If the first thing springing to your mind at the word ‘exhibition’ is paintings or photographs, endless captions to read or ancient stuff to peruse, street artist Olek will revolutionise your thinking in less than a second. From the rainy roads and hostile puddles of Brick Lane, walking into Tony’s Gallery is like jumping into a different reality – one that will then sweep you off your feet. More literally, you will find your shoeless feet on a dream-like carpet of crocheted colours.
I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone is the title of the latest work by Polish-born Agata Oleksiak, which is also her first solo exhibition in the UK. Olek has been listed in The 25 most important artist of 2011 by Complex Media Network and her work has already appeared worldwide. The installation has a remarkably peculiar title, which is a direct quote from I do not expect, an appliquéd blanket produced by British artist Tracey Emin in 2002.
“A loop after a loop. Hour after hour my madness becomes crochet. Life and art are inseparable.” This is how Olek defines her art, a laborious work of crocheting on both monumental and small everyday objects. The room in Tony’s Gallery counts plenty of household stuff, such as a bed and pillows, a basin, a telephone, and picture frames among many others.
But there is a lot more in this cartoon-like world that needs be explored on a much deeper level: the majority of Olek’s objects carry meaningful texts and enigmatic lines (including SMS messages and emails), all of which she has crocheted together for a mind-blowing effect.
The four walls of the room shout passion, femininity, tenderness and love but also suggest anger, anxiety and frustration at some of the most central topics and dilemmas of our time. Pregnancy, motherhood and intimacy are all main themes; as she writes on her blog: “It is the reflection of life, love, trust and lust in current times. It is the progression of my life as a woman…blood, sweats and tears and cum camouflaged with the sparkle of my colourful cheeky humour, as we all do when carrying on with our lives.”
One of the most fascinating crocheted sculpture in the room is the one of Olek herself: she sits on a chair in front of the telephone, carefully positioned beside a framed picture of her lover, which gave me the feeling of the painful yet full-of-hope wait for a call that is about to arrive – or perhaps never will.
This is why I believe this exhibition is one that will stay in your thoughts for a long time: not only is it visually wonderful but it is also just so personal that aims straight to your heart. All the sensations this room gives you are connected to many of the experiences we’ve all had at some point or another in our lives, and as you amble around the room you soon realise that by being in it, you have yourself become part of it too.
At the gallery you will also have the pleasure to meet Anya, the friendly curator who welcomes you at the door and answers all the questions you might have about Olek’s art – and believe me, you will have plenty.
I am the woman you don’t have to worry about – message on the chair on which the woman in the centre of the installation is sitting. We see how she is trying to reject the fear of abandonment.
This incredible room, created exclusively for this street art gallery, will be up for you to explore anytime between now and 23rd March (closed Monday- Tuesday)
As Olek herself recommends: “Dress to the occasion. Don’t bring any sharp objects…and if you ask me how long it took me to crochet it, you’ll have to bring a bottle of Polish vodka to unravel the secret.”
(But Olek is currently in NYC, so Anya spilled the beans: the room took her half a year of crocheting.)
More information on this free exhibition can be found here.
Photos: Ola Zur