Editorial: Who’s original?

I’ve been aware of the existence of Yarn Bombing for a pretty long while now. Back in the days, I remember the hot topic concerning the very first yarnbombers, the originals. Since then, Magda Sayeg has clearly won the battle. Or at least in the media: all newspaper articles or blog posts covering yarn bombing I have read (and I read a lot) make it all start with the Texan lady. But post-modernistic thinking made me recently requestion her possession of the ‘patent’ for the original idea. And I found what I was looking for.

-Magda Sayeg, as written on knitta’s blog, has started guerilla knitting in 2005, and founded Knitta Please, said to be the first collective, a little while afterwards.

-Surfing and browsing on the internet made me stumble upon artist Robyn Love‘s website. And look what I found: Yarn bombing projects dated way before 2005, as old as 1997!

She might not call it that way, but the practise is clearly the same (see the other example below if the graveyard cozy doesn’t convince you).

By bringing this up, I don’t want to take away anything from Sayeg’s work and discourse, which I aspire to. But rather, I wish to enlighten everyone on the erroneous way of building History as a timeline with a start and an end. History is man-made storytelling, and most of the time it can be reviewed and revisited. Who cares who really started the movement? Knitta Please can still be considered an important figure for popularizing the practice and developing it wonderfully. Trivial matters such as the “original” title should not even be given any thinking. Originality is fundamental to Yarn Bombing in the audience’s surprised reaction to the work, it should not be some kind of value given to a certain individual as copyrights. What matters, for all yarnbombers, is to get out there as a unified group.

As a matter of fact, that’s also why I envisionned this site. “Just another unnecessary blog” is what you might think of this little low-budget space, but to me it is the very reason I prefer Yarn Bombing to every other type of street art. Because, really, everyone is doing the same thing (except for Olek, but we’ll discuss her case soon enough). And regrouping is the best way to aknowledge this fact.

Robyn Love, Standing Still, 2002. NYC

So, yeah, I’m doing the exact same thing guerilla knitters are doing all over the world. For me and everyone else, it all started with inspiration from a photograph on the internet or a live encounter. For everyone except one person. But that “inventor”, whoever she is, probably got her idea from somewhere, right?

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3 responses to “Editorial: Who’s original?

  1. Hi – thanks for posting about this. I have a very mixed relationship with yarnbombing, as it has come to be called. Like you described, I have been making works that could be called that since 1997 so it is a little strange and amazing to see something similar become this worldwide phenomena.

    I think one place where I diverge from yarnbombing is intention. My artworks have always been about something very specific – a relationship between the site and the handmade piece and the audience. For the graveyard cozy, it was about figuring out things after the death of my father and birth of my son (there was no real audience for that one – just me, my son in his stroller and perhaps that one lady looking out her front window at this crazy lady in the graveyard). For the Canal Street piece, it was about the immediate post 9/11 situation in lower Manhattan. The idea of graffiti never entered into it, although esp. with the Canal Street piece, some people did bring it up afterwards.

    I know that Knitta Please woman in Texas has basically claimed the spot as the first and, yes, sometimes I have felt angry about that since, as you discovered with just a little internet seaching, others have come before her. At the same time I was making those works, Canadian artist Janet Morton also was making similar things. We didn’t know each other’s work but there are startling similarities. So, who came first? I have no idea – any maybe there was someone else out there who no one has heard of who also was doing stuff…and maybe it doesn’t even matter at this point. The movement has started…

    Thank you for looking a little more deeply and considering this issue at all. Janet and I had a conversation about just point last spring. We decided that it really didn’t matter too much because neither of us does what I would consider straight up yarnbombing and never intended to do that (although possibly I have come closer than she has).

    So, hooray for yarnbombing! Let the good times and needles and hooks roll!

  2. Hi!
    I’m very glad you came across this post and replied to it! It’s great to have a space for reflexion amidst all of the photo-oriented blogs. Especially recieving feedback from artists like you and Janet Morton.

    I can understand why you would want to make an important distinction between your art practise and most of the yarn bombers out there (higher quality of the works, elaborate discourse and creative process). But on a broader scale, it still is interesting to focus on the similarities rather than the differences. At least in my opinion. But that might be anothe subject completely.

    Cheers!

  3. Robyn’s work is exquisite (as is Janet Morton’s and Carol Hummel’s work) and I really like the deeper meaning behind it. LOVED your post and so agree about the fact that using yarn to cover things isn’t a new concept. I don’t think anyone can really claim they came up with the idea, although I do feel Magda started a trend with a new twist on an old idea, but after that it took on a life of it’s own :) My friend and I have never considered ourselves yarnbombers in the classic sense (in that we don’t pretend or choose to be great knitters) , but as artists who used yarnbombing for a specific reason within our community.
    I am loving watching how it evolves.
    anyway cheers from the jafagirls

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