An ongoing renaissance of knitting and crocheting is chronicled in the full-length documentary YARN. The film follows four artists from four different countries as they bring their balls of wool into the most unlikely of places: playgrounds in Japan, fountains in Spain, and alongside dolphins off the coast of Hawaii. Through these stories, director Una Lorenzen and co-directors/producers Heather Millard and Thordur Jonsson extract the immediacy and the relevance of an ancient object, an age-old craft.
YARN is Lorenzen's first film. An animator by trade, she came upon the project via Millard (with whom she has worked in the past) to punctuate the film with her stop-motion scenes. While not a knitter or chrocheter, Lorenzen nevertheless is deeply tied to yarn itself. “I'm actually connected to yarn in two different ways,” she says. “I am connected to Icelandic wool, like all Icelanders—we have more sheep than people in Iceland—and I was brought up by textile workers. My mother was head of a textile department in Iceland for 25 years. That is where I grew up: around all those weaving chairs and twisting techniques.”
While Lorenzen’s role evolved along with the project, the director's animations (as seen in the image below) still serve as the film's signposts, complementing the narration and prose poetry of Barbara Kingsolver.
YARN's narrative threads arise organically from the hands and words of the artists themselves. “It was important to us to let the voices of the artists be the voice of the film,” Lorenzen tells The Creators Project. “We as filmmakers are not putting our 'stamp' on it in that way.”
The film begins in Iceland, at the birthplace of some of the most coveted wool in the world. It opens to the “yarnbombing” antics of Tinna Þórudóttir Þorvaldsdóttir. Þórudóttir Þorvaldsdóttir and her weblike wool graffiti take us from the backs of Icelandic sheep, to the beaches of Barcelona, and finally to the pastel streets of Havana. Þórudóttir Þorvaldsdóttir uses yarn as a statement, whether it is wrapping a street pole in Southern Spain in a “Free Palestine” design, or celebrating life with a “Viva la Vida” banner in Cuba.
Olek, another artist featured in the film, is a crocheter from Poland, now living in New York. Her looped designs cover canvases, trains, and people in colorful threads. Olek’s story, in a similar way to Þórudóttir Þorvaldsdóttir’s, illuminates the liberating capabilities of the craft: yarn has brought her from the restrictive environment of her home into a life of international gallery shows, forays into performance art, and a unique brand of environmental activism.
Later in the film, Tilde Bjöfors and the Cirkus Cirkör use yarn as set, prop, and character in a performance that tests the physical limits of both person and wool. Performers in Bjöfors' contemporary take on the circus show dangle from yarn swings, hover on yarn trapezes, and play violin on yarn bows.
Finally, the story alights upon the smiling face of Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam of NetPlayWorks. The Japanese-born textile artist has been crafting crocheted playgrounds since 1979, when she made the first of her creations for a national park in southern Japan. Horiuchi MacAdam’s story, the confessed favorite of the director, highlights some of the most pressing questions breached in the film. “She was in and out of the art world and that brings up an issue that comes up again and again in the film: the art versus the craft,” Lorenzen says. “Her story just goes to show that there are some invisible lines [between art and craft] within different fields (not only with yarn), but those lines are constantly changing.”
The director adds, “Yarn is such a symbolic object in so many ways and the film taps into all these things that it is connected to: feminism, history," and, above all, "art.”
YARN opens in Los Angeles tomorrow, July 15. Find out more about the project, the filmmakers, and the artists involved, on the film's website.