In Conversation with Polish Crochet Artist, Olek

Olek's park installation ‘Believe the Magic’ with the Tipi Project, photo via instagram @oleknyc

If you don’t believe the magic, it’s likely that you will after spending any increment of social time with Olek. For the past twelve years, the magic she makes comes from the craft of crocheting. When I sit down with her in Greenpoint’s Lomzynianka Restaurant,  I realize her magic has a deeper source—it’s rooted in her humble upbringing, in which everything around her was fair play as materials for creation. She hops off her bike, meets me at a table, and jumps right in after we order.

Over tea for her (with heaps of sugar), pierogi and potato pancakes, and her blue nails gesturing before us, Olek and I talk about her park installation, ‘Believe the Magic’ with the Tipi Project, her crochet practice, and her ideas of utopia in a world where she says, “positive thinking is the only power one has against society.”

Olek in Greenpoint ©Chérmelle E.

Olek: Be a voice, not an echo. It’s the truth, you know. The parallel between my life and work is that there is no line. I was deep into my life and crocheting text messages of my ex-lover into them. Can you believe that?

GPers: Are all your works auto-biographical?

Olek: I’m moving more toward environmental issues, ones with parks and oceans. I went to Hawaii and worked with sharks and oceans. I knew the situation was really bad, but it’s worse than I could imagine. As artists we have certain obligations to talk about these issues. Art is a visual pleasure, but we face so many issues politically, socially, and environmentally that we have to face it, you know.

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GPers: When you crochet, is it another way of speaking for you?

Olek: Yes, I always have messages. And, I want to bring certain things to peoples’ attention. Like, I want to use more natural fabrics in my work. It’s better for the environment, but it’s expensive.

GPers: Can you share with me the first memory you had that you knew what you were doing with crocheting was something special?

Olek: I started crocheting in 2001, but not with yarn. I didn’t have money to buy yarn. In 2005, I started crocheting with yarn. So, in those times, I used any kind of material for art. I used ribbons, robes, sheets, clothes, everything. It all became recycled, reused, and reclaimed.

Olek's yarn and bicycle ©Chérmelle E.

In 2005, I was in Chelsea working on a project and the materials were too thick and I needed something close to it.  A professor I had at LaGuardia Community College asked me to take a sculpture class, but I didn’t have to use traditional materials. I was designing costumes for performances. I went to the 99cent stores and bought anything I could find. I didn’t know what to do, so I started braiding and gluing, and then I was like “Oh, I can crochet it.”  And that’s how this began.

GPers: So, from that beginning to doing public pieces in a park in Greenpoint. How did this latest work happen?

Olek: I used to live here. And, a woman told me the park would be destroyed by end of the summer to build another building. She wanted to do something to encourage people to find something different, a different place. Creating this piece for the park, it was about a positive message. And, it’s about having people fight for the rights of a park. So, with ‘Believe the Magic’ I wanted to encourage positive thinking, that’s’ the only power we really have with society. Creating the letters was a long process. Some are recycled materials from a previous project. Some letters took two days to just put together because there were so many layers.

GPers: Once your work is in an open space, how do you feel?

Olek: It’s my gift to people. I want them to enjoy it. It’s unfortunate people try to keep it because then the whole of it isn’t there anymore. 

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'Make' (Tipi Project) ©Chérmelle E.

GPers: Since your pieces contain messages, does it take courage to create them?

Olek: I can’t inspire people to be an artist, but I do want to inspire them to be excellent.

GPers: Indeed! So, what is magic for you??

Olek: I don’t know—the fact that I wake up every morning with energy to do more and more. I think I have a great life, and I get to do what I want to do.  But, the artist life isn’t so beautiful. For a woman, it’s so hard. She’s not appreciated enough, but a woman, she is powerful. I am powerful. There’s a saying, ‘Work like a dog, party like a lion.’ I believe that.

'Believe' (Tipi Project) ©Chérmelle E.

This fall, Olek says she’ll have a slow transformation in her life, doing more community-based projects and time-based performances while evolving artistically, something she says one should stay tuned to see. Follow Olek on IG (@oleknyc) or Twitter (@oleknyc).

About Chérmelle

A bicoastal creative living between Los Angeles and New York. Working as a photographer, coffee culture curator, blind contourist and chief coffeetographer™ at www.smdlr.com.

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