Crochet the Change You Want to See in the World
If you think that crocheting is something best left to grandmothers passing time in rocking chairs, you clearly haven't wandered the streets of New York over the past few years. If you had, perhaps you would have seen the rebellious and unique street art phenomenon of New York-based artist Olek, who breaks as many rules with her crochet creations as she can. After moving to the United States from Poland in 2003, she put her vision and offbeat creativity to work, developing a signature style of camouflage-toned crochet objects, landscapes, and living sculptures that are unforgettable, albeit unusual.
Her artwork is as bizarre as it is brilliant, and while crochet art doesn't strike the ear as the sexiest way to make art, the end result of her twisted (knotted?) genius is something powerful to behold. While most people associate crochet with bulky sweaters from doting aunts that are quickly discarded to dusty drawers, Olek takes that traditional art form and brings it roaring into the 21st century in unavoidable style.
The typical static nature of most art hanging on gallery walls makes it a part of the past as soon as it is finished and mounted. Olek lets her art live in various galleries, while also taking it out onto the streets, extending its reach and impact by inextricably tying art to life. Her work has an implied dynamism, even when it is wrapped around a bicycle, stealing its mobility, but giving it a new function.
The first of her pieces to receive notable international acclaim was the piece she created for her first solo exhibition at Christopher Henry Gallery. The show was entitled "Knitting is for Pus****", and the piece showed an apartment of people and things, completely covered in crocheted material. The piece took years of work to string all the skeins of yarn into place, and it is a perfect example of the artist's philosophy behind her work, which is that "Life and Art are inseparable".
The philosophy sounds quite simple, and her use of material may seem like a mere ploy for shock value or purely as an eccentric choice in a modern art market that seems obsessed with the wild and weird, but in fact, the material and process she uses to create her art is deeply rooted in symbolism and her personal philosophy. The patter of weaving that makes up crochet makes the entire work dependent on every link. If you sever one connection, the entire thing falls apart.
One of her most common subjects to cover in crochet is people, and these living sculptures often accompany her installations or they are the focal point, as a way of linking the animate and inanimate parts of the world in one interconnected pattern. There is no way to separate our lives and actions from the objects and places that we inhabit. This message is mirrored in her method of encasing her subjects in yarn, literally knitting it around them; don't look for any zippers or convenient button holes on those camouflage onesies.
Olek's art operates under the idea that art and life feed into one another, simultaneously creating and destroying the other. The strings that tie us to family members, possessions, lovers, landscapes, and professions are constantly stretched in this increasingly globalized world, and our concept of reality unravel as things enter and leave our lives. The knots that hold us in place, either personally, culturally, or mentally, have become tangled through our own actions. It is our responsibility to first recognize our bonds and then free ourselves from their hold.
Her work and philosophy both smack of Surrealism and Pop Art, with a healthy dose of conceptual, metaphysical art school-type flavor, but her personal style is like nothing I've ever seen before. She recognizes and tips a cap to her artistic predecessors, particularly in her found objects becoming artistic focal points, a la the Surrealists and Dadaists, while her integration of art with pop culture would make Warhol proud, although she seems to prefer nodding to Keith Haring, as you can see below.
It might seem like appreciating her art without an impressive art background, a sense of humor, or a few too many pints could be difficult, so sometimes, Olek makes it easy, and puts her message where it's easy to see. She says that a good deal of her inspiration comes from completely banal sources, like text messages or street signs, but in the vast web of her artistic life, everything has its place. She wants the mundane to be as prevalent as the profound in her body of work, and by incorporating all aspects of her worldly experience, she aims to create a meaningful and relevant response to the social, ethical, economic, and political reality of our world.
This gifted artist with decades of potential work still lying before her literally has the world on a string, and the art community, both mainstream and alternative, is excited to see what will next come out of her talented fingers and mind. After all of the deep theories and symbolism connected to her work, a clear question emerges, and one that is worth considering as modern art becomes more introspective and socially commentative; What if Art ruled the world?
To check out all of the strange and inspiring artwork of Olek, check out her website and be sure to keep your eyes open for her artwork as you wander the walkways of life!