OLEK: ‘I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone’ @ Tony’s Gallery

Tony’s Gallery presents the first UK solo show of Polish-born, New York-based artist, Olek, who has been recently listed amongst the women who shook up the art world in 2011 as well as one of the 25 most important artists of the same year. The show’s title “I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone” is a direct quote from a blanket created by Tracey Emin in 2002.

Known both for her outdoor and indoor installations, Olek introduces her distinctive work to the London audience by transforming the gallery space into a private area. Walls, floor, objects, human figures and even a London black cab have painstakingly been wrapped up by Olek’s crocheted work and designs. Alongside her signature camouflage pattern, the artist exposes personal details such as sms messages and emails, received in the past. This is a small room but with a prodigious and powerful attractiveness where you are invited inside and you start observing and exploring without even realising. Olek has produced a cosmos that combines elements ranging from references to domesticity and privacy, sexism, modern culture, and filtered through an emotional vortex of optimism and pessimism – all covered with an autonomous façade, a living camouflage. Her metaphorical visual language creates a dualism, the transformation of an eponymous environment into an anonymous one. Olek’s room is a vehicle, an astonishing template, where everyone is able to apply it to themselves, live in it, own the same objects, experience the same ‘privacy’. Kostas Prapoglou

Olek talked to REVma -/+ about her work:

REVma -/+: You have established a signature style of your artwork, which involves crocheted yarn. How and why did you adopt this medium to represent your work?
Olek: They say: “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” When I was a kid in Poland there was nothing in the damn stores. To make art, I collected everything even the tin foil milk bottle caps. Crochet came to me as a result of being totally broke. I had to make a costume in NYC and I had no cash for a sewing machine. I used any materials I could possible find… I even cut my sheets into strips to make pieces. Being resourceful is in my blood as you can see. Crochet is for poor people… that’s why you can find it in almost any culture across the globe. Honestly, this is the way to communicate with my audience.

REVma -/+: Apart from vivid colours and camouflage patterns, your artwork also includes provocative graffiti-like messages that you incorporate within the environments you create. What is the purpose of this practice and to what degree do you feel your audience is able to penetrate the given context?
Olek: Life and Art are inseparable. I really do not do anything besides making art. A month and half before the show at Tony’s I have been actually sleeping inside the gallery. So when I say – come to see my show which is not just another apartment installation; it is the reflection of life, love, trust and lust in current times; It is the progression of my life as a woman, as a female artist put together through text messages, emails and personal objects and experiences… blood, sweat and tears and cum camouflaged with the sparkle of my colourful cheeky humour, as we all do when carrying on with our lives – it is really the truth.

In this show I really question a modern relationship and a position of a woman in society. I hope that people can notice it as everything is camouflaged in a sculptural environment that might just look like a beautiful installation… and it is not. I think it is really sad and depressing show. My work does not give an answer. I intend to create a question and the viewer is the one who completes the piece.

REVma -/+: You have been involved with a series of outdoor guerrilla actions in the past but you have also produced major indoor installations. How do you manage to balance both and which of the two has proved to be more fulfilling and exciting for yourself?
Olek: The moment I started to produce art I was working both on the street and inside the gallery. I was crocheting pieces long before it was cool to do so and placing them around my private and public space. I do not want to choose… my street actions, performances, sculptures, installation, photography, video or even my clothes are one big piece.

REVma -/+: Amongst other publicity, you have recently been listed as one of the 25 most important artists in 2011. How does it feel seeing your work gradually becoming more popular? Do you think celebrity status may influence negatively or positively on an artist’s vision and work?
Olek: I like that you said “(…) gradually becoming more popular”. Some people think it happened overnight… and it was a really long process. I do understand why some artists can be such biatches as not getting recognition can be really frustrating. I am lucky and I like it all… well.. sometimes I am getting really mad crazy and mean when people take me away from work to talk to me, ask me questions especially when they ask the same questions over and over again. But I liked yours, so I left my yarn on my laps to answer them.