Flames, dead birds, bleached coral and a giant rainbow populate the brightly colored 90-foot mural made from acrylic yarn that has covered a Washington Park fence for a month and a half.
The Park Slope installation will be coming down on Nov. 20 and the 4th Avenue Yarn Bomb’s organizers are looking to give the knitted and crocheted pieces—designed to spotlight awareness of climate change—new homes.
Installed just a block from the Gowanus Canal, a designated Superfund site rife with decades of industrial pollution, the yarn bomb was a community art project with an environmental message. Chunky block letters read, “TIME’S UP,” “DO BETTER” and “CODE RED,” inspired, in part, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent climate report, which U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called “code red for humanity.”
About 50 volunteer knitters and crocheters created the project over six weeks in August and September. Some gathered for weekly outdoor crafting sessions. The resulting mural continues the tradition of “craftivism,” a word coined by author Betsy Greer in 2003 to capture the concept of merging craft and activism in pursuit of positive change.
To Karenka Sieminski, a social media strategist from Brooklyn who visited on installation day, the mural brought to mind other art projects that also illustrate urgent problems, including the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the massive tapestry featuring 50,000 panels dedicated to the more than 105,000 people who have died from the syndrome in the U.S., and artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s installation of 660,000 white flags across the National Mall in Washington to honor lives lost to COVID-19.
“Sometimes seeing art inspires conversation,” she said.
The Washington Park mural is a spin on the worldwide yarn-bombing movement that started around 2005, growing out of artist Magda Sayed’s work covering elements in public spaces, like stop sign poles and parking meters, with yarn—typically without municipal permission.
SJ Avery and Grace Freedman of the Park Slope Civic Council’s Forth on Fourth Avenue—a group dedicated to improving the cyclist and pedestrian experience along the busy and often dangerous street—were at the helm of orchestrating it all. These partners organized their first yarn bomb in 2015, not long after the launch of Vision Zero, the city’s initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities.
“It was more of a beautification kind of issue and making it a pedestrian-friendly environment, giving people something to look at,” said Avery, 75, who has worked as a community organizer for about 50 years.
The initial yarn bomb was an assemblage of the individual contributors’ works, without a unifying message, mounted on the same Washington Park fence. Their second yarn bomb took place last year as a creative outlet in response to the pandemic. It served as an opportunity for neighbors to safely socialize and craft together outdoors in the park.
This year’s project was the first with a clear, cohesive conceptual and visual theme.
“I felt like I was part of one organism, building this one thing,” said Talia Willner, a volunteer knitter who made a piece inspired by a National Audubon Society report that two-thirds of North American birds are at risk of extinction due to global warming.
On Oct. 2, Avery, Freedman and more than a dozen volunteers climbed up ladders with pockets full of zip ties to affix the mural to the park fence. Smaller pieces were attached to chicken wire to keep them stable, a technique that Brooklyn-based yarn bomber and actor Ellie d’Eustachio, 33, shared with participants. As the imagery took shape on the fence, passersby stopped to watch and snap photos.
“I’m glad they think it’s pretty because, you know, people pay attention to stuff that’s ‘pretty,’ Avery said. “But I hope that in addition to thinking it’s pretty, some of the message comes through.” She said that she hopes learning more about rising sea levels, dying birds, and wildfires, will “urge people to get out and march and rally.”
Volunteers are invited to help deinstall the 4th Avenue Yarn Bomb, starting at 11 a.m. on Nov. 20. Avery and Freedman are looking to “rehome” individual pieces in schools or community spaces. Interested parties can contact Why Not Art on Instagram.