Olek, the artist, Yarn Bombs Virginia Beach
Today’s post is a bit different than what I normally write about here on Pattymac Knits. Generally I share craft tutorials or recipes or a pattern review or something like that. I’m pretty non controversial and like to keep the timbre upbeat and gentle and happy. Today’s story demanded something more. It’s about my week with Olek. So who is Olek anyway?
I have written before about yarn bombing, and how I LOVE it. I participated in a community yarn bomb last spring and you can read about that by clicking here. Around the same time I got to work on another yarn bomb. I didn’t find out about the project until very late in the game, but I still got to spend a few evenings working on it. I was not allowed to talk about it or share information about it in any way. I even had to sign legally binding paperwork that I would not discuss anything I had seen or heard on the project until it was made public. Very secret stuff. I had planned on going to the beachfront on the day of the big reveal closer to sunset. Then I could get my photos of the final project, and write my story using those photos. There was just One. BIG. Problem. The installation of the final project was started and removed before I could even get down there to see it.
It’s like the whole thing never happened, sort of like being in the middle of a CIA drama.
I didn’t take a single picture of any of it myself. This blog post is constructed entirely on pictures I am using with permission from Olek herself or others who either worked on the project or know the artist personally. I told you this would be unusual. In fact, all the images I’m using were approved by Olek to be part of this story. I’m still honored she previewed my article, and shared her own pictures to illustrate the story.
So let’s meet the artist. Readers, meet Olek.
Yeah. She’s pretty awesome. I would say “Bad ASS” describes her to a tee. You can understand why I jumped at the chance to participate in one of her projects. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and is well know for covering statues in NYC with her signature pink camo. She’s internationally renowned and known. Do a Google search of Olek, and you’ll see what I mean.
Here is her personal artist’s statement that appears on her website, OlekNYC.com
“A loop after a loop. Hour after hour my madness becomes crochet. Life and art are inseparable. The movies I watch while crocheting influence my work, and my work dictates the films I select. I crochet everything that enters my space. Sometimes it’s a text message, a medical report, found objects. There is the unraveling, the ephemeral part of my work that never lets me forget about the limited life of the art object and art concept. What do I intend to reveal? You have to pull the end of the yarn and unravel the story behind the crochet.
My work changes from place to place. I studied the science of culture. With a miner’s work ethic, I long to delve deeper and deeper into my investigations. My art was a development that took me away from industrial, close-minded Silesia, Poland. It has always sought to bring color and life, energy, and surprise to the living space. My goal is to produce new work and share it with the public. I intend to take advantage of living in NYC with various neighborhoods and, with my actions, create a feedback to the economic and social reality in our community.”
Olek was commissioned to create an art installation that utilized a famous landmark in Virginia Beach; the statue of King Neptune. It was to be a statement on the environmental impact we humans are having on the oceans, and what would be King Neptune’s response were he able to talk about it.
I can’t help but say this is extremely topical and somewhat ironic given what’s happening in Florida right now in terms of the environmental disaster concerning the toxic algae.
A purely man made problem that is destroying the coastline and habitat for ALL the animals who live there.
I want to make a special note here. This is extremely important and something left out of every other report you will see on this event. Yes, I think of this particular blog post more as as news article than anything else. The designer of this remarkable statue is Paul DiPasquale, and he signed off on the whole project. In fact, he was honored to have been the subject of one of Olek’s pieces.
Ok, so let’s meet King Neptune.
The city of Virginia Beach is very proud of this statue, as they are of all the redevelopment they’ve done in this part of the Oceanfront. Honestly, I was shocked that the city agreed to allow Olek to cover their pride and joy in crochet camo and lace. I still can’t believe it, actually. And the installation that went up on the 15th of June was supposed to remain in place until after Labor Day. All summer. The height of the tourist season, and the city agreed to cover their statue, their tribute to all things heroic and male centered, with a massive yarn bomb. Something about that doesn’t add up for me, but this is purely my own opinion. I’ve lived here a LONG time, and I know how they operate.
