Yesterday, eMAG visited the White Room, which is the centre of the defined by __ project. The idea of the project is to invite artists from the different countries participating in the Women’s World Cup. We met the English knitting artist Lauren O’Farrell aka Deadly Knitshade.
Much more than football: Interview with the Deadly Knitshade
The six artists participating in the defined by __ project put their impressions of Augsburg on White Papers, which are published online (www.definedby.com) and on the wall of the big Kulturstadion in the centre of the city. We were invited to have a real Bavarian breakfast in the White Room (of course including Weißwürste and German beer) with some of the artists and the project staff.
The amazing English knitting artist Lauren O’Farrell (at night she turns into Deadly Knitshade) especially caught our attention. She and her co-knitters have already brightened up cities like London and Berlin with their colourful knitting projects: Plarchie, for example, an eight-metre long plastic knitted squid who(!) is made out of 160 carrier bags, brought confusion into the Natural History Museum in London. And probably the telephone box on Parliament Square in London was also a bit confused when it got its cosy (knitted cover normally used for teapots). This time in Augsburg, she has surprised us with a knitted form of the Augsburgblume and five knitted wild boar at the Königsplatz, whose presence caused panic at the Kö: children screamed and pedestrians ran away as fast as they could .
We had a really nice interview with Lauren. She was very communicative and humorous, so we don’t want to keep it from you:
eMAG (looking at the giant orange squid in front of the window): The giant squid has got a name, right?
Lauren: Yes, Plarchie.
eMAG: Why do you call him Plarchie?
Lauren: The squid at the Natural History Museum is called Archie, which is a shortened version of the Latin name. And he is made out of plastic yarn, which we called “plarn”, so Plarchie. We use carrier bags. We cut them into strips and join them together into yarn so that you can knit with it. It is kind of recycling. Because Plarchie is so big, you could imagine how much wool I would have to buy, while I could get bags for free. So I just asked the group (of knitters) to bring all kinds of carrier bags (and I didn’t tell them that it was for a squid).
eMAG: How many orange shopping bags did you need for Plarchie the Squid?
Lauren: I think it was around 160.
eMAG: Have you thought about using any other special material to stitch?
Lauren: I’ve knitted with strawberry liquorice before. That was quite good, just a bit sticky.
eMAG: And afterwards you could eat it.
Lauren: Yes, exactly. Once you leave the things you usually use, you will start to see all kinds of things. When I got here, I thought if I could cut the white paper into strips and knit with them. But I’ve never got round to that. I’ll maybe do that tomorrow. You’ll never know.
eMAG: How long did it take to knit Plarchie?
Lauren: I don’t usually measure the time I use. I was watching the DVD box sets. So I watched one series of 24 and one series of Dexter and … If I watch something with a lot of action in it, I’ll knit really fast. If I watch something scary, I’ll be like huuuu, ahhhhh, Ooooops!
eMAG: You said that your mom offered you the idea of knitting around the telephone box. Does she knit with you?
Lauren: Yes, she made some of the telephone box. My mom is brilliant, because I will be knitting until a ridiculous hour, and she will come in and say: “Well, what can I do?” And she will knit anything. She has helped me every time. And for this book (raising her book Knit the City), there’s a scarf in it, and all the colors of the London undergrounds. She knitted that. I could have done it myself actually. A lot of times, I probably would if I squeeze it, but it was really nice to have a help to you. And she comes to my knitting group. I run a knitting group every week, my mom comes every week as well. It’s not like she is my mom. When she is there, she is just like one other girl. She called herself my Midnight- Sweatshop. She is sometimes up at night until five when I’m working until four, because she just wants to get it right. You know, so she is brilliant.
eMAG: I read that if you put your works in the city, some people will come and steal them.
