On a recent visit to Amsterdam we explored the Artis Royal Zoo, which is situated right in the midst of the busy city. Apart from the obvious attractions of the animals, reptiles etc our attention was grabbed by strange brightly coloured knitted creations adorning various parts of the zoo. I discovered later that this was an example of ‘wild breien’ or ‘wild’ or ‘graffiti’ knitting (AKA yarn bombing) which originated in Houston, Texas in 2005. (See Magda Sayeg’s site for pictures). The project in the Dutch capital had been initiated by children’s writer and illustrator Francine Oomen. The zoo’s knitting had been done by about 300 enthusiasts all beavering away (pun intended) to make elaborate coverings for benches, statues and lamp posts.
Fortunately we were visiting the Dutch zoo just in time to catch the exhibition as it only had a few more days left to run, finishing up on March 16. It looked really weird to see street furniture (and trees too) wearing cheerful woolly mufflers, but at the same time it made perfect sense, albeit in a strange surreal sort of a way. How else could you bridge the dull period twixt winter and spring than by doing something so eccentric as to dress up a park bench or two in a patterned knit jumper? A definite improvement to the urban landscape.
And let’s not forget that nothing gets damaged or irrevocably changed with this form of graffiti; it all comes off and leaves no trace except in the memory. It’s also the perfect opportunity to practice your purl, plain and stocking stitch. Obviously it’s also a very sociable thing to be involved in doing and gives new life and encouragement to an old craft. I would love to know what happens to the knitted pieces afterwards assuming that they don’t get too battered to be used again; not sure that the snow and rain would do the knitting much good though.
Just as a postscript: last week while visiting the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Kilmainham, Dublin I was reminded of the Artis Zoo experience by a couple of things. First there was the Julian Opie installation Escaped Animals, animal warning road signs along the West Avenue and then secondly I had a sighting of one lonely lamp post wearing a knitted muffler. Is this the beginning of knit graffiti in Dublin I wonder? I do hope so.
I have since looked up a couple of titles on the art of yarn bombing (pictured above and below) but have not yet got around to doing any actual knitting! Maybe someday!
(This piece is a slightly updated version of one that was previously posted on www.campusdig.com on 3rd May 2011)
UPDATE (June 2013):
Yarn Bombing has been in the news again recently as guerrilla knitters hit Saltburn by the Sea, Teeside, U.K. Knitted creations mysteriously appeared on the sea front overnight. Check out the Saltburn by the Sea BlogSpot for some fantastic pictures of the creations.