May 9, 2013

Life As Yarn People - What It's Like To Wear Olek

Posted by Paul

The opportunity to wear an Olek crocheted suit is a street art fantasy.  When we noticed on Facebook that Olek was asking for volunteers to participate in her crochet picnic performances in various parks in NYC, we loved the idea.  When we saw photos of what the first groups of picnic volunteers were doing we loved it even more.  Then, this past weekend, we got our chance to try our hands at being Olek originals.  It was a magical experience.  Not to nerd out here, but when you've seen Olek's work in the newspaper and on the streets for years and you actually get the chance to experience it, not just in a gallery, but from the inside out, it's pretty amazing.

So there we were in Prospect Park, and up rides Ms. Agata Olek on her bike- all crocheted everything (obviously).  She brought along two crocheted camo suits, a case full of crocheted picnic wares and a coordinating crocheted picnic blanket.  She noted that I looked shorter than in the picture we had sent her.  We found a spot to change, and were quickly stitched into our yarn suits.  The suit fit perfectly despite being vertically challenged.


The rules were simple- relax, be ourselves, and don't talk.  The passersby would interact with the exhibit as they saw fit, and Olek would hang out just far enough away that people wouldn't know she was the mastermind behind the performance.  She would just be crocheting, reading, chatting on the phone or whatever she felt like doing.


I've never done anything acting related in my life.  I skipped my 9th grade play to go on vacation.  When people don't know who you are, and can't see your face, it makes it more relaxing.  The anonymity is great.  We set up our picnic right next to a stereotypical Park Slope children's birthday party.  The kids were instantly fascinated, the open-minded Brooklyn parents seemed to love it too.

What's cool was to see how the different age groups try to come to grips with what they are looking at.  The youngest children, imaginations still intact, asked us how we could eat our crochet fruit and drink our crochet tea without mouths.  They also wondered who created us and speculated that we were aliens.  Others just stared, and waved, and stared some more until their parents dragged them away.

The older children would scream to try to get us to react.  "I think I heard this one talk," a little boy said as we continued to play cards and he continued to yell and roar into my crochet ears.  What's strange is watching parents attempt to explain art to children. Some try to sound knowledgable- explaining in detail to their kids what they perceive Olek is trying to do or convey.  Others just tell their kids that it's art, to be respectful, and ask before interacting or touching anything.  I think I prefer the latter approach.


The high school kids, college age kids, and adults had the reactions that were most familiar to me, because on any other day I would be one of them- amazed by the yarn people hanging out in the park.  "I should have worn yarn today," one girl told her friend, "it's kind of cold, a suit like that would be perfect."  A man walking by talking on the phone stopped and paused, "hey, who's that artist that crochets everything? I can't think of their name but they're doing something in the park... hold on, I'm going to take some pictures."

Being art rather than seeing art is a perspective bending experience.  People don't perceive you as a person, for the time spent in the suits, we were art.  They weren't interacting with us as New Yorkers or even humans, we were objects.  When they spoke to us, they spoke to us slowly and gently, like we were children, or were having a hard time understanding english.  It's so bizarre how a costume can warp the way people act.


About two hours after we started, and I finally felt like I was really getting good at convincingly serving myself crochet wine while entertaining small children, Olek got cold and it was time to go.  But not before making sure we hit up some serious photo ops on the way out of the park.  Cherry blossom festival?  Better with crochet.  Cute bunnies?  Better with crochet.  By the time we left the park Olek was demanding the photos out of our memory card which definitely made me feel like we had accomplished something.


We wrapped our adventure up with a short walk into South Slope in which Olek protected me from oncoming traffic (you can see in the suit but it's certainly not 20/20) and snuck up from behind me, catching me in the act of talking to a neighborhood resident.  "Are you talking?" She asked.  I almost jumped out of the suit.  As her crochet child for the day, I felt like my mom was going to be seriously disappointed in me, but we ended on good terms- at a bar.  The neighborhood got a kick out of us and even after we removed our masks, people were walking by, recognizing the copious amounts of crochet and asking us why we had changed.  Next time, I'll be sure to stay costumed all day and drink through a straw.  Fingers crossed for a next time.

You can see some of our past Olek coverage here.
You can check out Olek's web page here.
You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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