A squiggly bike rack gets a woolly makeover in Berkeley

"The yarn bombers are at it again with their latest, greatest creation at the corner or Shattuck and Vine," writes Colleen Neff who sent in this photo.

On Saturday afternoon, another of Berkeley’s permanent structures was given a woolly makeover — as yarn-bombing artist Streetcolor and her assistant went to work on the bike rack in front of the former Black Oak Books store on Shattuck Avenue.

A crowd gathered to watch the creation come to life, and Streetcolor tells us many of them made a point of thanking her for what she did for Berkeley. “We were touched. A lot of people stopped and watched. And talked to us. We came out at two in the afternoon on Saturday so we could have a lot of interaction,” she says.

Given the nature of her work, Streetcolor wants to remain annonynous. However her blog documents her projects, which have appeared in Oakland, San Jose, Palo Alto, Sacramento — even Paris. “We don’t mind being  known visually as long as no one takes our picture,” she says. On Saturday her cover was somewhat compromised. “Friends were driving by and yelling our real names out the window of their cars. ‘No!’ I would yell. ‘Call me Streetcolor!” she says.

Streetcolor chose this latest location because, she says, she had wanted to knit over a long wavy bike rack for a long time. “I had been looking all over Berkeley for one that was spaced in an exciting way. And one I would see regularly.

“I go to The Cheese Board, and The Farmers’ Market on Thursday, so I look at that bike rack a lot. When we put up a yarnbomb in Berkeley it’s like decorating my home. You know it’s fun to rearrange the furniture.”

In November, Streetcolor decorated the stop sign at the intersection where 5-year-old Zachary Cruz was killed in February 2009. Her colorful coverings have also popped up on Fourth Street, in the Elmwood and on Adeline. “A lot of the pieces are getting pretty aged,” she says. “We will probably start taking some down and hopefully re-bomb.”

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  • Bruce Love

    With all due respect, yes please do start taking pieces down. I am not sure if it is the same artist or not but there is one on one of my travel routes which appears to be quite dingy to the point where I wonder when it becomes a health hazard. It also appears to be not particularly good for the tree to which it was applied or the animals that would normally use that tree.

    I also question the wisdom of knitting a covered bike rack. The work does look nifty, I’ll give it that. I fear, though, that it will snag on bikes and, much worse, should it begin to fray, may easily become entangled in bike chains, gears, and spokes. To me, this diminishes the apparent artistic intent to brighten the neighborhood with whimsy. This is a form of whimsy that, no, it probably won’t create any disasters but it is a bit unfair to cyclists.

  • elmwood neighbor

    Is someone’s heart two sizes too small?

  • RR

    While old yarn may look dingy, I don’t think it is truly a health hazard. No one is going to get sick from dirty yarn. And my guess is animals will use the frayed fibers for their nests. As for bike racks, the yarn actually protects a bike’s paint job. I’m a frequent biker and walker on Berkeley’s streets and I’m always happy to see Streetcolor’s work — even the older ones.

  • http://blognabbit.blogspot.com deirdre

    did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bike rack?

  • http://www.ransackedgoods.typepad.com Ransacked Goods

    I think these are wonderful and a testament to the creative people we have in our city. Thanks for the time and energy it takes to create these bright spots of happiness!!

  • Melanie

    BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE! (If the Boss’s admirers can scream it at him, I can scream it at you.) Oh, come on, Bruce. It’s pretty. It’s cheery. It’s arty. The urban world needs all the prettiness and good cheer and art it can get.

    But you may have a point. Cyclists out there–what say you?

  • Eric Panzer

    CAVE person noun
    1: Citizen Against Virtually Everything; a person who objects to everything, including change, the status quo, the utterly innocuous, and/or all of the above at the same time.

  • Maureen Burke

    Love it! If only one could see this with the help of the sadly late Mr. Owsley’s Windowpane.

  • Ms.V

    Gorgeous! A wonderful spot and form for the colors to play on! And, hopefully the cyclists are happy too, someone was thinking of them as well, I’d imagine!

  • gecko

    I love parking my bike on these things. They are soft, so my bike doesn’t get scratched. I feel like the bright colors are a reward for biking.

  • Bruce Love

    So, let me make something clear. I’m OK with harmless subversive art. I’m in favor of subversive art that helps make positive change. Yarn bombing is ok. Hey, I think it’s getting a bit old but, whatever. My complaints are very specific, though:

    Where I travel, I encounter an old, weathered, dirty, plant and animal unfriendly yarn bomb. All bird pooped and insect nasty and, unlike the living thing it “adorns”, not exactly self cleaning — it just gets worse and worse. Yarn bombers should (a) have more respect fro the flora and fauna; (b) commit to cleaning up old works.

