Olek in her installation Homage to Keith Haring, 2011
5 April 1978
Ruda Śląska, Poland
|Education||Adam Mickiewicz University|
|Known for||performance, installation, sculpture, fibre art|
|Patron(s)||National Endowment for the Arts, Fund for Creative Communities|
Olek (born 5 April 1978, full name Agata Oleksiak, and known professionally as Crocheted Olek) is a Polish-born artist living in the United States. Her works include sculptures, installations such as crocheted bicycles, inflatables, and fiber art. Her best known piece is a false apartment in which the contents, including the residents, were covered in crocheting. It was featured in various international media outlets. The work generally includes members of the public or the media, crocheted directly into the suit without traditional fasteners.
Early life and career
Oleksiak graduated with a degree in Cultural Studies from Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland, from 1997 to 2000. Attending LaGuardia College, she won the National Arts Club's award for sculpture. Her early work included sculptures, costumes, and inflatables.
Oleksiak first used crocheting as part of her art in 2003 after moving to the United States. She "wowed critics" at the Williamsburg Arts and Historical Society Surrealist Fashion Show that year. In 2004, Oleksiak created "a large tentlike piece made of crocheted strips of cloth, hair, cassette tape and stuffed animals" work for a four-person show. The New York Times said this work gave the show at 5BE Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan, "a tour-de-force center to work around." Her crocheted sculpture "Spill" (2005), featured in the Washington Post, included 1300 skinny white balloons cascading in an "intestinal shape". She participated in The Waterways, a "socially conscious" art project on a vaporetto water bus during the 2005 Venice Biennale; her work, called "Camouflage", "exploring the androgyny of fixed identity, sexuality, and culture". In September and October of that year, Olek crocheted the windows of a burned-out, abandoned building near her artist residency in Utica, New York. During this period, her costumes for theatre and dance performances drew critical praise, although a dance performance relating to one of her sculptures was criticized.
Olek's crocheted full body clothing, dubbed "wearable sculptures", has been used in various projects where Olek took her participants onto the New York City Subway. Olek's DUMBO Arts Festival piece was "Painting to Shake Hands" on an "event score" in Yoko Ono's Grapefruit. Participants wore her sculptures and placed a hand through a stretched canvas to shake the hands of passers-by. A second performance was dubbed "Crocheted Grapefruit". Performance piece "Thank You for Your Visit, Have a Nice Day", performed on Manhattan's 14th Street during the 2009 event, Art in Odd Places:SIGN, was inspired "by a uniformed attendant holding a "Hold the Handrail" sign in a Taipei metro station". Performers held placards based on signs noticed by Olek that were "emphatic, ironic or amused dialogue with their location."
In 2009, she stated:
I think crochet, the way I create it, is a metaphor for the complexity and interconnectedness of our body and its systems and psychology. The connections are stronger as one fabric as opposed to separate strands, but, if you cut one, the whole thing will fall apart. Relationships are complex and greatly vary situation to situation. They are developmental journeys of growth, and transformation. Time passes, great distances are surpassed and the fabric which individuals are composed of compiles and unravels simultaneously.
While some have drawn parallels between Olek's artwork and yarn bombing, she does not consider her works to be such; she told the New York Times in 2011 that: "I don't yarn bomb, I make art. If someone calls my bull a yarn bomb, I get really upset. Lots of people have aunts or grandmas who paint. Do you want to see that work in the galleries? No. The street is an extension of the gallery. Not everyone’s work deserves to be in public". In 2009, she was a resident artist at Brazil's Instituto Sacatar.
Olek's first solo exhibition, "Knitting is for Pus****", was held at Christopher Henry Gallery. Olek's apartment installation took years to prepare using yarn skeins. It was originally scheduled to run from 9 September 2010, to 17 October 2010, but because of a series of extensions it closed in May 2011. During that period, the gallery exhibited her work at the SCOPE Art Show in Miami. After the exhibition closed, Olek said she wanted to sell the work for $90,000.
In late December 2010, Olek installed a crocheted suit over "Charging Bull" (1989), a statue on Wall Street, as a tribute to Arturo Di Modica, who installed the sculpture without permission. A park caretaker tore the suit from the statue two hours later. Olek was the 2010-2011 Workspace artist-in-residence at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, during which she created and performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In May 2011, she won the "Sculpture In Situ" category at the second Urban Arts Awards (Artaq).
