The Woman Artist to Woman Artist project
THERE IS POWER IN CROCHETING, WHICH CAN CHANGE THE WORLD
Katarzyna Mądrzycka-Adamczyk interviewed by Anka Leśniak
UNIVERSE AND BUTTONS
Anka Leśniak: Good morning. We are meeting today in the next edition of the Woman Artist to Woman Artist project. It is the Łódź edition, which means that artists from the Fraction group talk to other Łódź artists. And today I, Anka Leśniak, am talking to my guest, Katarzyna Mądrzycka-Adamczyk, who, as you can see, deals with textiles in a broad sense. I associate Kasia mainly with the fact that she always and everywhere crochets. We first met in 2017. It was during the exhibition of the Faction group. It was our first exhibition accompanied by a panel titled “Woman, artist, activist”. The panel was also attended by Łódzkie Dziewuchy, and among others you, Kasia. You were also crocheting there. Could you say something more about this activity, which is on the borderline of art, everyday life…?
Katarzyna Mądrzycka-Adamczyk: It’s true, I crochet all the time. It has already become a little bit of my obsession. I do it every moment when I have free hands. The first thing that I started to crochet in 2012 was this work, I Luna. It became the beginning of a series. Yet, when I started, I did not know it would be a series. At the time, I had a little daughter who I had to take to another housing estate before going to work, then I had to go to work, and after work back home. Therefore, I used the moments of public transport when my hands were free and I could crochet at bus stops or on a tram. At first, these were small fragments, which I later put together to form circles with the diameter of my height. It started with Luna, and then I thought that since there is Luna, there should be The Sun as well. I was also inspired by the fact that I had was given a lot of yellow, gold and orange buttons and I thought that since I had the material, I should do something with it. And the moment we met – at that meeting – I was already crocheting another space object and that was Venus. Inspired by the women’s movement, which started to be very active, because Polish women were being deprived of their rights, I “stopped the Sun” and took up Venus. I invited other people to join in Venus by offering buttons, beads and yarns, which would become a part of my Universe. I have been crocheting it for a few years now, but in the meantime I crochet other things as well.
A.L. You’ve mentioned a series of planets. Here we have two more planets, that is Jupiter and …
A.L. Could you tell us something more about why these planets, why planets in general, and also how these works are created? Because you crochet such tiny fragments, tiny circles, and then you sew them together.
K.M-A. It all started with Luna, though in fact it started with a small fragment, a small circle. I was on the outdoor “theoretically” painting workshops, but, of course, I had a crochet hook and yarn with me and I wanted to add a piece of a crocheted circle to the painting. When I started crocheting, I felt that I wanted something more than just a small circle. That’s how I came up with the idea of making a large work: Luna or the Moon. I associate the moon with my grandmother, with whom I still talk about the moon. When I call her, I ask if she can already see the full moon from behind her block of flats – but also with my other grandmother, who taught me to crochet, and who crocheted and knitted a lot. I also dedicated this work to my mother, who still crochets, and we often do it together, and to my daughter, so to all the important women in my family. My daughter, then a few-year-old girl, was just beginning to learn to speak, and we would also look at the moon together and she said “I love the moon”. So those were important moments for me of being together and the Universe… It depends on the viewer what we are looking at…. The Moon is a round object and everyone can interpret it differently and see something else in it. That is how I started and then crocheting got so into the habit that I could not stop. So I came up with an idea to make a whole cycle of The Universe. But the Universe is a free interpretation, a free inspiration for me. More cosmic objects appear and so it is going on and on. As long as I have strength I will crochet.
At first, as you’ve mentioned, these are small circles that fit in a pocket. I can stop crocheting at any time and then come back to this work. And then I combine all the circles into one big object with a diameter of my height, namely 165 cm, to emphasise that this is my Universe, my private one. It is not a recreation of cosmic objects but how I feel about them and how I interpret them.
A.L. So this Universe is expanding, but it has limits. I didn’t know that you finish working with a planet at the moment when it reaches the size of your height, your figure.
