Olek, a 34-year-old Polish-born woman who lives in New York and the UK, has been completely covering objects and people with crochet since 2003. This woman is so prolific we may even call her obsessive; not a bad thing; she certainly caught my eye!
My friend, Jenny T., and I took the overnight Megabus to Washington DC to see Olek’s installation at the Renwick Gallery exhibit: 40 Under 40: Craft futures. She built an efficiency apartment in the first floor exhibit, next to the gift shop, and covered all surfaces in wild crochet including floors, walls, ironing board, iron and cord, lamps, sickle: everything except for the sink fixture. Even the Museum’s stanchion and velvet rope at the apartment door are wrapped. And that sickle? She’s from the formerly communist Poland so there’s more to that, though I’m not sure what it means. A fun part of her installation is that can be viewed from a fake window built to look into the Gallery’s gift shop doorway for a different angle. There’s so much to SEE!
I was first attracted to Olek’s unrestrained use of color and the intensity with which she covers surfaces. (A kindred spirit!) Her installations are over-the-top and seemingly crazy. She creates camouflage patterning based on the look of military garb, with black, veiny, tentacle shapes reaching up and into other colors, much like the shadows in a dense forrest. Her colorful camo “skin suits” are actually sewn onto each model, covering every square inch of the body, face and all. The models, or performers, usually male, wear the crochet in public to get her message across. One’s bladder must be strong to spend a day wearing a skin suit as a performance artist for Olek.
Typically Olek works with brightly colored yarns, plus black and white, to create a camo look even while the base color is hot pink or chartreuse. Her work is something I was calling an example of yarn bombing but she prefers to say her work is fine art and that she’s making a Statement. Olek, evidently, doesn’t like the label ‘yarn bombing’ or ‘yarn graffiti.’ When she speaks of her art she says it is about the human condition, the substance of our inner workings, our souls, energy and intuition, and that it’s far more than what meets the eye. I am attracted to it, anyway, and appreciate that her work is effective on many levels.
This Renwick exhibit has quite a few pieces involving fiber as a medium, including a full-sized, hand-blown glass spinning wheel! It sits like a sculpture on a stand in the middle of one room with a video on the wall, nearby, of it being used. It’s a thing of beauty either way.
The Renwick Gallery is free, and open 10:00 am – 5:30 pm, daily (closed Christmas Day). Address: 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. (at 17th Street) Washington, D.C. 20006. Sadly no picture taking is allowed in the special exhibit however, you can observe people looking at Olek’s work on a closed-circuit, black and white tv monitor. Ok, it’s usually just their knees, but it’s kind of interesting and quirky.
Thanks Kitty for writing this post and introducing us to Olek’s work!