Kitsch and Tell

words and photos by Amanda Green | Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Don’t let that Volkswagen parked in front of the Christopher Henry gallery in New York City fool you. Yes, it’s covered in colorful crochet from hood to bumper. Yes, it’s meant to entice you to check out the rest of the exhibit by Olek, a Polish artist with a penchant for yarn bombing just about anything that’s stationary. But this is not your granny’s crochet.

The exhibition is called “Knitting is for Pussies.” To any DIY maven, this should be fairly self-explanatory. Crochet involves keeping one live stitch at a time on a single hook, whereas knitting relies on two needles to keep an entire row of stitches live at a time. Knitting is easy to screw up; crochet is hardier. If one stitch breaks, it really only affects the stitches on either side of it. It won’t ruin the entire goddamn blanket.

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Crochet produces thicker fabric with more yarn more quickly than knitting and allows for easy joining of different pieces of fabric. (A good thing when you don’t have hours to stand on the street and crochet an entire bicycle in one go.) The final KO in the crochet vs. knitting match: unlike knitting, many crochet stitches can’t be crafted by machines. It’s handiwork or bust.

Olek says that she uses crochet as an alternative to other mediums. The fabrics she weaves are a metaphor for the interconnectedness of the human body and all of humanity. When worn as clothing, her crocheted work is a second skin that can stretch to fit various bodies.

The first thing one sees in the gallery is a miniature studio apartment — nay, an average-sized studio by New York standards — covered in garishly colored crochet that looks moreĀ Beetlejuice than “home sweet home.” The entire structure is covered in crocheted yarn or plastic bags. Before entering, shoes must be removed or hospital booties donned to protect the crocheted floor. A crocheted pedestal tub is occupied by a model in a face-obscuring crocheted body stocking. The bathroom sink and toilet are crocheted. A television and phone are crocheted. There’s a clothing rack (crocheted, even as skinny as it is) hung with crocheted clothing that looks like something the Dr. Seuss characters Thing 1 and Thing 2 might wear.

Knitting may be for pussies, but crochet is all about the pussy. The apartment walls and doors are covered in framed photographs of models nude but for some crocheted clothing and crocheted timestamped text messages Olek has received: “Ur pussy is my soul mate,” “I just wanna turn u on as much as I can,” and the profound, if debatable, “Soul is the part of you that sees a lap dance every time you close your eyes.” Is this crocheted art or a steamy Prince song?

More framed photographs and videos of Olek’s work await upstairs, including fast-forwarded videos of stitches coming together to make brain-like fabric shapes. Visitors can also leave the gallery with a city map that shows where else Olek has struck downtown Manhattan. This is the madness and fluorescent labor of Olek’s art. She adds miles of yarn to everyday objects and repackages life into something more worthy of sight and touch. See for yourself until October 17 at the Christopher Henry Gallery (127 Elizabeth Street) in Soho. Olek has more work on display until November 6 in the “Bite: Street Inspired Art and Fashion” exhibition at 3rd Streaming (10 Greene Street) nearby. Be on the lookout for crocheted bikes in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, too.

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