Crochet World: Interview with Olek
OLEK’s art explores sexuality, feminist ideals and the evolution of communication through colors, conceptual exploration and meticulous detail. OLEK consistently pushes the boundaries between fashion, art, craft and public art, fluidly combining the sculptural and the fanciful. With the old fashion technique of crocheting, she has taken the ephemeral medium of yarn to express everyday occurrences, inspirations and hopes to create a metaphor for the complexity and interconnectedness of our body and psychological processes.
OLEK’s bursts of bright colors often mask political and cultural critiques woven into the fibers of her installations, mirroring her respect for artists and writers. She highlights that which already exists in the current time and environment. As an active supporter of women’s rights, sexual equality, and freedom of expression, OLEK has used the broad appeal of her work to display her solidarity with those stifled by oppressive laws worldwide. Her transformation of public spaces and objects reflects cultural evolution, mirroring the public response, from those watching and from those within the art.
Tell us about your background. How old were you when you moved to the United States?
I grew up in socialist Poland, where I was a creative kid who made things out of thin air, fantasies, dreams, and whatever I could get my hands on. My teachers and friends encouraged me to leave Poland for New York City, and I finally moved here in 2000 when I was 22.
How do you feel your cultural background manifests itself in your work?
The best thing an artist has is the artist’s biography. Though I didn’t like it at the time, growing up in a socialist country made me who I am today. It taught me how to make art out of nothing, which was really helpful to me at the beginning of my career. When I was a kid we had very little, so I would save everything that entered my house and turn it into something else. I remember the milkman bringing bottles every morning. I would save the tin colored tops, then make Christmas decorations out of a year’s worth of savings. I learned that if you don’t have something, you can always find a way to make it.
When did you start crocheting? Do you remember a specific aha moment when you started using this medium as an art form?
It has been said that a skein of yarn struck me in the head like magic dust from an undiscovered planet. I looked up at the stars and picked up a crochet hook. The real story is that I first learned to crochet in the fourth or fifth grade during an after school program. When I got home, I took the hook in my hands and I worked with it until I knew how to use it. However, my real aha moment came when I was studying sculpture in New York. My professor encouraged me to use non-traditional materials, including yarn, rope, and twine, to make a sculpture, and to connect them in any way I could. After experimenting all night, I finally attempted to crochet my sculpture. And it worked! I’ve been crocheting ever since.
What advice would you give artists trying to find their voice?
I think you should try to shut down everything around you, so that it’s only you and the wall or canvas or whatever surface you’re working on. We live in such busy times right now, that we don’t control all of the influences that might have impact on our work, so it’s important to filter it. Albert Einstein really said it best, “Be a voice, not an echo.”
What gets you out of bed every morning? What inspires you the most in life?
There’s nothing really profound, I just wake up because I have to work. With a miner’s work ethic, I delve deeper and deeper into my investigations. My art inspired me to leave my industrial and gray world in Silesia, Poland. It inspired me to expand beyond the gallery walls. My work seeks to bring color and life, energy, and surprise to the living space, ask a question or make a statement. My goal is to produce new work and share it with the public. I want to get to more and more people through my work.
What has been a defining moment in your career so far?
There have been so many projects, like the Wall Street Bull, the train in Poland, my artist residencies, the moment in Rotterdam when I realized my piece would share a wall with Salvador Dali. This whole year has been amazing, especially creating my short film, “In The Blink Of An Eye,” where my work with Syrian and Ukrainian refugees inspired me to explode a crocheted home inside a museum. Ultimately I think everything is interconnected, and I like to think that my next project will always be my defining moment.
What are your favorite pastimes when you are not making art?
I always make art. I'm always working, and every move I make is connected to creating. Art and life are inseparable. I love reading books, but since my time outside hooking is limited I listen to audiobooks while crocheting. I love films so my team is forced to watch movies when we are in a production. I also like to go to art openings with my friends. There’s always something along those lines happening in New York. When the weather is good, I go to upstate New York. I love walking and being surrounded by nature. I love nature, which is why so many of my projects are concerned with the environment.