Monday, September 12, 2011

I yarn bombed

Never Done: I yarn bombed

Yarn bombing is a kind of street art graffiti made from yarn -- often knitted or crocheted. It's a beautiful way to transform an urban, suburban, or rural environment -- and it's always a surprise to come across a bike rack or a post or a bench that has been transformed with color and texture. Yarn bombing has been on my Never Done list since the start. It feels like a cold weather activity -- what hard metal lamppost wouldn't want a wool cozy? As the weather start to turn, I started to think about times and places I might want to launch a yarn bomb. And then on the morning of the tenth anniversary of September 11, I realized the time had come.

My thought was that I could transform the day -- and the idea of terrorism -- with this one little act. I decided I wanted to cover something within sight of downtown Manhattan without actually going to downtown Manhattan, so I chose the Brooklyn Promenade. Then I looked through my bags of yarn and realized that all the yarn I have right now is really nice (ie, expensive) yarn -- and I didn't really want to knit up something that nice that was just gonna get A) cut down or B) rained on or C) both. So I looked around a little more -- and something caught my eye. Last khanike, I "won" a very unattractive scarf in an interminable game of dreydl (a khanike gambling game.) My friend A's mother had given it to her, and she had not wanted to throw it away so she brought it as an exchange gift. When I "won" it, I also did not want to throw it away, because it had come from A's mother. So I stuck it on a shelf and waited for the day I'd figure out what to do with it. Today that day came.

I grabbed the scarf, and went outside to wrap it around stuff to see what width object I would want to cover. It would be perfect around something about 3-4 inches in diameter. I then went back inside to find a crochet hook and some yarn, but I discovered instead some bright yellow yarn already cut into 18-inch lengths. (I think this was cross-stitch yarn.) The ugly scarf was knit loosely with chunky yarn, so it was easy to weave these through the knit, about 6 inches apart, so that all I would have to do would be to wrap the scarf around whatever I was going to wrap it around, and tie it on with the yellow yarn.

Josh came with me. As we approached the promenade, he noticed how different an urban landscape looks when you are on a mission. Instead of seeing every dog or car or tree or pothole, we were looking for long interrupted expanses of hard materials about 3-4 inches in diameter. As soon as we actually arrived on the Promenade, I realized that the top slat of a park bench would be perfect. And in fact, when we placed the scarf along its length, it fit absolutely perfectly.

It took only about 5 minutes to tie the scarf on to the bench, and it looked great. In fact, the scarf no longer looked ugly. And so in addition to transforming the space, and the context of terror and attack, and the day -- we also ended up transforming the scarf itself. When we finished, I stepped back and took some photos with downtown Manhattan in the background, and I started to think about bombs. Both my parents were staying in the World Trade Center hotel at the time of the bombing in 1993. (That wasn't clear. They weren't in the building at the time of the bombing -- they were staying at the hotel at the time -- and out during the actual event.) They were impacted to the extent that they had to walk for many hours to get somewhere safe, and they had to leave their car in NYC, because the parking garage was turned into a crime scene, and they had to find another way to get home. And also, this event was one of the many events in my mother's life that convinced her that New York sucks -- a lesson she tried hard to pass along to me, with some success, and yet here I am. But there I was, looking at the empty space where there used to be magnificent buildings, thinking about bombings and other attacks, and looking at the silly, soft, multi-colored bomb I had just dropped. Or wrapped.

And then I thought about the photographs in my father's archives -- of the Able and Baker nuclear bomb tests on the Bikini Islands -- the first bombs he ever saw, and photographed. He used to tell the story that before they went up in the planes where they were going to photograph the bombs from, they were told, "We don't what's going to happen here. We don't know if we will come back from this. Please take a moment and think about your loved ones." And then all those men climbed into their planes, or whatever their stations were, and -- well, served their country. My father said it was terrifying, but also, it was beautiful, from his aerial view.

With yarn in hand, I thought about what is means to intentionally change a landscape -- for worse or for better -- and then I stepped away from the bench, and gave it over to the general public. Within 10 seconds, three young women passed it by, and asked us if had done it. As I said yes, I heard something up above me. It was a man applauding. He had the aerial view.

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