    On bikes, well, I ride one ever day. That’s how I get around. I use racks like that every day. There are three problems with yarn bombing that kind of rack. Peddle snags (leading to larger snags), other snags, and hygiene.

    Peddle snags: Peddles are the part of a bike most likely to come into uncontrolled contact with a rack like that. Many people have fairly smooth surface peddles so you think, so what? Many other people (like me) have peddles that have all kinds of ragged edges and/or toe cages — really, really optimal for snagging a yarn wrap. If the thing starts to fray down there, its fraying in just about the worst place you could get yarn tangling up with your bike – the front part of the transmission.

    Other snags: When these racks get crowded, it can be a challenge to use them without snagging the cables or chains of other bikes. Wrapping the rack compounds that problem. People have to maneuver things like bikes and panniers in those tight quarters. Lining the gap between lock-up posts with easily snagged yarn is, well, not helping.

    I’m familiar with that particular rack and I concede that it is rarely crowded. That doesn’t make wrapping it a great idea.

    Finally, hygiene. A bike rack is an exposed inorganic surface that lots of people have to touch. It’d be pretty gross, I hope most people would agree, to, say, “sponge bomb” the rack – wrap it in a sponge like material. You might have noticed, if you’re old like me, how sponge-like surfaces have largely disappeared from the designs of public amenities – in no small part because of the problem of keeping them clean.

    A yarn bomb isn’t quite so bad as a sponge bomb would be but it is a decent way towards getting there.

    So that’s all I’m saying: clean up old ones, respect plants more, and please be considerate of bike racks.

    Oh, and get off my lawn!

    Sheesh.

  • CJ Higley

    Would it be possible to preserve this post and comment thread in some sort of official City time capsule so future generations will know exactly what it was like to live in Berkeley in 2011?

  • Sharkey

    UGH BERKELEYSIDE WHY YOU GOTTA DELETE MY COMMENTS???
    Really, you need to develop a way that posters who forget to put in their name and e-mail don’t have their comments immediately deleted when they click the Post Comment button. So frustrating!

    Yarn bombing can be a great way to add texture and color to public spaces in a way that is less permanent than traditional graffiti, but Bruce has a point when he says that it can get pretty nasty over time.

    The yarn bombing on the HERE/THERE sculpture at the border of Berkeley and Oakland was really neat when it first went up twelve months ago, but it’s gotten really disgusting in the months since then and probably ought to be removed.

    http://oaklandnorth.net/2010/05/30/guerilla-knitters-yarn-bomb-sculpture-on-oakland-berkeley-border/

    Perhaps if yarn bombers made a habit of removing their work after a set amount of time (6 months?) it might not be am issue.

  • Sharkey

    Something’s wrong with Berkeleyside’s commenting right now.

    I made a post that isn’t showing up, and when I try to re-post the same comment, it says I’ve already posted it.

  • Berkeley Loves Color

    Will there be a new Yarn Store opening in the old Black Oak Books called Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds?

  • Deb

    Hygiene? Don’t lick the bike racks and you should be good.
    If you find the knitted things annoying, I’m pretty sure you can just cut them off whatever they are attached to and throw the knitted things away.
    Fun for a minute, temporary by nature.
    I’ve cut down a few plants in Berkeley traffic circles that were interfering with visibility. One person threatened to call the cops, which I encouraged, but they didn’t call I guess. I thought it would be good to bring attention to the problem so I didn’t think cops would be problematic. Never know though, the way police go around shooting old arthritic dogs sometimes.

  • http://www.berkeleyside.com Lance Knobel

    Sharkey: I’ve recovered your comment, I think. The problem was it had a line in all capital letters and it had a link. Our algorithm interpreted the conjunction of those two things as spam.

  • rb

    so, I clicked over to Streetcolor’s blog and saw that on March 2, she had asked

    1 The Berkeley Yarnbombs are getting pretty faded and beat up. When should I take them down?

    2.Should I take them down and put up new ones in the same places?

    Maybe the complainers could take it over there (nicely)?

  • Sharkey

    Thanks, Lance.

    I seem to trip up the spam filter a lot.
    It’s a slow process, but I’m learning. :)

  • EMR

    IJWTS thank you to Berkeleyside for having an algorithm that blocks out all caps and urls to other sites. I wish the New York Times would do that. Their comments section is infested with self promoters and illiterates.

  • Melanie

    @CJ Higley says: Would it be possible to preserve this post and comment thread in some sort of official City time capsule so future generations will know exactly what it was like to live in Berkeley in 2011?

    Brilliant idea! Let’s not forget to add a gourmet cinnamon bun, a Kindle, and a (real) book of Julia Vinograd’s poems.

