Yarn Bombing Los Angeles (YBLA) will cover the facade of the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) at 5814 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA in crocheted granny squares for a public art display that will unveil on May 25th, 2013 and remain up until September 14th, 2013.
CAFAM Granny Squared is a ground breaking, temporary public art installation on the Museum Row in Los Angeles, CA. This is a community-based project that anyone can contribute to, and anyone walking on the street can enjoy. The project is designed to bring together a community of artists and crafters who otherwise might not have had access to exhibit their work in a museum. So far over 500 crafters from 50 states and 25 countries joined to crochet 12,000 5inch granny squares. YBLA hosts community meetings at CAFAM every 3rd Saturday, 3-5pm, that everyone interested in the project is invited to join in on sewing the grannies together and preparing for the event.
On a conceptual level the project aims to question the boundaries between art and craft, use scale and color to play with artistic, architectural and institutional identities. YBLA suggests a parallel between how the Craft and Folk Art Museum is dwarfed by the grandiose structures and other museums across the street on Museum Row, and how craft is dwarfed by traditional notions of “high art”. To deconstruct this dynamic, YBLA will be covering CAFAM in brightly colored, oversized granny squares and other colossal graphic patterns to visually turn CAFAM into a dollhouse and thus "shrinking" it even more and making a commentary on artistic and institutional identities associated with craft, a lesser art form by manipulating architecture, often regarded the highest art form.
After de-installation, the crocheted squares will be sewn into blankets and distributed to the residents of Skid Row. Please stay tuned for more details on the second phase of this project which will culminate in Skid Row around Thanksgiving 2013.
As Yarn Bombing Los Angeles we are very much interested in the push and pull that exists between domestic crafts and street art, “low art” and “high art”. Much of our work blurs the boundaries between craft and fine arts within a public art context. The goal of this particular project is to deconstruct the perception of craft and folk art versus contemporary art practices by playing with architectural identity.
Craft and folk art has had an enormous influence on the modernist painters that defined mid-century American art and thus contributed to New York dethroning Paris as the artistic capital of the world. Similar to Picasso and his contemporaries drawing inspiration from African masks, many mid-century American avant garde artists collected folk art. Moreover many patrons of the new American modernist art such as Mrs. Rockefeller also collected folk art. Although craft is often dismissed as second tier to "high art" forms such as painting and sculpture, numerous manifestations of craft have been integral to experimental artistic practices in the past decades. Many trail blazing artists such as Claus Oldenburg, Yayoi Kusama and Mike Kelley as well as most feminist artists of the 60’s and 70’s have appropriated aspects of craft in their genre defining practices.
In this light, a parallel can be drawn between the hierarchical perception of crafts vs. high art and the perception of the smaller CAFAM building vs. other larger museum buildings across the street. In an effort to deconstruct this misperception, YBLA would like to design a project to exaggerate the existing visual qualities of the CAFAM building through manipulation of scale and color. The building already looks dwarfed by the grandeur of adjacent steel and glass buildings, some of which take over entire city blocks. We want to amplify this discrepancy in scale by covering the building with oversized granny squares and make it look even smaller and also homier. The architectural qualities of CAFAM already make it look like a cozy cottage that belongs in an idyllic countryside or fantasyland versus the midst of a bustling urban center. We want to add a heightened sense of playfulness and frivolousness with the bright colors of the granny squares.
During the Granny Squared CAFAM installation, our goal is to make the museum look like an oversized dollhouse stuck in the city. The purpose of the granny square installation is to create a spectacle in an effort to encourage audiences to take a closer look at the building, how it comes across, what it encompasses and what it represents.
When Yarn Bombing Los Angeles put out a call for participation for CAFAM Granny Squared, never did we anticipate that over 500 individuals would sign up to send us 15,000 pieces of 5 inch granny squares! Before this, our most participated project has been Yarn Bombing 18th Street in 2011 with 65 participants. So, we would have been content with 100 participants!
However, we did expect to attract an eclectic group of cohorts as yarn bombing often does. In its seemingly odd juxtaposition of knitting and graffiti, often associated with opposing concepts such as female, granny, indoors, domestic, wholesome and soft vs. male, enfant terrible, outdoors, public, underground and edgy, the practice of yarn bombing redefines both genres. Yarn bombing transforms knitting (or crocheting) from a domestic endeavor to public art, recontextualizing both knitting and graffiti, both of which are marginalized creative endeavors that fall outside “high art.” As such, yarn bombing is the perfect medium for a public art project that aims to question the boundaries of contemporary art practices, high art and low art.
