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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Under Cover of Darkness (March 21, 2012)

They grow overnight, these magic flowers. Within two days I saw three of these giant beauties sprout within blocks of our place. They seemed to be everywhere. They are green yarn creations, transforming stop signs into cheerful seven-foot flowers. I wondered who was behind them, and whether s/he lived nearby.

A year ago I became aware of a similar flower growing out of a corner, and I learned the name of this phenomenon: yarn bombing. Some call it urban knitting. Apparently it is a movement that has grown all around the world in the six years since its seeds were planted. The phenomenon began when Magda Sayek, founder of Knitta Please, brought together knitters in the fall of 2005 to experiment with yarn bombing. Sometimes the bombing is a small gesture that brightens the faces of a few people, like Magda’s first piece, which covered a doorknob. Other times something large is yarn bombed in a big metropolitan city, where thousands see it and its photo is transmitted all over the world. One notable example happened in October 2011 in the middle of the night, because the element of surprise creates more impact. It happened in Manhatten. She came under cover of darkness, armed with materials for change. Artist Olek visited the Astor Place Cube, dressing it in this crochet coat.


(photo courtesy of The Village Voice)

One thing I find intriguing about Olek's choice of the cube as muse is that it is so hard-edged, and there’s a captivating contrast when dark, square-cornered steel meets soft, multicolored yarn. Wrapping it with yarn simultaneously softens the pointy corners of the cube and enunciates them.

Reasons I like the idea of yarn-bombing popping up around the world:

It’s colorful.
It’s playful, and not too serious.
It’s funky.
It’s imaginative.
It’s interactive.
It’s inexpensive public art available for all to enjoy.
It’s art you can touch. No velvet ropes to keep viewers away.
It’s a new take on things we see everyday.
There's thought-provoking contrast between an old-fashioned practice (knitting) and a modern setting (the world at large).

Putting material in unexpected places is not a completely new phenomenon. Remember Christo’s use of fabric to transform hillsides, palaces and even islands all over the world? Among many other international projects, Christo’s Surrounding Islands (1980-3) installation involved the use of floating pink woven polypropylene fabric in the Biscayne Bay off Miami:
Christo and his wife-collaborator (the late Jean-Claude) are environmental artists. Each of the works is designed specifically in reference to the site of installation. Bright colors often have been used against a neutral- or dark-colored backdrop (building or landscape), producing a pop of
intensity.

Many artists install art outdoors but most pieces have a more permanent construction. Christo’s pieces were intended to be temporary, just as yarn-bombed objects will not keep their knitted coats forever. They cannot have the 2000-year lifespan of sequoia trees. The elements cause them to fray and so they are like beautiful flowers you enjoy for a season. Christo had to go through rigorous planning and approval processes in bringing about his giant installations. This is in contrast to yarn bombing, which largely is not a pre-approved project, and which seems to spring up overnight.

The more I thought about the stop-sign flowers growing in my neighborhood, the more curious I became about them. After a little online sleuthing I learned that a local guy named Bryan (“Knitting Guy”) is their creator. He grew up locally and wants to add a little color to the rows of
tract houses that characterize this part of town. He has made forty of them in the last year, with plans to “grow” twenty more with the help of donations. (If I staked out Michael’s craft store long enough, would I figure out who this mystery man is? First I’d analyze the men coming out of Michael’s, since they are a small group as it is. When I had a suspect, I’d peek in his bags for
large amounts of green yarn, and then I’d make my move. Being the quick ninja I am, I’d grab his yarn, tie his arms to his sides with it, and demand to know whether he’s the Knitting Guy. But staking out a yarn junkie sounds time-consuming, so instead I’ll simply appreciate his works and possibly bump into him at Target someday.)

Today I spotted more of Bryan’s creations. I’ll be on the lookout for other treats for the public to enjoy, and I’ll keep you posted.

For now, I’ll share a few photos of creative yarn bombing I found online (if you have several weeks with nothing to do there’s a treasure trove of pictures to check out). Enjoy!

Tree cozy by Carol Hummel:
Smart Car (maybe yarn-wrapped engines stay extra warm and are even more fuel-efficient):

This bus stop is outdoors 24/7 and clearly needed some warmth:
If your bus stop has been yarn bombed, you need a yarn-covered bus to go with it:
Bus was yarn bombed by Magda Sayeg in Mexico City.
(photo courtesy of BNPS The Telegraph)

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