Yes, it sometimes happens that I make more of these circles, so these objects, when I start assembling them, begin to overlap. There are gaps here, densities, but I try to limit them somehow. Although I know that cosmic objects are geometric figures, they are spheres, not flat circles, still, when I look at the sky and I look at the moon, at Luna, it is a circle, it is not a sphere for me. That’s why these objects are not “spatial spheres” but flat objects. I like to imagine the structure, the texture that can appear on these objects – to look from a frog’s perspective, how it is arranged, how it looks, how it would be to move here, how the eye “walks” around this planet and discovers these different nooks. Because the more we look at the real sky, when we look into the Universe, the more stars we are able to see. In the same way, the more we look at my objects, we find different elements, buttons, beads, sequins.
All these things are given and found, because I also obsessively look for buttons and beads that have been lost. And despite the fact that there is supposedly a superstition that a found button is bad luck and should not be taken, I photograph and collect such buttons. Because for me, there is an unknown story in such a button of the person who wore clothes with the button. So I can guess certain things, seeing if it is a button from a dress, a button from a sheet or a coat, if it is a button from a woman’s or a child’s outfit. But I also really enjoy that kind of fun and finding my memories in other people’s buttons, that I had a shirt with a button like that, for example. So when it comes to donated buttons, I don’t mark it as a button from a particular person, because in every button you can find something that belongs to you.
THE POT AND THE WORLD ARE BOILING OVER…
A.L. We talked about the Universe, and now we’ve turned to micro-histories – personal, human ones. I am looking at the object in front of me, as Marcel Duchamp would say, “assisted readymade” – an object found, adapted to art plus whatever you’ve added to it. So you could say that we are talking about the Universe here, and the pot is boiling over…
Yes, that’s right.
Maybe I’ll stop working with the yarn for a moment, pick up this pot and show it. Could you say something more about its structure, about what is “bubbling out” of it, extrapolating?
There is a crocheted structure “bubbling out of it”, a bit like Luna, this work was made more or less at a the same time. I used a pot that I had actually used for cooking some time before. A title of this work is I am crocheting and the pot is boiling over. And this work is about how hard it is for me, but not only, as a woman and as a mother, to reconcile my artistic activity and these roles. Because if I create, I don’t do house chores.
My daughter, or the very fact that I got pregnant, inspired me to switch from painting, collages that I used to make, and sculptures, to crocheting, where I can stop “work” at any time and return to it later.
But on the other hand, I also forget myself in my work. I fall into the creative process and… the potatoes may bubble out at that time. Such mundane things make creative productivity difficult, but they are also a form of inspiration for me. This everyday life that I deal with in a way is inspiring for me. And it’s not only about the private issues, but also the political or public ones that manifest themselves in my work.
A.L. Here is another pot. And there are political and social issues evoked in it, and climate issues as well. And it is also boiling over.
K.M.-A. Yes, I am crocheting and the world is boiling over. For me, a crochet hook is a communication tool: when I crochet, I find it easier to talk about certain things. And this is a work about the climate crisis and the fact that a temperature on Earth is rising, more species of animals are dying, soon people may become extinct. In this work, I also used ready-made objects, not only a crockery, but also plastic figurines of domestic and exotic animals and I also used such objects – yarns like bandages, cables, string for curing ham or used for making roasts. And all these animals are entangled here, there is also a fishing line.
On the one hand, everyone minds their own business, and we can make personal decisions to limit the use of plastic wrap, to limit meat consumption or to give it up altogether, and the same goes for dairy products. But what does this really change? I try to do something in private, I try to talk about it in my work, and a temperature keeps rising… If no systemic changes take place, if we continue to rely mainly on coal, if industrial animal husbandry continues, which also affects gases that appear in the atmosphere, then unfortunately this does not bode well.
There are also “circular” elements here, because I literally and metaphorically “crochet in circles”, so there are elements here which remind me a little of the mandala and, for me, it is also a form of making mandalas and meditation connected with it. This work is also a bit like a dream catcher. But in this case an appearing dream can be a nightmare. We make a nightmare for animals which we use.
CROCHETING IS POLITICAL
A.L. Let’s leave a domestic, private sphere, the way you grapple with reality as an artist, as a mother, and how in this reality you try, and how you manage to find a way for your creativity, how you modify it to make it possible. And besides this everyday, private aspect saturated with your energy, your stories and other people’s stories… – something is tangling up here (referring to the yarn which the artists are unravelling during the conversation), but maybe this is connected with what we want to say, which is our reality where, as you say, a temperature is rising. And it is not only a temperature of the climate but also of what is happening in the world and in Poland, i.e. increasing fascist attitudes, intolerance, limiting women’s rights…
K. M.-A. Dehumanisation of other people. This is the most horrifying thing of all. I try to speak out on this issue somehow. As much as I can. I can crochet, so I do it through crocheting.