Lauren: Yes. To begin with, the idea was to make something and see how long it will stay up for, you know, with the weather. We’ve never thought about people stealing things. We made a couple of covers (like the Parliament Square Phone Box Cosy), and you won’t want to steal that because when you take it off, it’s just a bit of knitting. But I got bored of that quick because they are just squares and squares put together. So we decided to do a giant spider web. I came up with the idea because we walked through a place where it is legal to do graffiti. They had all the walls covered with graffiti. We didn’t need the walls because we could put our stuff anywhere. There was a big area with railing and two columns. So I thought, well, perfect for a spider web, because it’s dark and dynamic. So I went to the girls and said, well, we are going to do something properly thriftily. We will have a spider in the middle and have all kinds of creatures trapped in the web kind of screaming. I told the knitters to make what ever they like to put in the web. I gave them a vague direction, so we have fairies, mice, we have a bug coming in trying to rescue his girlfriend. After about two hours, we went to the pub. We always go to the pub afterwards to celebrate. We came back after that, which we don’t usually tend to do now because we know that people take. There were two guys just taking thing things down from the web. And we went up to them and said: “Hey! They are ours! ” So after that we started to put on a label on everything that says: “Confess your theft at knitthecity.com.” We don’t mind if you take it, but just tell us where it lives now. Not many people tell us, really. We made Alice in Wonderland outside of the cinema when the film by Tim Burton was out. We thought when the children have watched the film and come out of the cinema, then, all of a sudden, all the characters will be in front of them. A man came up where we were putting everything up. I made the Cheshire Cat. It’s a big cat up in the tree. We managed to get it three meters above the ground, so you couldn’t just pick him. He said: “Oh I love it. I collect street art.” And I said: “You can have the cat since your friends are calling you the Cheshire Cat (he had a big grin) but you have to leave it out for a while, so that people can see it.” So he left it out for two or three weeks and he watched the weather forecast every day. The night before they said it was going to rain, he went down at two o’clock with a ladder and took the cat down. He sent me a message on twitter and said: “I have your cat!” And there was a picture of the cat in his house. And I love that the things will have their own home. If I kept all the things I made, I will have a house of weird things. The only thing that bothers me is if you see something in the dustbin, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen.
Last night I was making the pigs. I was up until a ridiculous hour and Keiko was here when I was finishing them and said that they were so cute. I said they were all going, all going. She asked if I named them, and I said I didn’t. And she said it was tragic.
eMAG: So are they already gone?
Lauren: Well, apparently they are still there. Although I don’t really go back and look.
It was funny though, I started to use balloons. For example, there is a banana (balloon) inside the squid’s head. You can see the black lines. To stuff something will cost a lot of money. I did that giant solar system for the science museum, and that was balloons as well. I used balloons for the pigs in front of the fountain too. So they were kind of bobbing in the water. If they burst, the pigs will shrink. Someone else will have to put another balloon in.
Another worry I have is that the works are never child-safe. They are quite cute and the kids love them. Once I put up a little skeleton somewhere in London and a little boy came up after hanging around there for a little while. He said: “People keep taking away your pirates!” “Yes they do.” I said. And he said that he also wanted a pirate. The skeleton was the last thing that left. I said to his mom that it was not safe for small kids and she said: “Don’t worry. We’ll hang it up high in his room.” So I cut it down for him and that was the first time that I’ve helped anyone to steal my own work. He loved it.
eMAG: Perhaps it would be safer to put the knitted little creatures (or also giant ones) in the museum.
Lauren: Yes, maybe.
eMAG: Which way do you actually prefer- to put them in the museums or to decorate the city with them?
Lauren (almost without thinking): I think it’s nicer that they are in the city because people get surprised, you know, like “Oh! What is that!?” It totally makes people stay. And pictures are really important. A picture will show the surroundings. And the knitted items look really different in different surroundings. That’s even more amazing because of where they end up. They’ve got stories to them. If they are in the museum, they are just in the museum.
eMAG: Are there any other graffiti artists that you really like or from whom you are inspired?
Lauren: Not really graffiti artist. There are a lot of people who do knitting that I really like. There’s a guy in Canada who makes crocheted creatures, and he has stories and videos that go with them. I’m more inspired by storytellers and illustrators, because you know, a lot of street artist who do graffiti are quite harsh and they don’t really match up with what we are doing. It took a long time for people to recognize us as the same as the people with the spray cans. Actually we are putting more time in. We are planning and knitting for a long time. We try to do something constructive and, I want to say, educational, but also tell people a little story like where they are from. But there’s one special person. I started doing graffiti because of the space invaders. He’s my favorite. He’s my hero. I used to go around London to collect pictures of the space invaders. They are like disappearing now because people are stealing them and selling them on eBay, which annoys me. What I love is that he takes something really simple. They were everywhere, but they were so different. And just to prove my Space Invader love, let me see if I can find it in my book … (She shows us a knitted notebook sock with Space Invader pattern.) He is my total hero. I have a map on Google to note down where I came across the Space Invaders. I really like that he did stuff wherever he went. So I’m trying to do that now. I made a butterfly in Ireland last month.
eMAG: Are you going to do something beside the defined by __ project, like a pigeon on the tree?
Lauren: I’d really love to if I have time. I did this in Berlin when we had the book launch. I sent out a pattern of squid secretly and people came up with the squids they made. We got a lot of people involved and that was really nice.
eMAG: Thanks very much for the interview.
Interested? Then come and see us and the White Papers when we sell eMAG outside the Alte Cafete on Monday, 18.07., or surf the web:
Lauren O’Farrell and Stitch London:
defined by __ project: www.definedby.com