Saturday, March 17, 2012


 Gallerist Benjamin Krause

 David Peterson

Walking around New York City you may happen upon a strange object, a shopping cart, bicycle, or even a car that is completely covered in crocheted yarn. Abstracted and rendered sculpture by the covering, it’s always delighted me to discover one of these items, and I always wondered about how they came to be. A couple of years ago I walked by a gallery in NoLita and inside I saw an entire room covered in the same material, every object wrapped with a snug crocheted cozy all its own, and I was blown away. It’s where I first learned the identity of the mad knitter, Agata Olek.

After a while I discovered she had a facebook page, a rarity for ‘street artists’ due to the outlaw nature of the work. I followed her just to know of any work she was making, and soon I was delighted to see posts showing her working like a rogue ‘Christo’ to cover the Wall Street Bull and the Astor Place Cube.

Last week when she posted a facebook message asking for help with a project, I was too tantalized to resist. I told her I’d be happy to do whatever I could. As I was walking around the next day, I randomly happened to run into her on the street (she is easily recognizable in her homespun clothing) and said hello. She invited me to come to the gallery the day before the opening and help install the show. I said I’d be there, not knowing exactly what was in store but trusting it would be interesting.

On my lunch hour I made my way to the Krause Gallery on the LES. When I first arrived and saw a small group of people inflating balloons, I was a little disappointed. I was excited to see her yarn work and had no idea what the balloons were bound to become. Olek asked me to sit and begin tying inflated balloons together like a chain of sausages and stuffing them into garbage bags. She was milling around running the show, talking with the gallery owner Ben about how everything would work. She would knit the balloons into a structure like a cave, and the walls would have small windows to view the photographs hung outside of the cave, and people would have to duck through the door and kneel to view the work. An it would be ready for the opening the next evening, just 20 hours away.

It sounded crazy and amazing and impossible. But soon Olek went to work crocheting the first segment of balloon-wall and I was entranced. He hands move automatically and so quickly that it’s mesmerizing. Within 30 minutes she’d finished the first wall panel, hung it, and was moving on. Even with the panel in place I had a difficult time imagining how the project would look when complete, if it ever was complete.  I asked how long the balloons would hold air and she excitedly described how the structure would deflate overtime, shrinking and withering and contorting. The unpredictable and continuous change inherent to the materials was one of the most exciting parts to her. After about 90 minutes I left with a promise to come back after work.

Upon my return around 10pm the walls had been almost completely covered. Again I set about the sausage making. Some new help had arrived, and it was a fun and friendly group. People were stopping into the space to see what we were making. At one point a passerby traded a bottle of vodka for a balloon crown, and spirits were raised. In addition to the sausages I made long strings of tied flaccid balloons, not knowing what they were for. They would eventually be used in the frames and the body suits. I watched as Olek steadily churned out the walls and ceiling of the structure, stitching panels together with balloons like yarn. Olek was a great task master, keeping everything fun but making sure everyone was always busy. Just when people started to seem a little punchy or sleepy or too drunk to capably tie rubber nubs together, it was done. It was 3 am and I was standing in a cave made of crocheted balloons with a bunch of strangers who were drinking vodka and grinning like children.

The next night I stopped by the opening briefly just to see people’s reactions. It was a thrill to feel a part of something that people were enjoying so much. The bodysuits she had crocheted out of balloons were being warn and looked insane. I was still suprised to see all the she had done. Particularlly enjoyable for me was the way children marveled at the work. Olek seemed to be enjoying herself too, but was already talking about the next thing she wants to do. It was strange to see her standing still, her hands at rest. I imagine it doesn’t happen often.