As anticipated, CAFAM Granny Squared attracted a diverse group of participants in terms of geography, age, socio-economics, education, skill level and involvement in the art world and involvement in the project as well. Our project reached out to 49 states and 25 countries around the globe. We received crocheted granny squares by high schoolers interested in the handmade in the digital age, seasoned crafters who have been crocheting for decades, others who learned to crochet just to participate in this project. Many had never exhibited their creative output in a public venue before. Yarn Bombing Los Angeles asked for 5 inch granny squares in specific colors to create a particular design as per our mock up. While some participants contributed a single square, 50 people crocheted over 100 squares each. Two individuals were so enthralled that they made 600 pieces each! Participants from all over the world interacted with Yarn Bombing Los Angeles and each other through social media, and local participants got together in Stich and Bitch parties at the Craft and Folk Art Museum and other locations all over Los Angeles to work on the project together.
Yarn Bombing Los Angeles shared the process of CAFAM Granny Squared with daily updates on social media, where some of our participants noted that we had a hard time receiving squares from Iran because mail from Iran to the US is prohibited. Lo and behold, 13 granny squares created by 10 individuals from the city of Shiraz in Iran made it to us in Los Angeles, CA by exchanging hands between suitcases and friends of friends, showing that art transcends and subverts the geopolitics of postal systems! A young neurologist in nearby rural Turkey found out about our project and integrated crochet into her patients’ physical therapy routine to utilize a skill they already had and stimulate them with a creative outlet. Apparently her patients were quite proud to be part of an international public art project, despite living in remarkably isolated circumstances with little access to culture, where the nearest movie theater is hours away. Most notably, our local community of participants included a group of visually impaired students at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles, CA, where their instructors guided each student by individually holding their hands and taught them to crochet granny squares.
The overwhelming response to the project turned it into an organism of its own. Crocheting 15,000 squares undoubtedly was a major undertaking for our participants. On our end, receiving and processing that many squares became quite the task. Many participants became repeat offenders and sent us weekly packages for periods of time. Between November 2012 and March 2013, Yarn Bombing Los Angeles received up to 30 packages a day in our studio at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, CA. The postmaster and the office manager at the 18th Street got to be our best friends! For about 4 to 5 months the opening of packages, documenting granny squares received, registering them in our database, posting images on social media, sorting and storing material and corresponding with participants online and in person became an intense full time job. Sewing them into the colossal patterns up to 10 feet long to slowly bring our mockup to life was another major undertaking Yarn Bombing Los Angeles tackled in numerous Stich and Bitch style sewing parties.
Moreover, we initially intended to put up the installation ourselves using existing hooks and protrusions on the façade of the museum. If the city came to take it down, that’d go with the ephemeral nature of self-initiated public art. As urban interventionists, we understand that once we put our work out there the ultimate fate of our work is beyond our control. Yet, once the scope of participation became apparent, with so many contributors partaking in such a project for the first time, investing so much time and effort with such enthusiasm, some even making plans to visit Los Angeles to see the installation, we owed to our extended community to approach the mechanics of this installation differently. We had to apply for proper city permits, which called for us to hire a licensed contractor, which in turn necessitated a budget of thousands of dollars. Yarn Bombing Los Angeles has been proud to put on many spectacles for little or no budget, now we had to be wizards of fundraising!
As CAFAM Granny Squared is a self-initiated and self-produced project, it fell on Yarn Bombing Los Angeles to raise the funds. We produced a short promotional video and successfully launched a USA projects campaign. As efficient and frugal as we are, putting up a public art display on the façade of a museum is expensive! Members of Yarn Bombing Los Angeles also pulled together resources and took on some odd jobs to make money for the project and applied for some grants. Next, we hired a structural engineer who specializes in architectural preservation and having worked on projects such as the Watt Towers, confesses to having “a soft spot for funky art projects” like ours. He brought on his equally accomplished contractor and together they drafted a plan for us to submit to the city for the permitting process. While the city permits require some budget and labor to follow through, we found out that it is indeed certain steps along the way to acquiring the permits such as having to treat the crocheted yarn with fire retardant solution and submitting samples of treated knit material for professional testing that can be extremely labor intensive and more expensive then several of our past projects all combined.
We are still in the process of processing the permits and prepping the installation materials. We plan to have the installation up on the façade of the Craft and Folk Art Museum May 25th to July 1st, 2013. But the project is far from being over once it’s down. We had initially figured that after deinstallation we’d reconfigure the crocheted squares into blankets to give away at Skid Row. But now that we have more than twice the squares we need, the second phase of the project is likely to spread out and become a major endeavor in and of itself. We are currently in talks with various organizations serving the Skid Row area. Our plans may expand to workshops for Skid Row residents and will most likely keep us consumed with the project until December 2013. At this time we plan to wrap up the project in early 2014 by printing a catalog of the entire process. Until then, the project goes on…
April 23, 2013
Los Angeles, CA