In August 2011, Olek held a solo exhibition at Jonathan LeVine Gallery. She collaborated director Gina Vecchione and producer Michelle Price to create a short silent film called YARNANA, through Kickstarter-based fundraising. "Inspired by the silent film genre, it relies solely on powerful music, sound design and physical expression. The characters speak through modern dance, physical comedy, capoeira, martial arts, poi, belly dancing, breakdance, acrobatics, gymnastics and the instincts of soul searchers." The project's funding was ultimately canceled on Kickstarter, but the film was still created, and it won a film festival award.  Her first solo exhibition in the United Kingdom, called "I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone", was influenced by her experiences while she lived there.
Olek changed materials for a joint exhibition with David E. Peterson in New York City; she used thousands of semi-inflated balloons, crocheted like yarn to create a cave-like structure inside the gallery. The artist noted her love of the ephemeral nature of the medium; the balloons often popped during the creation of the installation, and required immediate repair to prevent it unraveling entirely. The installation will gradually wither. She said that balloons represent "the happiest moments in life — which are often just as impermanent". Some visitors noted a pungent scent of latex. Olek was inspired by her time as a traveling clown for Health Plus, when she would visit poor New York neighborhoods. She had previously used balloons during her residency in Brazil.
Olek is due to exhibit work at Renwick Gallery in a show titled 40 under 40: Craft Futures between 20 July 2012 to 3 February 2013, after which the gallery plans to tour the show. Olek's creative philosophy is that "Life and art are inseparable."
On 6 October 2011, Olek and an aggressive man were involved in an incident in London. She had just donated a work to a charity show when she was arrested and charged with unlawful wounding, unlawful wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and two counts of possessing a bladed article in a public place. Olek was tagged with an ankle monitor, was under house arrest for over a month, but was allowed to attend a show in Poland. As of March 2011, she was unable to talk about the situation. A trial took place in September 2012 at Southwark Crown Court. She was found not guilty of unlawful wounding with intent to cause GBH, but was found guilty of unlawful wounding and is due to be sentenced on 19 November 2012. During this time, she taught Polish prisoners to crochet, and hopes to do the same when she returns to the US.
- "Olek-Info". Facebook. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
- Wendy Goodman (May 2011). "I Yarn-Bombed This". New York Magazine (New York NY: New York Media Holdings). Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- Note that the artists sometimes is listed as being from Silesia, Poland; Ruda Śląska is a city within the administrative division of Silesia.
- Olek, Agata (15 October 2009). "Please, join me! and JUST BRING YOUR CLOTHES". OLEK. New York NY. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
- Olek, Agata (17 May 2011). "Crocheted Grapefruit Performances June 19 (Sun), 20 (Mon), 21 (Tues)". OLEK. New York NY. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
- Caporosso, Michele Wad (13 January 2011). "Crochet art". Vogue Italy. Milano, Italy: Condè Nast S.p.A. Retrieved 6 June 2011.; "Crafting a crochet world - in pictures". The Observer. London. 22 May 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2011.; Parent, Marie-Joëlle (11 April 2011). "De l'art urbain au crochet". canoe divertissement (in French). Retrieved 6 June 2011.
- Dicker, Geoffrey (4 February 2011). "Untitled segment". NBC News at 5 (New York NY). Retrieved 8 June 2011.
- Romano, Jowy (20 October 2010). "The World of Olek". Subway Art Blog. New York NY. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- Olek, Christopher Henry (26 November 2010). Knitting is For Pus**** (streaming video, also as MP4) (documentary short). New York NY: Vimeo. Event occurs at 00:00:10. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
- "Olek". Workspace: Current Session. Manhattan NY: Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
- "Olek", professional resume. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
- "28th Annual Student Show". The National Arts Club Bulletin: 3. Spring 2004. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
- Cukrov, Claudia (7 May 2009). "Crochet Work by Olek". pskf. New York NY. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
- Cotter, Holland (6 August 2004). "ART IN REVIEW; 'The Day After I Destroyed the Women I Wished I Had Not Destroyed Them'". The New York Times (New York NY). Retrieved 12 June 2011.