This planet, Venus, as I’ve said, Venus stopped the Sun, and even though the Sun is almost ready. Work on it was stopped in order to make Venus. The next planet was Jupiter, which, again, put Mars on hold because I had a strong urge to make a work about LGBT+, rainbow people, so this is rainbow Jupiter. There are rainbow yarns here, in all colours, various textures, and everything is covered with white or transparent buttons. Because even a white colour is not the same, it is also different. I think there is beauty in this diversity and you have to take care of it and somehow, in your own way, bring attention to important topics. I am not necessarily good “at talking” as they say, but I express myself, using a crochet hook.
A.L. You expressed yourself very strongly in the work Sisterhood, which is how many metres long?
K.M.-A., Well… a dozen or so. It’s variable because it’s crocheted fabric which is flexible. This is a banner created some time ago. The first version consisted of individual circles with letters on black umbrellas. This sign was created in such a way that I wasn’t the only one making it. There were a few meetings where various people could come together, collectively crochet and talk. Such crocheting keeps the hands busy, but the mouth can talk. And that’s cool too, because it builds certain relationship, time spent together. This time is spent together, spent actively. It’s not like watching TV together, where it’s quiet and you sit next to each other. While crocheting you can talk. Just like here. We both have our hands busy, but we keep talking all the time.
I crocheted Sisterhood with different people. I was helped by my mother, too. At that time, I managed to go to Krakow and meet my friend, who lives abroad and then I took the yarn and we did it together. It was also very important to me that we could do something together. And later on, I merged the Sisterhood, crocheted it into one banner. And this banner keeps changing all the time. There have been other events with it, accompanying other events such as the Congress of Women or the Family Picnic of Łódzkie Dziewuchy. When we usually meet on another occasion, Sisterhood is “attached” to these events and you can add your sisterly braid. Some ribbons have appeared, some strings. Everyone can add something and join in Sisterhood. Because I strongly believe that all people will be not only brothers but also sisters, as Joanna Sokołowska brilliantly demonstrated in her exhibition under this very title: All men will be sisters. This inspired me a little bit to act not only artistically but also to act and take care of interpersonal relations and relations between women, that we should take care of each other.
A.L. This joint crocheting does build relations and refer to such meetings which used to be customary in villages, where women would meet together, talk and crochet. But as you can see, there is power in crocheting. And this power can change the world, that we can start with a small gesture on a crochet hook, and then it turns into a huge banner, which is carried by several or a dozen people. This is very visible in the public space.
K.M.-A. It is also very important to me that the banner sometimes travelled outside Łódź; it was at the manifestation in Warsaw and I could have been there, but it also went to Rzeszów, where I could not go. The girls from Łódź went there and took the Sisterhood to Rzeszów, to a voivodship where all hospitals have signed the conscience clause.
I think that these are such symbolic gestures, which might seem to mean nothing, but nevertheless give some comfort. That is why I like fibre art, because it is soft, warm, close to the body. This is also what sisterhood means to me: mutual care that I may be fine, but it doesn’t mean that others are fine, too. So it’s a common concern and a kind of similar way of thinking and taking care of each other.
A.L. We still have some threads to untangle, and we still have the second part of our campaign. Do you think we can do it?
K.M.-A. Yes, we can.
CROCHETING AND A BLACK HOLE
A.L. Looking at the colour, I am reaching for what I have on my right side, namely such circles which you crochet from a material which seems to be the least suitable for it, maybe not so much unsuitable – maybe in a moment you will say what is suitable and what is not – but a material which we do not associate with crocheting at all. These are film tapes, cassette tapes. This is an interesting object, because once everything used to be recorded on such a tape, but now they have gone out of use. And you recycle them in a way.
