Monday, 4 April 2011

Polish artist crochets her surroundings, one thread at a time

On the second floor of Christopher Henry Gallery on Elizabeth Street, you'll find a room covered entirely in crochet. 

From far away, it looks like a kid's playpen cloaked in colorful baby blankets. But close up, the viewer finds that everything is real — in a corner sits a crocheted toilet and sink; across the room is a bed with the results from a fake STD test crocheted over it.

The 33-year-old Polish-born artist, who asked that her first name not be used because everyone simply knows her as "Olek," said the piece isn't about crochet.

"It's about making art," she said, her long blonde hair cascading over her shoulders, matching her long flowing skirt, which, of course, is also crocheted.

Lining the walls of the makeshift studio apartment are crocheted text messages that Olek has received in her past, complete with the date and time they were sent. As we talk, Olek tidies up the soft room, readjusting cupboards and bedsheets, then perches on the bed herself. She has been extremely busy working on new projects, she said.

Probably lost in the speed of her hard-working fingers, which have crocheted over an enormous amount of surfaces over the past eight years, are countless miles of yarn. Olek has recreated crocheted cars and costumes, but perhaps her most well-known pieces are her crocheted street bicycles.

"I have always been making street art, doing things on the street," she said. "I want to make pieces that get to a bigger, broader audience, because galleries are sometimes limited."

The first bike Olek crocheted ended up distinguishing her approach to her future street work.

"Everything I put in public is temporary, and when I first put this bike up in front of a market it was bright pink-colored, and everyone loved it," she said.

Eight months later, the bike disappeared and it wasn't until later that Olek found that it had been taken down because it had become dirty and had lost its original glow.

"The older things grow, the more people want to get rid of them," she said. "New York is all about the new pushing out the old. I want my work to be ephemeral."

Growing up in Silesia, Poland, Olek was always creating and winning art contests. But in eighth grade, a teacher who valued conservative art discouraged her from entering an arts high school and ultimately an art college. She continued working on her own, however, and moved to New York in 2000, joining an artist residency.

Here she has thrived and exploded with energy — crocheting entire rooms, costumes, bicycles, cars, bridges and even trees.

"I take something with me wherever I go," she said, referring to the crocheted street installations she has brought to various cities around the world.

Rather than judging how long it takes to knit her projects by the hour, Olek said it took her "12 movies" to crochet just one bike.

"I watch movies while I crochet," she said. "My fingers work so fast I can constantly look at a TV screen. I don't even look down at what my hands are doing."

And perhaps this is why Olek's main quote on her website reads, "A loop after a loop. Hour after hour my madness becomes crochet. Life and art are inseparable."

The exhibition, "Knitting is for Pussies," is up until May 2011 at Christopher Henry Gallery at 127 Elizabeth St.

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