Where My Knitters At?

Wall Street Bull covered in yarn by Olek, Christmas 2010

Wall Street Bull covered in yarn by Olek, Christmas 2010

This past Christmas, just before the city got blanketed by the snow storm of 2010, one of New York’s most recognizable monuments got a new covering of it’s own. The Wall Street Bull was encased in a cocoon of yarn in a guerilla art intervention by Agata Oleksiak, an artist who more commonly goes by the name Olek. She said she knit “the Charging Bull as a Christmas gift to NYC and a tribute to the sculptor of the bull, Arturo di Modica, who in another guerrilla act, placed the bull on Wall Street in Christmas of 1987 as a symbol of the ‘strength and power of the American people’ following the 1987 Stock Market crash.”

By now, nearly everyone who lives in Lower Manhattan has come across Olek’s work in the street. A covered bicycle, tricycle, and even a Volkswagen Beetle covered in yarn and parked on the street. A Culture Report reader who saw Olek’s installation as part of Factory Fresh’s Bushwick Art Park in the New Museum’s Festival of Ideas asked if Olek’s work was graffiti, or performance, or something else completely?

Bus in Mexico City covered in yarn by Magda Sayeg

An article in this past Thursday’s New York Times, “Graffiti’s Cozy, Feminine Side”, clues us in on the answer to that question. The article not only features the work of Olek, but also other guerilla knitters operating as part of a widespread cultural phenomenon. As in graffiti culture, there are crews around the world leaving behind their illicit crocheted works around their cities. “In Denver, a group called Ladies Fancywork Society has crocheted tree trunks, park benches and public telephones. Seattle has the YarnCore collective (“Hardcore Chicks With Sharp Sticks”) and Stockholm has the knit crew Masquerade. In London, Knit the City has “yarnstormed” fountains and fences. And in Melbourne, Australia, a woman known as Bali conjures up cozies for bike racks and bus stops.”

In particular Magda Sayeg, “a 37-year-old Texan who is considered by many to be the mother of yarn bombing.” In 2005 Ms. Sayeg knitted a blue-and-pink cozy for the door handle of her shop in in Houston. It was so popular that she began knitting lamp posts and stops signs, subscribing to the label ‘yarn bombing’ in reference to the graffiti term for covering large area’s with one’s tag. In fact, Ms. Sayeg refers to each of her knit interventions as a ‘tag’. “Within a few years, she had tagged dozens of lampposts and stop signs and assembled a crew of fellow yarn bombers she called Knitta Please.”

Magda Sayeg's knit intervention in Bali

Aside from her beautiful work, Magda Sayeg’s greatest success is in organizing and encouraging a community of yarn bombers and in the marketing genius of calling her group Knitta Please. An ironic play on words that is catchy and buzz worthy.  “Fortune 500 companies have paid Ms. Sayeg as much as $20,000 to wrap their wares in yarn. Toyota hired her to knit a Prius a Christmas sweater last year for a promotional video. The makers of the Smart car flew her to Rome to wrap a car in what looked like 1970s-inspired throw blankets, and Mini Cooper recently commissioned a similar ad.”

Despite Ms. Sayeg’s commercial success, Olek has a very different opinion of how she views her own work. “I don’t yarn bomb, I make art,” she continued “If someone calls my bull a yarn bomb, I get really upset.” Olek, instead, opts to exhibit her work in museums and galleries worldwide. What wasn’t mentioned in the New York Times article is that Olek currently has an exhibition at Christopher Henry Gallery at 127 Elizabeth Street in NoLita. Titled “Knitting is for Pus***” Olek creates a world of yarn that envelopes the viewer. But move quick, the show is only up for one more week closing on May 28th.

Olek's Knitting is for Pus*** installation at Christopher Henry Gallery

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