K.M.-A. Yes, it is another situation where I am very much inspired by other people and what is happening around. When I started to crochet The Universe, when I decided that I would not finish only with Luna and The Sun, and when the subsequent objects started to appear, of which there are already a dozen or so, one of my friends said: “How come? The Universe without a black hole? You have to make a black hole.” And I began to wonder how to make this black hole? Out of what? And the idea came up to make it out of videotapes and cassette tapes. For me, yarn is anything that can be turned into an oblong object that can be processed in some way with a crochet hook. And it is this black hole that sucks in both the image and the sound, and once something is “sucked in”, it cannot be taken out. And in the same way, when all those videotapes and cassette tapes given to me are crocheted, we will no longer have access to those sounds or films which are hidden there. It will be sucked in forever, but also fixed in a way, something will be created from it. And so, step by step, I crochet successive video and cassette tapes until an object the diameter of my height comes into being again, which will be this black hole.
A.L. When I am looking at what you are crocheting here, I recall the only work that I have crocheted and it took me two weeks, the work titled Michalina attagirl on a tenement house in Łódź. I think your works would also look fantastic in public space. But there was a moment when I was choosing various means to evoke female figures in urban space, including the figure of Michalina Tatarkówna, a textile worker who was the most important person in the city for over a decade and who until recently had her own street at Łódź Widzew. But “in the course of decommunization” this street name no longer exists. I recalled her figure with a slogan, a text on the façade, and I wondered what to do in the windows. And I thought that a cobweb was something that would be a good sign, in the sense that it would be a good metaphor for what had happened in Michalina’s life. We still don’t know how to judge her, her biography is “controversial”. Some people adore and value her, others point to her communist roots, which they consider fundamentally wrong and inappropriate, and, after all, she later legitimised the regime. Then I thought up an idea to crochet this cobweb and I learned one stitch, which is called chain stitch, and I crocheted… I don’t remember how many windows there were with “cobweb”, but a lot.
K.M.-A. Crocheted cobweb is also a form of mandala, which is very close to me. I also have a theory that everything is connected in the Universe. Not only in my Universe, where certain yarns appear in different objects, but in life we are all connected, too. You have made work that is similar to my work, and so everything is intertwined, connected and blended.
BUTTONHOLED DOMESTIC HEN AND THE ŁÓDŹ AVANT-GARDE
A.L. We already have a ball, don’t we? What we had before was a hank, and now we have a ball. Kasia, in your works you not only crochet but also buttonhole certain objects. What does it mean to buttonhole?
K.M-A. To my mind, it is to give a new meaning, but also to soften a little. We’ve decided to use a knife here, such a sharp, hard object – a combination of metal and wood in this case, an object with which you can cut bread, but you can also hurt someone. And with yarn you can tame this object a little, minimise its sharp edges, and, as they say, warm up its image with this yarn.
I also like playing with words when I give a title to my works. Sometimes the title is already there before the work is created, sometimes it appears when the work is ready. It’s a kind of word play, like now with “warming up the image”, which can be interpreted in many different ways, whether it’s something good or bad – it can be different. I find this ambiguity of interpretation and approach to a subject very inspiring.
A.L. I’m looking at an object that we haven’t mentioned yet, maybe I’ll take it out – this fantastic object– a hen, which is also buttonholed. Is it?
K.M.-A. Yes, it is.
A.L. Tell me where you got this image of the hen?
K.M.-A. This is an anatomical model of a hen, which I found in a friendly school in Szczekociny. After I started working at the Museum of Art in Łódź, I went on my first study visit to Szczekociny, because Władysław Strzemiński and Katarzyna Kobro, as well as Henryk Stażewski, lived there for several years. It is a small town where, however, a lot has been happening. I found this hen on a pile of rubbish. And when I saw it … I couldn’t resist, so I took her. Quite soon, she was named Krystyna by my colleagues from the Museum. That’s what we call her. It is a domestic hen: Gallus Gallus Domesticus. I sewed her a dress. I wanted to cover her a bit, because if you fold back the frills, you can see that on one side there are muscles, and on the other side there are entrails, and you can also see an egg inside. So I wanted to cover her, because she was a bit naked for me, without certain intimacy, so I made her a dress. The dress is blue, because that was the colour of yarn I was given, because I usually crochet from things that someone has given to me. I rarely buy anything – I use ready-made materials. With the same yarn I also made a dress for my daughter and this work is often presented in such a diptych: Domestic Hen and a girl’s dress. Because, whether we like it or not, we put certain patterns into our children: our daughters, our sons. This hen is also a work that is constantly in process and changing, just like the Sisterhood. Because the Hen modifies her views a little over the years…
A.L. Exactly, because now she has a facemask, but the hen was created earlier…
K. M-A. Yes, the facemask is the last element that was added, last year.
A.L. And here she has other items of clothing.
