From John Young Fountain in Montreal to Albert Einstein in Washington D.C. and alligators in Brazil to the Renwick Gallery in Europe and back to her home base in Brooklyn, OLEK has been busy taking the subculture of grafchet (graffiti+crochet) by yarnstorm. She’s an award-winning, highly-educated, Polish-born and Brooklyn-based bad ass, and she’s taking the world of crochet to unimaginable places with her signature patterns, vibrant colors, and rooms, buildings and streets full of her creations.
I interrupted one of her epic movie viewing sessions, so we could chat via Skype while she steady crocheted and provided commentary on the fabrically textured world she’s created.
Take us through your process of creation.
My process is different for every project. I’m actually working while we’re talking. The energy changes from piece to piece. Every project is different.
How long have you been practicing your craft and where did you start?
I moved from Poland to New York twelve years ago totally broke. I covered old furniture in crochet out of necessity. I was homeless a year ago, and I’m doing old shoes now. It’s a New York thing throwing shoes on the wire. I have so many old shoes, so I started crocheting old shoes. Every project is different.
Who coined the phrases “yarn-bombing” and “yarn-storming” and what do they mean to you?
Phrases are just phrases. I don’t like yarn-bombing. It’s cheesy. I much more like yarn-storming. I don’t like the phrases, because they make it sound more like a hobby. There’s a big difference between hobby and doing art professionally.
I see women crocheting on the train pretty often, I saw two kids crocheting at the bus stop today, and yarn installations are starting to pop up all over the city here in Chicago. Do you feel any sense of responsibility for the craft becoming something bigger, something more bad ass, so to speak?
Yea, I feel like I can do it. I don’t want people to start copying me though. Inspired OK, art is important, creativity is important, but copying is not creative. Yarn-bombing started copying me.
The Einstein statue in Washington D.C. and the alligator exhibit in Brazil are examples of your most recent magnificent works. How long does something like that take you, and then, how long do your pieces stay on display?
A couple months for larger pieces; creating fabric is actually a very boring process. They stay on display anywhere from two to twenty-four hours.
I saw two of your crocheted objects, the bike and the boom box, at Robert Fontaine Gallery down at Wynwood. How do you go about choosing what to cover with your patterned material?
He bought the bicycle. I developed the camouflage pattern in 2005. I came to the US in camo pants. There are so many different camo patterns here. As for the objects I cover, I’m making statements. The philosophy behind the bull and the cube during the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement: I liked the concept. In Barcelona, I covered a cat as a gift to myself. With the Einstein statue, I wanted to do something that was not political. Albert Einstein is an amazing personality: his quotes about women inspire. He’s a great mind of our time.
You’re working in a medium that sets you apart from all other graffiti and street artists. How did you come to be where you are in your field today?
I didn’t know about street art until I got here. You put it on the street, you get different interpretations. I’ve thrown installations out the window to introduce passers by to the work. I’m interested in doing art outside: performance art and objects on the street.
You’re a highly educated and award-winning sculptor. How did you come to be so into crochet?
My education is in cultural studies. I wanted to be a costume designer, but I couldn’t afford a sewing machine. I had to make a living, so I invented other ways to create costumes.
How would you describe what you do in the art world?
That belongs to audiences and critics. Time is going to judge you. It’s not what you do now, but in 10+ years. There is no line between life and art. Nothing is private.
Watching movies and creating art is a big part of what you do. What are some of your favorites and who are your favorite directors?
Too many to name, but I’ve been into documentaries and longer series lately for big projects. I’ll watch for 10 days, 7 days, 6 days, all while creating. I love watching and creating, the timeless motion of creating pieces. For directors, I like Woody Allen, Peter Greenaway, Fellini, Bergman, David Lynch. I want to be a film critic.
What’s next for OLEK, and where can our readers keep up with your goings on?
I’ll be in Switzerland for a music festival. Then to Ibiza. Then back to the states for Art Basel in December. Chicago is in my plans. Follow my tweets @oleknyc. My sculptural pieces are available at Jonathan Levine Gallery in NYC. Most people do not know that my work is available for purchase, but that is how I support my big installations. I just misbehaved in Martigny and covered the Minotaur here. I just cannot stop making it happen wherever I go.
OLEK has her work on display in our nation’s capital through February as well:
40 under 40: Craft Futures/Smithsonian American Art Museum/Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW) Washington, DC/July 20, 2012-February 3, 2013