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Granny Squared at CAFAM

Knitting street artists transform the façade of a downtown LA museum with globally sourced crocheted squares

by Julie Wolfson in Culture on 28 May 2013

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The giant office buildings and imposing Los Angeles County Museum of Art dotting LA's extensive Wilshire Boulevard make the quaint Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) look like a little dollhouse. This architectural quality inspired the guerrilla knitting group Yarn Bombing Los Angeles (YBLA) to create Granny Squared, a worldwide project devoted to crocheting colorful squares that, when stitched together, would cover the entire façade of a building.

Participants in the industrious DIY endeavor include more than 500 people from around the world, including high school students, lawyers, TV stars, retirees and authors, in addition to knitting and craft groups.

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The idea for Granny Squared formed one day when YBLA founder Arzu Arda Kosar was looking at the CAFAM building. "It was this time last year that we were just standing across the street from CAFAM and talking about how the building looked like it was from another time and place," explained Kosar. "Compared to the larger structures next to it, including the very grand and modern LACMA complex across the street, the CAFAM building almost looked like a toy house. We thought the architecture of the building was very reflective of its institutional identity as the Craft and Folk Arts Museum—how there is a perceived hierarchy between craft and fine arts, low art and high art. We then thought, what if we played with the aesthetics of the architecture to amp up the existing plastic qualities of the architecture, visually manipulated it to make it appear even more folksy, cutesy, colorful and whimsical."

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For the Granny Squared project, YBLA’s network of friends in Iran sent squares through friends who were traveling overseas to work around the postal restriction between Iran and the US. YBLA was especially inspired by the contributions of visually impaired students at the Braille Institute, where an instructor sat with each student to guide their hands. Meanwhile, in a remote part of southeast Turkey, doctors integrated crocheting into their physical therapy. The Granny Squared map highlights and celebrates the places around the globe where all of the squares were made.

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Once the idea was underway, making the installation a reality became a major challenge. Between November 2012 and March 2013, YBLA was receiving up to 30 packages a day in their studio at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, California. The hard work went on for five months. Opening the packages, documenting "granny squares" received, registering them in their database, posting images on social media, sorting and storing material while corresponding with participants online and in person became an intense and full-time task.

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Now that the squares have been stitched together and installed on the façade of CAFAM, YBLA’s creation questions the boundaries between craft and fine art by creating a conceptual art piece. "While our work is decidedly public, both in terms of the participatory process and the fact that it is available 24/7 to anyone on the street, it is also installed on the façade of the Craft and Folk Art Museum, which itself is surrounded by major cultural institutions, museums and galleries,” shared Kosar. “We are very interested in creating multifacated connections. For instance the project brings together artists and crafters who otherwise might not have had access to exhibit their work in a museum.”

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“Even if you're crocheting by yourself in your corner of the world, the act of collaborating with others toward a common goal brings you in contact with others and starts a dialog and networking opportunities,” added Kosar. “We know of at least one contributor who was looking for fellow participants from her state to start their own local knit graffiti collective. And that's our ultimate goal: to activate spaces, ignite dialogs and inspire others to pursue their own projects.”

Since 2010, YBLA has staged public installations and performances to help expand the definition of public art to include self-initiated, temporal urban interventions such as yarn bombing. Granny Squared at CAFAM will be on view from 25 May through 1 July 2013. After the deinstallation of Granny Squared the squares will be sewn into blankets and distributed to homeless residents of downtown LA's Skid Row.

Images courtesy of Yarn Bombing Los Angeles

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