- Padget, Jonathan (10 February 2005). "Knit One, Swirls Too". Washington Post (Washington DC). p. C05. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- "Waterways 2005 Hits the Venice Biennale". Varaart-issued press release. New York NY: PRWEB. 9 June 2005. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- Gagliano, Maria (5 January 2011). "Made in Brooklyn: Olek". Brooklyn Based (Brooklyn, New York City NY). Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- "Agata Olek Oleksiak". SculptureSpace. 2005. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
- Dunning, Jennifer (14 June 2007). "Sex-Positive Feminism and the Single Snail". The New York Times (New York NY). Retrieved 13 June 2011. "In “Snail” Ms. Anthony slowly moved around the stage in a fantastical piece of looping, wearable sculpture of yarn, rope, twine and wire, created by Agata Oleksiak."
- Dunning, Jennifer (9 December 2006). "The Performer Onstage and Her Image on Walls". The New York Times (New York NY). Retrieved 13 June 2011. "Agata Oleksiak’s costumes, bunched and lacy scraps of white and bright color, added to the fairy-tale look."
- Dunning, Jennifer (21 November 2005). "Disrupting Surprises Pounce Amid Serenity". The New York Times (New York NY). Retrieved 13 June 2011. "The solo was less interesting when she related to a sculpture by Agata Oleksiak - "unwrapped for the first time" on Saturday, the program promised breathlessly - that consisted of a small stepladder wrapped in white muslin and crammed with balls."
- "Art in Odd Places 2009". Time Out New York (New York NY: Time Out New York). 25 August 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Collet, Michele (2010). "The Incredible Crocheted World of Olek". Environmental Graffiti. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Lee, See-ming (16 October 2009). "Agata Olek / 13th Annual DUMBO Art Under the Bridge Festival NYC 2009: Part 8 of 10 / Art + Artists". SML Pro Blog. New York NY. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
- Wollan, Malia (18 May 2011). "Graffiti’s Cozy, Feminine Side". The New York Times (New York NY). Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- "Fairy Tales Are Not Real". INPUT Journal. New York NY: INPUT Journal Foundation. 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
- Note that this is indeed the official name, with asterisks. This represents "Knitting is for Pussies".
- LaBarre, Suzanne (16 May 2011). "An Entire Apartment Covered In Crochet, On Sale For $90,000". Fast Co. Design. New York NY: Mansueto Ventures, LLC. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
- ""OLEK: Knitting is for Pus****" at Christopher Henry Gallery". SOHO Journal. Manhattan NY. 2010. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
- "Olek - Knitting is for Pus**** Closing Party!". Artlog. Brooklyn NY. 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- "Olek crocheted the Wall Street Bull". Bowery Boogie. New York NY. 27 December 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- Blanco, Octavio (28 December 2010). "Cozy Wall Street Bull sends warmest wishes". CNNMoney. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- Ciari, Sabina. "Model/Performance Artist- Wearable Sculpture by Olek". Sabina Ciari portfolio. Behance. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- "Nominated for the Artaq Awards 2011 and winners". 2nd Urban Arts Award. 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
- "Olek: The Bad Artists Imitate, The Great Artists Steal". Jonathan LeVine Gallery. New York NY. 12 July 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
- "YARNANA (Canceled)". Kickstarter. 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
- "Olek’s Next Project is "YARNANA" Film". New York NY: Bowery Boogie. 13 June 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
- "OLEK London Solo Exhibition". Hooked. London UK. Retrieved 28 January 2012.
- "Exhibit: OLEK and David E. Peterson – 2 person show – "Synthethic Nature"". Art In New York City (New York NY). 15 March 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- "Olek’s Crocheted Balloon Funhouse at the Krause Gallery". Bowery Boogie. New York NY. 16 March 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- Shapiro, Julie (16 March 2012). "Balloons Replace Yarn in Crochet Artist Olek's New Show". DNAinfo (New York NY). Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- Tetzloff, Adam (17 March 2012). "Olek". Downtown at Dawn. New York NY. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- Zuckerman, Esther (17 March 2012). "Olek Inflates Her Work At New Show". The Village Voice (New York NY). Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- "40 under 40: Craft Futures". Renwick Gallery. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. 2011. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
- "WHY do I need your help?". Olek's appeal. London UK. 8 December 2011. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
- Gray, Rosie (14 December 2011). "Crochet Artist Olek Is in Legal Trouble in London". The Village Voice (New York NY). Retrieved 19 March 2012.
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