What drew you to knitting yarn around objects?
I mostly work with trees, (and once a vacuum cleaner…but that’s a whole different story). I currently live in the Pacific Northwest – it’s a place like no other! It’s rainy, cloudy, or some version of in between 10 months of the year. This constant stream of moisture produces terrific vegetation – very tall trees, dense greenery, and moss in every crevice. Coming from where I used to live was a bit of a shock. Here it’s lush and beautiful, but also dark…and damp. My primary reason for wrapping the trees was to bring a little more color into my world. During fall, winter and spring the darkness can become oppressive, depressing – it’s everywhere and it’s heavy! I needed color and brightness. I craved light. So, I began by wrapping a few trees in my yard and a few light posts in my neighborhood for fun…just to see what happened. I liked the result.
Can you talk a little on the history/evolution of yarn bombing?
Yarn Bombing is a movement of independent knitters the world over to bring knitting outside its traditional roots, make it more prominent, give it new life. Gone are the days when our grandmothers knit for the home, knit to provide comfort and warmth. Now if we want a blanket, we go to the store and buy one. People like me, who are voracious knitters, knit because we love the craft. We are drawn to the color, texture and pattern, but in today’s world there is no reason we can’t have fun with the craft. I like to think my installations have furthered the movement and pushed beyond the boundaries of craft into Art.
Do you knit the yarns yourself or do you work with a team?
I knit all of my projects myself. I have a manual knitting machine that helps me produce the mass quantities of knitting essential to my work. It’s a bit tricky to operate and when it works, it works well….when is doesn’t, it can be a frustrating disaster! People often think I can just program in what I want the machine to knit and walk away? The answer is no – when I’m in the middle of a knitting project, I spend about 10 hours a day moving the cartridge back and forth myself, changing colors, casting on and off. I do have a small team of workers (who I call elves) who help me wind yarn, sew panels together, install, de-install, and unravel projects when they are finished. They are essential to creating my large scale installations. Don’t get me wrong I love hand knitting, but one knit tree would take a lifetime to make. I usually only have a couple of months to pull off these enormous installations of no less than 50 trees!
Are you involved with a community of yarn bombers?
No, I pretty much work alone. I’m occasionally asked to lend a hand to community projects, but my role is small. It mostly goes like this… “Suzanne, you have a knitting machine. Could you held up knit this large portion of “X” for this project?”
What aspect first drew you to display art outdoors rather than in a more professional environment? What aspects are most important when distinguishing between urban art and other mediums of art?
One of the lures of graffiti art is not having to ask permission to put it up. You can skip the hurdle and pretension of being invited to show at a gallery. There’s a big world outside and the possibilities for display are endless. I began wrapping the trees in my yard with knitting because it was the very environment I was trying to change.
What, if any other, mediums have you worked with?
I have experimented with paper, but mostly on a small 2D scale. I prefer working in 3D. These days I combine with yarn and metal. Welding gives my work a whole new dimension. I’m no longer tied to wrapping existing structure. I can create my own structure for art which allows me to really unleash my creativity.
How does your audience influence your work?
My audience definitely influences my work. I want people to stop and take notice of their surroundings. So often we move through the world and are so focused on where we’re going we don’t pause to take note of the route along the way. When I wrap a tree, people finally see that tree. It stops them in their tracks and makes them wonder why they didn’t see it before. The primary goal of my work is to get people out of their cars and into the park I’m designing the installation for. At the same time, my projects take weeks to install. Each tree is painstakingly hand sewn in place. During the time I’m installing at the park, I’m talking to people, experiencing their reactions, interacting with them, explaining my purpose, sharing opinions. It’s my favorite part of the project. People have very divided opinions, they either love it or hate it, there is no in between.
Is there a specific message you would like to convey through your work?
The message I’m trying to convey is not to take life so seriously. Stop, take a moment, enjoy life, take in your surrounding and appreciate where you are at this very moment. Color is a powerful element in art, one that is underutilized in architecture and landscape. Bright color can positively influence our mood, make us feel happiness and joy much is the same way sunshine can. Living in the Pacific Northwest where it’s dark and dreary most of the year, color and brightness can virtually stop people in their tracks.
What are your thoughts to those who might describe yarn bombing as a form of public defacement?
I haven’t met many people who feel yarn bombing is public defacement. It comparison to other forms of graffiti, it usually temporary, it’s easily removable, and it doesn’t leave any lasting trace. I will admit I almost always ask permission – I’m a girl scout that way. My work is very labor intensive and nearly impossible to install covertly. I don’t want to waste my time creating something that will be removed after just a few minutes. I realize that by asking permission I’m legitimizing my act of installing art. It’s no longer a spontaneous and rogue venture. As my installations become more popular and I’m being invited to create site specific work by businesses, I move further and further away from the graffiti tag.
Has there ever been a moment when you’ve had to defend your work as professional art? If so, describe it.
I have to defend myself as a professional artist all the time. People somehow assume that because I work with yarn that it cannot be classified as art. I’m constantly told that my time and materials would be better spent knitting blankets for homeless people or small hats for premature babies. (Have any of these people been to a thrift store lately? They are full of these items. Go buy one and hand them out as you like. Don’t tell me what to do!) I have to wonder, if I was a painter would I be considered more of a legitimate artist? I’ve never heard anyone critical of a painter go up to them and insist their time would be better spent painting homes for Habitat For Humanity. My experience installing “Artificial Light” in places like Occidental Park and City Hall Park have demonstrated that people’s lives can be brightened by the positive experience of having art in their environment. It brought attention to the people who lived in the park in a way that handing out blankets could never do.
On a day you’re lacking creativity, where do you turn to for inspiration?
My mind is always churning and wrestling to form new ideas. I take great inspiration from nature which requires one to pay close attention to detail, but I also love to work large so my desires are in constant battle. I take inspiration from artists like Claus Oldenburg, Christo, Matisse, Mondrian, and Frank Stella…along with a little Dr. Seuss.
What characteristics do you look for in a public space when deciding where to weave your yarns?
When scoping out locations for my next installation, I’m looking for an underutilized place - a place that people move through, rather than spend time in. There are many reasons why people don’t spend time in a designated area. The root cause is usually some sort of undesirable element - crime, drugs, or homeless people sleeping on benches. It can even be something as simple as it’s too shady because of the trees. People don’t feel safe in an area that isn’t well lit. As population densities increase, we have to make better use of the space. Cities are rated by their ratio of public use spaces (parks, recreation areas) to retail, business, and residential areas. A problem for most cities is utilization of these public spaces. If you put playground equipment in a park you will attract families with children, but that is actually a small portion of the community. The remaining portion of the community is not using the space at all. Cities are learning the importance of programming these spaces for all the public to enjoy.
What changes have you noted in the evolvement of urban art, as well as its audience, over the past decade? What hopes do you have for the future of street art?
Street art and urban art are for everyone to enjoy! Gone are the pretention and exclusivity of galleries with all the mindless chatter of art speak. Urban art sparks conversations about art between real people.
Any upcoming projects we can look forward to?
I’ve been working nonstop for nearly six years now with hardly a break, so I think a vacation is definitely due. I’ve been talking to a few places about creating more site specific work, but nothing official is planned yet. I think you will see me transition away from wrapping existing structure and more of me creating my own forms to incorporate into my fiber art.
Originally published by The Online Urban Museum of Art www.tmoua.org.