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Amber Gerard of Collective Wings installing Division Fibers Yarn Bomb project at ArtPrize 2013. All images courtesy of Collective Wings and Amber Gerard.

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — There’s nothing quite as uplifting as wandering around an urban area and stumbling upon soft loving wool coverings. Wrapped around fences, trees, and even parking meters, the woven yarn invites that tactile, community-oriented and crafty feel back into the mostly gray and metallic landscape. At this year’s ArtPrize, Grand Rapids-based Collective Wings organized the Division Fibers Yarn Bomb project on Division Street, one of the most trafficked areas of the city. Members Amber Gerard, Elyse Welcher, and Megan Roach bring a soft feel to the downtown area — but more than that, they create a fully interactive public art project that also operates as a subtle intervention in the urban landscape.

“I wanted to make yarn bombing accessible to everyone,” Welcher told Hyperallergic via phone after spotting an image of yarn bombing in another ArtPrize story. There’s an important community aspect to the project, which began in July, debuted at ArtPrize, and will continue after the event ends. All of the fibers are donated pieces that were in some way unusable; in fact, the collective only spent $10 on a bale of it.

“We teach people to knit for free at twice-weekly open Division Fibers Yarn Socials at Parliament the Boutique,” Welcher says. “Anyone in Grand Rapids can come. We wanted to continue that feeling of it being open and accessible, whether it’s the down-and-out of our city or ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos himself.”

A collection of donated yarns for the Division Street Yarn Bomb project.

Influenced by similar yarn bombing collectives like Austin-based KnittaPlease (aka Magda Sayeg), who focuses on cultivating a knit graffiti aesthetic in the city that likes to stay weird. In a recent project, KnittaPlease adorned 99 trees in the Blanton’s Faulkner Plaza with “tree cozies.” Russian barnstormers “Yarnbombing R.U” have a similar project going which is, at its heart, about creating community and healing. The yarn bombing movement is commonly attributed to Sayeg, who in 2005 knitted a cozy over the door handle of her boutique. Yarn bombing has since become an international phenomenon, and so it only makes sense that the trend appears in Grand Rapids during ArtPrize, which attracts entries from all over the world.

A rainbow-rific yarn bomb!

What if Collective Wings took it up a notch and began covering potholes around Grand Rapids in a similar way to the yarn bombing project in Paris? Why limit these public interventions to structures sticking out of the ground? We walk on the sidewalk, we drive on the roads, and there are few things more jarring than accidentally ramming into or around a pothole. Weave collective webs over the concrete, and make it one big YarnPrize.

Collective Wings’ Division Fibers Yarn Bomb project around Grand Rapids continues through ArtPrize and beyond. 

Erica installing yarn bombs

Kitty gets yarn bombed! Mreow. LOL. Hyperallergic loves cats.

Editor’s note: ArtPrize paid for the author’s lodgings in Grand Rapids, and the Site:Lab reimbursed the author’s bus trip from Chicago.

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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED Magazine and the Chicago Tribune....

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