Today’s interview is with Alyssa Arney (A) and Liz Flynn (L) of the awesome craftivist project There is a River Here!
1. How do you define craftivism?
L: We define craftivism as any form of art production, action, or creative endeavor that aims to send a message through mediums not often seen as “fine art”. It’s an act of activism expressed through the medium of traditionally “feminine” and “interior” craft production, such as scrapbooking, sewing, or, in our case, crocheting. We feel that the act of bringing crochet out into the public eye is a form of craftivism itself, since its public display is subverting its original, unseen, place in the home and private lives of women. We feel that craftivism is a positive way to draw attention to social issues in a world full of aggression and white noise.
2. What is the There Is A River Here project?
A & L: There Is A River Here is an environmental, site specific, public art installation in the Martha McClean-Anza Narrows Park in Riverside, CA. It’s curated by independent researcher and curator Carolyn Schutten and is being created by the two of us under the moniker ‘Threadwinners’. We are yarnbombing an outcropping of eight boulders that sit along the Santa Ana River, an environmental landmark that is oft ignored or unnoticed by visitors to the park. The yarnbombing of the boulders is being done in conjunction with a river cleanup event, as well as a dance performance piece, on November 12, 2016.
The yarn bombing of the boulders will create an ephemeral river of blue in the natural desert landscape of Riverside, and will hopefully draw people’s attention to the site, the river, and issues of environmental conservation. We’re also hoping that our boulder installation will be able to have a second life. There’s a sizable homeless population that convenes in the area, so we hope that they will be able to deconstruct the installation and use our crochet pieces to keep warm during the cold winter months.
3. How did you come up with the idea and what have you learned while preparing?
A & L: Threadwinners had begun a working relationship with the Riverside Art Museum and Carolyn back in mid-May. We had a crochet piece, Comfort Food Blanket, hanging in the museum and we were hosting a free beginner’s crochet workshop as part of the museum’s Maker Series Saturdays art events. We all enjoyed working with each other so much that Carolyn approached us with her curatorial project, There Is A River Here. She gave us the general idea that she wanted a yarn bomb of the site, and the rest is history! Carolyn has given us free reign on the aesthetics of the project, so we’ve come up with a variety of themes for each rock. One is all mandalas and circles, another all granny squares. Liz crocheted a blue ombre rock, and Alyssa is currently working on a glacier themed rock. We’re also trying to cover this massive 24-foot boulder with giant stripes, and potentially have a landscape-inspired piece on an enormous flat-faced boulder!
We’ve learned quite a bit in the process of creating this installation, but I think the most significant thing we’ve learned is how excited people are about public art of this nature. Through our calls for donations, as well as Community Crochet Circles we’ve hosted at the Riverside Art Museum, we’ve seen an outpouring of generosity and creativity from people who are excited by our project and want to contribute. We’ve gotten donations of yarn and beautiful needlework from people of various ages and backgrounds, and it’s so uplifting to see that the culture of craftivism and needlework is not limited to a certain niche group of people. We know that most craftivists believe in the accessibility of the movement in theory, and it’s nice to see it in action!
4. What has been the biggest surprise or lesson along the way?
A: The biggest surprise is how incredibly generous the community has been with donating pieces and skeins of yarn to aid us in our project. The second biggest surprise is how much yarn we have used and how, just when you think the piece you’ve made is big enough, it still needs to be bigger. These boulders ARE MASSIVE! The biggest lessons are to plan ahead, leave room to alter the design to fit your work schedule and to never give up! Keep working hard and it all really does pay off in the end!
5. What is your dream craftivism project?
A: We are in the works of making our dream project happen, but Threadwinners would love to be able to honestly bring the project from sheep to gallery/institution. It would be incredible to show the entirety of the yarn making process and wielding the material into a finished product. First off, sheep and alpacas are adorable, we both wouldn’t mind owning one of each, but I live in an apartment complex so that dream has to be stowed away in a lockbox for a while. We would love to be able to sheer the sheep, spin the wool, dye the yarn with natural dyes like woad, spinach, mushrooms, etc., and then teach people of all ages the importance of craft, art, expression, and eco-friendly and sustainable resources. They would be able to design their own project with all of the information and tools we’ve provided for them to go out in the world and share their art!
L: My dream craftivism project for Threadwinners is similar to Alyssa’s because I would also love to create a yarnbomb out of yarn that has been completely created by our hands, from sheep to skein! I would love to do something insanely large-scale, like covering an office building or a sidewalk block in yarn, with input from kids, veteran crocheters, and everyone in between! Literacy and reproductive rights are issues that I’m concerned with, so my dream craftivism project would probably address something along those lines.
Find out more at @thereisariverhere on Instagram. For more about Alyssa Arney, she can be found on Instagram at @smashitupart and at her website. For more about Liz Flynn, she can be found on Instagram at @thelizflynn and at her website.