Even though the art went up and came down in an instant, Olek shared her glorious photography of the installation with me. The City of Virginia Beach would like to forget about this and sweep it under the rug like it never happened. Only it did happen. And here is the memory of that finished art in all its glory.
I think if anybody bothered to ask King Neptune what he thought, I am pretty sure the the response would have been, “This is AWESOME! Thanks for getting people’s attention and reminding them the merpeople and the sea life and the reefs really need some help.”
Here are a few more pictures of the statue before the city unceremoniously disrobed Neptune. These photos were sent to me by @rock_paper_scissors_adri on Instagram. She was there and caught the crocheted gas mask. Because you see, the whole controversy is centered on the gas mask.
Olek felt the gas mask completed the piece and the Art Center said no she couldn’t include it. Olek even added lace panels to soften the impact of the gas mask on the delicate stomachs of the city officials. Still, it was deemed to be “just too much” and Olek felt the installation was incomplete with out it. So the city came in and took it all down straight away.
Really city of Virginia Beach? REALLY? It took 8 months and a half dozen phone calls to get the city out to fix a problem with their storm drain in my yard….and that took several days as well as completely destroying my yard to fix. But in 30 minutes flat they can have a crew out there and disassembling an art installation that took 100s of volunteers 1000s of hours to make? Like it never happened. Hmmmmm. I just don’t see how they could have pulled it together so fast. I told you it was like something out of the files in the CIA.
The way the city mobilized, you would have thought there was an imminent terrorist threat. Which is utterly ridiculous when you peel back the layers and see who was actually involved in the project.
Because you see, this installation was created by lots of old ladies and school children. It was exciting for us. We felt like we were doing something special. We felt like we were part of something important. And Olek made us feel like we mattered. She made us all feel like our small contributions mattered. Because the small collective contributions of many add up to a lot.
We were a team. We were a team with people we never even met. We were all working to create a masterpiece in crochet and get the word out to the world that crochet is magical and it says a lot.
Only it didn’t. The people who are in charge decided the collective voices were too controversial and needed to be silenced. Swept away and under the rug. I would never have believed that so many powerful people could be so intimidated by a bunch of women and children and little bit of lace had I not seen it for myself.
The yarn bomb crew was comprised of school children, school teachers, young crocheters, old knitters, people (mostly all women) who donated their time and skill set to work on something bigger than themselves. Then to realize it was to make a statement on the health of our oceans and the negative impact we as humans are responsible for made it AMAZING. Olek shared with me that in addition to the hours and hours and hours contributed by our community, it was only a small part of what was involved in crocheting all the panels. Fully 80% of this installation was constructed in Olek’s Studio in Poland. She committed her team and studio for months to bring this piece together. People out there dedicated months of their lives to this art installation. Consider that for a minute.
Because not all art is purely decorative art.
Yes, you can have stuff that’s pretty and it looks nice and it matches your sofa. Sure. It can be representational and it can be nice and liked by the (largely) uneducated eye of the masses. This is fine. But that’s not all art is designed to do. Art is also there to make a statement. To get you to think about something important. To get you to see something from another perspective and to ultimately open your mind to new possibilities.
Art is not a perfectly curated flay lay on Instagram.
It doesn’t have to be beautiful to be art. It doesn’t have to be representational to be art. It doesn’t have to say something you already agree with to be art. In fact, the best art goes against the establishment and says something hugely controversial. Like this Yarn Bomb. That we as humans are causing great damage to our planet and we need to take ownership of that. And we need to do something about it. Or all parts of all the oceans are going to be like what’s happening in Florida right now
Art is not just staying in your comfort zone; it’s about challenging you to get the hell out of your box.
