The last thing New York’s most infamous fabric artist Olek wants to hear is Knitta, Please. That blog, originally attributed to her on this site and others, has nothing to do with the young European artist’s mission: She crochets, not knits (“Knitting is for pussies” reads one of the – what else – crocheted slogans in her Brooklyn studio). So lets just get that out of the way first, before sitting down in front of the last-name-only Olek, whose mermaid hair and multiple piercings are often hid behind a crochet ski-mask during long live “performances” where she creates her transmutable form of object art.
Hailing from Poland, Olek began crocheting in 3rd or 4th grade (she can’t remember), and took to it with an intensity that has her now decorating entire floors, cars, and on several occasions, people. After graduating college, her English professor Kelly Kocinski urged her to move to America, and gave Olek a job crocheting outfits for her dance companies.
Needing a visa to stay in America, Olek attended Laguardia Community College, where she studied under art professors such as Betty Tompkins, Bruce Brooks, and Michael Rodriguez: the last of whom made a spot for her in his Oliver Kamm Gallery showing in 2004, leading to Olek’s first (but not last) New York Times write-up.
But what put Olek on the map for many of us were her bikes, which began as part of her residency near Essex St. in front of the ABC No Rio building. Her 2nd bike on Elizabeth was in front of the Christopher Henry Gallery, where she’ll be holding a solo show in September (not to mention her LMCC workspace residency beginning the same month, and pieces at 3rd Streaming Gallery’s “Bite: Street Inspired Art and Fashion“, “Weaving in and out” with the group No Longer Empty in Harlem, and “Collected: Work Space,” which just closed its show at the Cuchifritos Gallery and where Olek premiered her pink crocheted floor). But maybe we’ve just noticed the bikes because they exist in a public space, making itself part of the city’s architecture instead of being locked away in a gallery only to be seen by those interested in “art.” Because from entire floors to cars to herself and other people, Olek has crocheted bigger things than bikes, and though her work remains firmly in the crocheted medium, the concepts behind them range from text messages to recreations of classic portraits, to an instruction manual written by Yoko Ono.
We sat down in Olek’s studio to get a little bit of background about her life in Poland, why she’s not a fan of collectives, and her amazing ability to crochet for half a day in front of a live audience.