Found on the Fringes
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Category: Arts & Entertainment > Columns
Some artist-provocateurs repulse audiences to the point of morbid fascination, opting to jab the moral boundaries of expression with sharp-tongued lyricism or emotionally crippling footage. But when a defiant work of art is so warm, fuzzy and benevolent you can snuggle with it, the idea of castigating the perpetrator responsible seems like an affront to creativity. The brain practically secretes red flags at the prospect of violating the evolutionary imperative to admire the beautiful and smilingly "g-aw" at the adorable, despite how illegitimate the means of production may be.
I encountered this tempting, cuddly type of art-world scandal on my way to Cheeseboard for a morning pastry. The Vine Street and Shattuck Avenue block is usually a sensory feast unto itself, baked goods and live jazz galore. In a nighttime stealth operation, guerrilla knitters identified only by their anonymous blog, streetcolor.wordpress.com, had wrapped the surrounding area's signposts with multicolored knit cozies so cute they're illegal - literally.
The Cheeseboard "yarn-bombing" incident adds one more stitch to Streetcolor's local knit graffiti repertoire. Their similarly ambitious projects include an ongoing endeavor to envelope all the poles around Colusa Circle, a shopping area in nearby Kensington, with a collection of knit coverlets that will comprise a complete work of art.
Though the authorities technically consider yarn-bombing to be vandalism, Streetcolor's works remain intact thus far, perhaps due to the knitting crew's preference for urban canvases that, if anything, could benefit from beautification. Their knit graffiti tags steer clear of offending the eye; rather than interfering with the established cityscape, the cozies decorate poles as charmingly as Christmas lights.
More openly rebellious knit graffiti from other crews hasn't enjoyed as high a survival rate, like the cozy recently removed from the "T" of the text sculpture "Here and There" at the Berkeley-Oakland border. The proper combination of scandal and enigmatic personas has precipitated influential artistic movements like Pop art, and street art seems to be following suit as more amateur artists pick up stencils, stickers and, now, knitting needles, documenting their work online.
Considered the grandfather of Pop art, the late artist Larry Rivers continues to agitate the public as his potentially incriminating documentary about his prepubescent daughters' breast development, "Growing," makes its way into NYU's archives. An enfant terrible, Rivers anticipated the Pop movement with his then-radical fusion of abstraction with recognizable, often historical subject matter. His paintings, such as "Washington Crossing the Delaware," created a conceptual-meets-kitsch template that would later make Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans" famous.
Like Rivers, Madga Sayeg, founder of the Knitta Please crew and the knit graffiti movement, skirts the law in order to compose her virtually-housed gallery of knit tags photographed in metropolises worldwide. Along with colorful yarn wraps, Sayeg has woven a sizable following of likeminded knitters unfastening the seams between urban art and functional crafting.
By breaking down the barriers of the "hard, masculine public art culture," Sayeg has encouraged people with talent in a variety of media to engage in their own secret beautification of public places. Like Larry Rivers's high-brow-meets-low compositions, her sweet yet subversive ideas provide an easily adoptable framework with the potential to stretch beyond the limits of her craft.
Knit Nastia a cozy for her Cambell's soup can at email@example.com.
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