Tidewater Women’s Stephanie Allen spoke with Polish artist Olek, who’s currently based in New York, about her influential crochet pieces and her latest project in Virginia Beach that will raise awareness about the local waters.
TW: Tell us a little about your background. Where are you from?
O: I was born and raised in Poland, and actually 16 years ago I moved to Brooklyn.
TW: How long have you been crocheting?
O: I started at different times in my life: when I was probably in the third or fourth grade and then I did a few different times in my life.
TW: Crocheting is just a hobby for a lot of people, but for you it’s your life and your work. Do you have any hobbies?
O: I don’t have time for hobbies! I don’t know—I do yoga but I mostly do yoga because it’s good for staying strong and in good form, so I have to do it. I do biking, but as a commute between my studio and my work. Everything I do can be related to my work. Last December I learned how to knit, and I joked that knitting would be my new hobby.
TW: Describe the moment when you realized that your crocheting can be used as a powerful means to get a message across.
O: It was when I moved to New York. I realized I can connect pieces of crochet, and I only need one tool that’s like 50 cents or even work with my bare hands. Really that’s how I started; it allowed me to create something out of nothing. Crochet is the way that I communicate with the viewer. It’s like my language.
TW: What influences do you have for your work?
O: I like to think that’s really what surrounds you, the air you breathe, what you read, the news, even the weather creates moods. This year I was in Brazil and I was in India and I created a totally different piece based on the culture. Even in Virginia Beach, what I’m making is really connected to the ocean here.
TW: Tell me about that project that you’re doing here in Virginia Beach.
O: Well, I can’t tell you everything. So one of the pieces is the wall that I’m putting up. I was thinking, what would the world be if we have one day with only good news? If all the news stations and T.V. would just say the good stuff? And so I created a crocheted newspaper dated 2020 with all good news about the environment, but I have to inspire people with this. Wouldn’t it be a perfect world if all this would happen?
TW: Why is it important to you that the community get involved in your projects?
O: This project I did on my own, but the other is about environmental issues, and as an individual person I can’t change the environment. We all have to work together. We can bring awareness of the current situation of the ocean, for example. We have to do some major changes, like let’s try to ban plastic bags. It’s a very easy step to do, but it can have a major impact on the environment. So we have been collecting plastic bags and crocheting out of plastic.
TW: Do you have a favorite project so far? Why?
O: I always say my favorite project is the next one. But I’m really excited for this one [in Virginia Beach]. I’m going to be real excited to be installing the piece.
TW: What do you hope people will take away from seeing your work?
O: I like to say that if I get a penny for every time I see a smile on somebody’s face, I’ll be set for life. What’s the message? It’s how can they be better people and be more aware of the environment and the choices they make.
TW: So my last question for you is what is the most important thing you want Tidewater Women readers to know?
O: The most important thing: anything’s possible. Think big, and dream big.
TW: Awesome. Well thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me this afternoon, and I look forward to seeing the big unveiling of your project on June 16th.
O: All right, I will see you there!
Don’t miss the unveiling of Olek’s community-based project on June 16, and keep an eye on MOCA’s Facebook page to find out the surprise location.
Olek: Public Art Installation • On view thru December 2016 • Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, 2200 Parks Avenue, Virginia Beach • 757-425-0000 • www.virginiamoca.org ($)