We knew we were in the right place Thursday night when we spotted the crocheted shopping cart hanging above the storefronts on Orchard Street: yarn-wizard and Runnin’ Scared favorite Olek’s newest show, “Synthetic Nature,” was having its opening reception. But inside the Krause Gallery, we found no yarn, but instead encountered a knotted fort of inflated balloons. The installation was so large guests — many of whom gathered outside — had to nearly crawl to pass through the door, which was guarded by people decked from head to toe in balloon body-suits.
“I didn’t want to work the same acrylic yarn again,” Olek told us standing outside, holding a glass with her name written on it in pink. “I wanted to push something different for this particular thing.”
Though not as common as her camo-patterned creations in yarn, Olek has worked in the balloon-medium before. In fact, she got the idea to work in the material from her stint as a clown traveling around to poor neighborhoods in New York with Health Plus. As she was making balloon animals for children she realized, “Oh, I can crochet them.”
The gallery is completely immersed in Olek’s fortress-like creation, which took about 20 hours to build, but that is not the only part of the show. In fact, Olek’s own photographs featuring people in her balloon costumes — some from her time in New York, some from a residency in Brazil — are nearly hidden behind the concave structure. They too are framed in crocheted, deflated balloons.
“To be able to see the pictures you have to be touching your nose with the balloons,” she explained. “I like playing with people who come and I want them to play with me.”
Gallery owner Benjamin Krause told Runnin’ Scared that Olek wants “you have to work” to see the photographs. Some are even hung close to the ground. Eventually, though, the photos will become easier to view as the installation starts to deflate.
“I like the ephemeral aspect to it,” she said of working with balloons.
In addition to Olek’s photographs, David Peterson — primarily a geometric abstract painter — made fake machines appear to be controlling Olek’s installation in the style of vintage synthesizers with walnut panels that.
Olek explained that she’s returning to London on Tuesday where she has another show up. When we asked about her legal entanglement over there, she refers to it as her “trouble,” and explained that her trial is coming up in September. “Until trial starts I can’t say exactly what happened because the judge has to be the first one to hear,” she said. She was able to come to New York because of a change in her bail condition. Her experience in the criminal justice system inspired her to start working with prisoners in Poland on crochet. She wants to do something similar in the States.
“Something happens and I’m going to transform it into art piece,” she said.
Check out some of our photos from the show: