Vandals have attacked street furniture last week in Cumnor, spraying graffiti and damaging bus shelters. But can defacing public and private property ever be creative, artistic and fun? Many women would argue ‘yes’. They’ve created the fluffy face of graffiti – ‘yarn bombing’.
Graffiti with yarn is street art using left over pieces of knitting and bits of colourful threat to cover fence railings, bicycle racks, statues and bollards. It’s exploding in Oxfordshire right under our noses.
This week I noticed six ‘bombs’ on Parks Road between Norham Gardens and the Museum of Natural History. These four or five feet leggings cover the poles of street lamps, speed signs and ‘no cycling’ signs. Some are subtle, each is different. All are fun. And most have a small tag to say ‘Project for the Anonymous Audience’ with a number attached to identify it.
Past examples include the knitted flowers on the fence over the A34 just outside of Oxford on the way to Kidlington, near the now demolished grain silos. A vine of knitted flowers flourished for a while on the metal railings of the Radcliffe Camera fence.
Giant knitting hit the Bicester Village last year when Claire Nixon created a series of large knitted cocoons in her charity work for ‘Breakthrough Breast Cancer’.
Chipping Norton was ‘tagged’ when a mystery yarn bomber lobbed some beautiful explosions of colour down the streets and alleys.
Even the villagers of Thrupp have jumped on the ‘yarn wagon’ to help slow down traffic. Their knitting group meets weekly at The Boat Inn and produced a knitted ’20 mph’ sign and a woolly yellow speed camera that resembled a sick duck. Jane Rouse from the village pointed out that “Thrupp is a really small place but we have had a lot of people coming to the pub or the tea room who have been driving through quite fast.
“An animal has died and someone was also clipped on their bike, so we just wanted to raise awareness of the problem in a fun way. Our slogan is ‘Thrupp welcomes careful knitters and drivers’.”
Is it vandalism? There’s a dark shade to ‘yarn bombing’. It’s illegal in some areas so the knitters keep a low profile. One woman, credited with founding the movement in Texas during 2005, has stepped into the limelight. Magda Sayeg admits “There is a side to it that is unsanctioned, but you’d have to be the most bored police officer to want to arrest me.”
Magda was managing a clothes shop in Houston, a steel and concrete city noted for it’s greyness. She had “a selfish desire to add colour to my world”. So she knitted a door handle cosy for her shop and a legging for the pole of a ‘stop’ sign in her road. It was an instant hit. “People got out of their cars and took photos in front of it.”
From these tiny beginnings she’s spread knitting like Tinkerbell spread pixie dust around the world – over Brooklyn parking meters, a bus in Mexico and on the Great Wall of China.
But what’s the point? Magda says it’s a quiet political message. “In this world of technology, over-development, fewer trees and more concrete, it is empowering to be able to beautify your environment.”
‘Yarnarchists’ across the globe have taken up their needles, identified potential targets, measured them first and knitted the cosies at home to fit on the objects later.
They say they re-claim cold public places and put their own personal stamp on a sterile environment. But wouldn’t the Cumnor graffiti ‘artists’ say that as well?
The ‘Yarnarchists’, mostly women, argue theirs is a gentle response to the male-dominated world of street ‘art’ and the graffiti of paint and spray cans. And it’s disposable; anyone can diffuse a ‘yarn bomb’ with the snip of a scissors in a minute.
Oxfordshire County Council thinks there is a difference: “This clearly isn’t vandalism or graffiti in the traditional sense. There would only be an issue if property was damaged or signage was obscured.”
The tough question is – “can ‘yarn bombing’ have a positive effect?” Leicester police hope so. Hundreds of pom-poms and highly coloured knitted images and tree warmers were put on trunks and branches and lampposts to reduce the fear of crime in an area of Leicester, Bede Park.
Criminologist Charlotte Bilby is in the knitters’ corner. “I think that making an area look cosier certainly makes an area feel safer.
“If you see something that makes you smile, that makes you think that other people have enjoyed being in that space and have done something funny, something silly in that place, then that’s going to change your perception.
“As we all know more officers on the beat doesn’t actually have a massive impact on crime rates in an area.
“More officers on the beat plus community involvement – community engagement, making sure that people feel part of the community and that the community belongs to them – perhaps that’s a better way of making an area feel safer.”
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