As a renowned sculptor, performer and street artist, Olek was born by the name Agata Oleksiak in 1978. She hails from Ruda Slaska and is known professionally as Olek or crocheted Olek. Olek attained her bachelor of arts degree where her speciality was Cultural studies at Adam Mickiewicz University located in Poznan. She studied at the institution between 1997 and 2000.
The works of art that Olek exhibits includes fibre art, sculptures, inflatable objects, and installations. She has exhibited her work in various countries that include United Kingdom, United States, Brazil, Germany, France, Turkey, Poland, Italy, Costa Rica, and Russia. Currently, Agata Olek works and lives in New York City.
As part of the first major solo exhibition she did, Olek installed “Knitting is for pus” in Christopher Henry Gallery New York, to widespread acclaim. In the piece that took years to complete, the contents include false apartments and residents covered in the finished crochet. Also included in the crochet were members of the media and public in suits as an inclusion of the apartment space.
“Knitting is for pus” was also included in the 2012 “40 under 40: Craft Futures” exhibition that was staged at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibition included 40 artists who were born subsequent to 1972 and the main aim was to investigate changing ideas of the craft that their work involves.
Olek’s work also includes critical performance pieces that are critical. For instance, in 2010, the performance involved using one of her crochet pieces to cover the statue of the Charging Bull on Wall Street. This was a tribute to the original classical sculptor Di Modica, who installed the statue without permission in 1989. However, the suit was torn from the statue 2hours after Olek had it installed.
There have been frequent implications of her work being referred to as yarn bombing. Nevertheless, Olek prefers to view her work as mainstream art as opposed to what critics refer to as amateur actions. In 2010-2011, Olek had a performance at the “Whitney Museum of American Art” located at the “Lower Manhattan Cultural Council”.
In addition, she also had another solo exhibition in 2011 that was conducted at Jonathan Le Vine Gallery in New York. In this exhibition, she included various famous words and imagery done by celebrity icons. One of the features was a camouflage crochet pattern done in grayscale as opposed to the previous artist’s fluorescent palette. Olek also recreated the 1986 portrait of Keith Haring by Photographer Annie Leibovitz. This piece has the artist’s body, as well as the whole room surrounding the artists, painted white and black line work included.
Other objects for the 2011 exhibition included canvases and objects on which Olek crocheted provocative quotes and texts that included “well-behaved women rarely make history” (Marilyn Monroe) as well as “If I go down on my knees, it is not to pray” quoted from Madonna.
YARNANA – A dark love story
Along with Producer Michelle Price and Gina Vecchione, Olek created a short film titled YARNANA in 2012. The short silent film that made use of the tagline, “a dark love story, featuring the crochet madness’ of New York artist, Olek.” In the same year, she worked with David E. Peterson in a joint exhibition that was titled “Synthetic Nature” done at the Krause Gallery in New York. Here, Olek used semi-inflated balloons and crocheted yarn to make a cave like structure. Today she continues to do practice her art as well as marketing and promoting the art using her various websites and blogs.
The following are some of the awards that Agata Olek has received over the years.
- 2011: She received the Artaq Award in Paris, France for the Sculpture in Situ
- 2011: Received a Grant for performance in public spaces (Fund LMCC) in New York
- 2008: Was the winner for the “Apex Art gallery” commercial competition PBS in New York
- 2007: won the US Artist international award for support for performing arts at the international festivals in USA/ Poland
- 2004: Won “The Ruth Mellon Memorial Award” For Sculpture. At the National Arts Club in New York.
In addition, she was able to receive the following residencies.
- 2013: A fully funded one-month residency at Laznia Center for Contemporary Art located in Gdansk, Poland.
- 2010:An artist in residency for nine months in New York.
- 2010: An artist in residency for six months in New York at the Lower East Side Rotating Studio Program.
- 2009: An artist in residence for two months in Brazil.
- 2005: An artist in residence for two months in Utica New York at the Sculpture Space.
A loop after a loop. Hour after hour my madness becomes crochet. Life and art are inseparable. The movies I watch while crocheting influence my work, and my work dictates the films I select. I crochet everything that enters my space. Sometimes it’s a text message, a medical report, found objects. There is the unraveling, the ephemeral part of my work that never lets me forget about the limited life of the art object and art concept. What do I intend to reveal? You have to pull the end of the yarn and unravel the story behind the crochet.
My work changes from place to place. I studied the science of culture. With a miner’s work ethic, I long to delve deeper and deeper into my investigations. My art was a development that took me away from industrial, close-minded Silesia, Poland. It has always sought to bring color and life, energy, and surprise to the living space. My goal is to produce new work and share it with the public. I intend to take advantage of living in NYC with various neighborhoods and, with my actions, create a feedback to the economic and social reality in our community
Olek’s aim with her Art is to ‘uplift her reality’ and is a firm believer in being outside of boxes. The Polish-American artist has expressed her concern over oppressive laws recently, and goes so far as to tie them into her work as a means to “…show solidarity with oppressive laws worldwide.”
Olek is a yarn enthusiast and purist, she doesn’t work with any other mediums at the present moment and given her love affair with yarn she feels that the possibilities within that alone are too endless to explore in this lifetime.
The artist feels like a New Yorker through and through, having lived there since the summer of 2000. She has also been credited with inspiring a whole new batch of crotchet artists in NYC, and yarn bombing goes from strength to strength.
She says of coming to New York for the first-time that she felt “…like I was falling in love and had butterflies.”
More recently Olek was very up front and vocal about her support for Hilary Clinton, painting a 46-foot wide billboard to that effect. One has to wonder what solidarity that shows with the “…oppressive laws worldwide.” But they always said Art was a contradiction, or did I just say that, either way, it is a fine analogy.
It is clear that Olek has firmly stamped her mark on New York City, with what can be sometimes daring and dangerous adventures in the big apple. That being said she has pulled off some fine examples of street art, including the charging bull in NYC itself.
With her past and future work surely appealing to a wide audience, we are even willing to forgive her little hurray into politics more recently.