K. M-A. Originally she had this beret “with an antenna”, as a beret with an antenna suited Domestic Hen very well. Later on, when I became more involved in women’s rights and thought about women who had it harder than I did, and when Sisterhood came into being, I joined the international project of pussyhats, which are a symbol of feminist movements, so I thought I would also make such a pussyhat for my Hen. So, a beret was put away and a pussyhat appeared. And later, being “on lockdown” at home for a long time, I thought that the coronavirus, which has changed many people’s lives, has also affected the situation of the Hen. So there was this crown on a cap and there was also a facemask with a lightning bolt. This is also a reference to the campaign in which I participated, where I not only sewed facemasks – it was a grassroots initiative, where various people joined together and sewed facemasks – and there was this campaign “a mask is not a gag”. Restricting the rights of assembly and going out led to another tampering with women’s rights and to another voting on further restrictions. In connection with this, a campaign was launched, combining distribution of facemasks to people in need with information about the attempts to pass the restrictions in the Sejm. Hence the facemask with a lightning bolt. Unfortunately, this is still the case today. Women’s rights and the rights of non-heteronormative people need to be safeguarded, as someone is constantly on the hunt for them. These rights are not given once and for all, but we need to be vigilant and watchful. Just like a hen, which also has to be vigilant and watch out for any dangers and take care of itself and its chicks.
CROCHETING WILL NOT STOP
A.L. These laws are not given once and for all, you just have to watch out for them and be vigilant. I remember that some ten or fifteen years ago, when I said that I made feminist art, it was told that it was so “old-school” and that I would be pigenholed. I had the impression that most women in Poland didn’t know what feminism was for. Of course, I was also taught manipulated information, so to speak, when you read a bit on the subject, that women “got the right to vote in Poland”. Of course, they were not given these rights, but fought for them. In the years before the First World War, women were so active in the structures of the Polish Socialist Party, in activist structures, that they simply deserved it, that it was impossible not to “give” them the rights. Although there were also such temptations. Józef Piłsudski was very hesitant. And then, somehow, in the 1990s, we allowed ourselves to be deprived of the right to abortion and the status quo continued. But as you can see, if you allow something like that, then it goes further and further. As you say, there are always people who try to infringe on the rights of minorities and any social turbulence can be a pretext for limiting these rights.
We are slowly coming to the end of our conversation. I put the Hen on our altar. We have created a kind of an altar here. And I put away the beret too, in case the Hen wanted to change her headgear.
How is the crocheting of our knife going, buttonholing?
K. M-A. I am crocheting, but the knife is sharp and cuts the yarn. So, despite my attempt to warm up its image, a knife remains a knife, a sharp knife that cuts the yarn. But if I buttonhole it enough times, just as our grandmothers and great-grandmothers fought and pleaded enough times for women’s rights and convinced many people that women’s rights are simply due, it will work. So I am not giving in to the fact that the yarn has been cut in a few places. I will use the whole ball to buttonhole this knife so that it loses its destructive function.
A.L. Yes, in other words we are in the process all the time and you could say that it’s up to us whether we will give up or not.
K. M.-A. Yes, up to our patience. It’s a kind of stubbornness. Sometimes it is tedious stubbornness. For many years there was a so-called “abortion compromise” in Poland, which de facto was not really a compromise, but it was called like that; later it was even abolished. However, it is important not to give up, not to worry about difficulties, but to act, fight and educate. This is a long-term process, just like crocheting is not done in three minutes, it is a long-term process which requires a certain patience and repetition. Certain gestures have to be repeated and repeated to finally make something happen. For me it’s a metaphor for fighting to the end, or working to the end, working at the grassroots to keep on doing it.
A.L. But you also have to be aware that achieving the rights you are fighting for, achieving so-called peace is not the end. If we manage to create a situation in which everyone will have their own space in society – everyone who does not violate the rights of others and does not deprive others of their right to existence and dignity, it may turn out that it is “too peaceful”. And that, again, we have decided that this is something that is given to us forever….
K.M.-A. And again someone will want to take it away, so you have to be vigilant
A.L. Yes, you have to be vigilant and you have to act all the time.
Kasia, thank you for our conversation.
K.M-A And what? And I keep on crocheting all the time.
A.L. And we keep on crocheting…