graduates of the Department of Architecture at Wrocław Polytechnic, Monomoka's works draw inspiration from biological processes than can be observed in nature. Pieces like the Hive and Artichoke seats, or the kernel-shaped Lentil stool, as well as the Sleeping Mice ottoman, which looks a silkworm’s cocoon and gathers together some 1500 little linen balls, all illustrate a fine craftsmanship of the medium. And even though the production of Monomoka’s furniture is incredibly time-consuming, with each item taking up to a few months to build, the effects are really worth it.
Another artist who has taken the medium as her form of expression is Warsaw-based NeSpoon who uses ornate lace patterns in her unique brand of street art that translates into ceramics, stencils, paintings, and crocheted webbing installed in public spaces. NeSpoon refers to her art as "public jewelry", and not unlike a lot of other yarn bombers across the globe, she sees her work as an act of beautification by turning abandoned and unadorned spaces into something aesthetically pleasing.
Monika Drożyńska, a Cracovian artist, takes a more inner approach and utilises the medium to document a more personal approach. One such piece titled The Rest is described as a work in progress, conducted since 2009. It is a scarf made during leisure time - a scarf which is 5 metres coiled into a roll. It is made with a crochet hook with crewel in various colours, each of which is assigned to the year in which the project is continually being conducted, i.e. 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and so on. The piece is described as an attempt to materialize time, amount of movement and the counting of individual moments between earlier, now and later – between a stitch, a section and a colour. In the course of time, the growing form of the object reflects the accumulated experiences of everyday life. The passage of time and the ageing of the artist benefit the object, which becomes more and more attractive, growing like a tree trunk. To read more about the artist's project in Austria, see Monika Drożyńska's Works in Zurich. More of her works can also be found on her blog, Haft-miejski (literally meaning Urban Stich).
Koniaków Traditional Crochet Lace
Traditionally, one must also remember that the crochet technique, in its traditional ethnic sense, is also very strong in Poland and Koniaków, a village in the Beskid mountain range in the South-West of Poland is the home of this regional speciality nowadays famous the world over. The items of crocheted lace incite the awe of ethnographers, who call them a "world represented through talented hands". The skilled crochet hook operators apply their imagination and sense of beauty and choose from a series of some 2200 patterns to convey the world that surrounds them.
The folk artists are constantly searching for ways in which to adapt traditional ornamentation to fashionable, contemporary forms. This search once resulted in the creation of crocheted lace g-strings, an item which proved controversial as it divided the community. In a talk with Culture.pl, Barbara Juroszek, from the Regional Cultural Centre, commented:
Some said that it’s a disgrace that the same lace that decorated altars and stoles would now decorate… well, something else. Others set themselves to work, creating a collection of women’s and men’s underwear, and the whole scandal basically won this local speciality some major publicity.
So whether you are a folk artist or revolutionary artist who has a different agenda, why not place a slip-knot loop on the hook, pull another loop through the first loop, and repeating this process to create a chain… and the rest, as they say, is history. And like many of the artists mentioned, a rewriting of history that scrutinised the intristic nature of a feminised art form.
…and Karol Radziszewski
Although the examples selected by us are works created by women, there is also a subversive reclaiming of the medium by a man, the Polish artist Karol Radziszewski. In his project, Fag Fighters, by subversing the medium and adopting it in his work, he intercepts and amplifies the stereotype-based conservative discourse – wherein no aggressivity can be ascribed to the homosexual man – and transforms it into an asocial, anarchic and subversive fantasy. Furthermore, in a prologue to this piece, we learn that the pink balaclavas were crocheted by none other than the artist's grandmother, who was completely unaware of the purpose of her work – in this way, Radziszewski highlights the split between his identity and the default perception of the self.
Author: Paulina Schlosser 31/07/2014
Sources: culture.pl, olek.nyc.com, karolradziszewski.com, Haft-miejski.blogspot.com, press release