I’d like to share a gallery of pictures shared with me from Olek herself that show a little of the behind the scenes of the work on the project. And also to share some of the faces of the volunteers on this project. Maybe the city wants to keep it all very quiet and sweep it under the rug, but it’s not right. This project mattered to an awful lot of people who dedicated time and energy to support an internationally respected artist. Thank you Olek for providing the images, and thanks to everybody who worked on this project. People ARE talking about this and are very upset by the way the whole thing went down. You did not work in vain.
The only other city IN THE ENTIRE WORLD to pull down Olek’s work was St. Petersburg in Russia. Yeah. Us and the Russians. Way to go Virginia Beach. Way to go. Take a few minutes and allow the enormity of that statement to completely settle in.
I happen to agree with Olek. The installation is not really complete without the gas mask. It just isn’t. And why is everyone so upset about that anyway?
I’ve already been attacked over this on my own facebook page and had to delete comments. I just refuse to have ugly and attacking comments left to live on my page forever and ever. I also deleted some “friends” and blocked them from seeing anything else I post. I was actually called an elitist bully by one of these people. On my own page. By someone who doesn’t even know me. But what really stuck with me was his insistence that the crocheted work was “ugly” and covering a “beautiful” statue. Completely subjective. I think the crochet work is beautiful. While I can certainly appreciate the skill and effort and investment that went into creating King Neptune, I don’t think I’d say he’s beautiful. He’s a little too naked and macho looking for my taste.
But I respect other people’s viewpoints and would never name call someone something so ugly and hurtful on their own face book page. It’s the online equivalent of walking into someone’s home and insulting them over their own dinner table.
But this is what we have deteriorated to as a society.
Thank goodness we have people like Olek who are still willing to put themselves out there. To take risks. To be all in and say the uncomfortable things nobody wants to talk about or own. It’s so much easier to scroll Instagram looking at pretty bird’s eye shots of some hipster sandwich and coffee. (though, I myself, enjoy a good hipster sandwich and coffee from time to time). But it’s not art. It’s a pretty picture, and pretty pictures are not necessarily art.
Good composition and expert use of the Rule of Thirds does not automatically elevate someone’s work to the level and status of art. That the composition gets you to think and encourages you to see something from a different perspective is what makes it ART.
All is not lost on Olek in Virginia Beach front. There’s still this incredible piece of crochet to go and see.
I have yet to go see the piece above that Olek completed in her residency at MOCA. It’s a crocheted fabric that is a front page of a newspaper. Um yeah. That whole, entire thing was crocheted by human hands. I need to go over and see it and get pictures of it, because it’s amazing. Like Olek is amazing. And like her vision for public art on our touristy, mostly second rate boardwalk was amazing. I will never forget this experience and I hope to keep the memory of it alive, if only in my own little way on this blog.
This is Olek’s artist’s statement on the installation and what was supposed to be displayed next to the finished piece.
“Art in general can inspire and initiate change. Hopefully public art forces people to take a pause and makes them stop staring into the ground or their iPhones. They can focus on the art that is jumping out at them.
My work is never finished – the continuous response of the viewers makes the art. My contribution is the tool that helps people realize their own expressions. I hope that it proves that all things are interconnected. I want to bring color, life, energy, and surprise to the living space. I want to reach more and more people and inspire them to question, think, act and enjoy.
To me, being an artist means having the responsibility to illustrate and talk about the current, not always comfortable, situation worldwide. Since we are facing a global ecological crisis, I wanted to draw attention to the health of our oceans. When you look at the statue of King Neptune, what does he symbolize for you? Do you think he’s happy with the current situation of the health of the oceans? Are there things that you can do in your daily life to help, like limiting your use of plastic bags and bottles? As a lone artist I know I cannot make these statements alone, so I invited the local community to participate adding their voices to mine. If we all work together we can solve issues and make the world a better place.”
~ Olek, June 13, 2016
UPDATE: Since I originally wrote this article the National Coalition Against Censorship has become involved in the process. Click here to read a little more information about their involvement. More developments are sure to come, and I surely hope we can resurrect this fantastic project.