  • Rebren

    Bomb on! I find it delightful and quintessentially Berkeley! I live across the street from the HERE/THERE signs and love when they covered the T in yarn. I rolled my eyes at the claim that it was a political statement about the Us/Them factor of the signs (oh, do come along!) but I really enjoyed it when it went up. Tah-dah! Hey, art where it “shouldn’t” be! Rock onward!

    And to Bruce’s credit, I understand what he means about the dinginess factor. Other yarn bombs on my block (tree at Sweet Adeline, sign post nearby) are looking a bit peaked and slightly gnarly. But rather than remove, I vote replace. Sorry, Bruce! :) But, hey! I bet as a cyclist you carry tools of some sort? Maybe you can add a Swiss Army Knife with scissors to the kit so any yarn entanglement issues could be a quick fix?

    I love the idea of colorful, yarn-bomb scavenged nests hidden in the trees of Berkeley.

  • tizzielish

    There are yarnbombers all over. I used to live on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. Recently, Incognitto, their local yarnbomber, started yarnbombing Langley and the new local police chief nipped it in the bud.

    I am fascinated that anyone has complained about this charming phenomenon. Modern life gets more and more institutional. Yarnbombs are a warm, cheerful, lighthearted thing.

    And a reminder: not that I want to advocate anarchy but if someone thinks a yarnbomb is getting dirty and worn and should be removed, that someone would remove the old yarnbomb. We can take back the commons, folks. It doesn’t belong to ‘them’, it belongs to us.

    I think it would bug me to lock my bike on a bikerack that had been yarnbombed. What if a bit of yarn did get caught in my bike gear? There is a tiny voice within me that can become crabby and querulous about a yarnbomb but there are happier voices within me that whisper that warmth and friendliness are important to culture. I tell my uptight -what-if-the-yarn-snags-my-bike-lock self to take a chill pill.

    I love the yarnbomb on the bike rack. Yarn on, Streetcolor. I wish you would do more yarnbombing, not less.

  • Seena

    Gee, Bruce, as a cyclist I couldn’t disagree more. I walked by and touched it last night and my first thought was, Great! The paint on my bike won’t be scratched!
    What’s wrong with that? Plus, it looks so zingy!

  • Mira

    The yarnbombs make me happy every time I see them around. My kids call them “sign sweaters.” Keep it up, Streetcolor!

  • max

    My goodness, this article was supposed to be about our neighbor-knitters who are doing some fun and attractive things. “Bruce Love” is really spending too much time trolling online. And thinking rather than living a life. Oh well. I hope I don’t accidentally lock my bike next to his in a way that doesn’t match his standards. And yet if that should happen I’ll surely read about it here.

  • kim

    shine on, streetcolor! thanks for giving me something to smile about.

  • http://ww Angie C.

    GO STREETCOLOR! :)

  • Bruce Love

    What a positive project this must be! Someone agrees with the artist that the old ratty ones ought to be taken down and, by the way, says that perhaps bike racks aren’t such a great idea for this form of art. In response, a bunch of people name call and insult that person. In intellectual, artistic, progressive college town Berkeley California, is this what public discourse has come to? It is politically incorrect and deserving of name calling and personal insult to question any aspect at all of yarn bombing? Nice.

    To my mind, that’s part of how radical street art goes wrong: when it becomes confrontation for confrontation’s sake. It seems that half the pleasure some people take in the art is the excuse it provides them to, as the kids say, hate on others. Yup, these works sure do spread a positive spirit, I see.

  • Sharkey

    @ Bruce Love — I think you need to learn how to use the Compliment Sandwich. It’s a silly technique, but it works.

    And while the pieces can start to look gross after a while, proclaiming that they’re public health hazards and bad for the trees is a bit over the top. Putting a sweater on a sequoia never did nobody no harm.

  • Sha2000

    Eventually a tree trunk does expand with growth and the yarn can cut through the bark and damage the vascular cambium of the tree. This is why it is no longer the practice to tie young trees with ropes or wires alone. Old yarn exposed to the elements most likely will break away but the knitting it’s self can make it strong enough to damage a tree. The yarn can also hold moisture close to the bark and cause rot. All that said, I agree with Bruce. Art is great but some art was meant to be temporal; in those cases it is the responsibility of the artist to clean-up what remains. No one would wear a dirty, faded sweater torn with holes, why should a tree?

  • Sha2000

    Oh, and as for putting a sweater on a Sequoia Gigantea, please do not give them any ideas!!!

  • Robert Mathews

    Seeing a yarnbombed sign makes my young kids happy. Even the old faded ones. It’s not as if the streets are littered with old wool; it will take care of itself.

  • Sha2000

    I get what you are saying Robert; but I’m sure your kids know enough when they need to clean up after themselves, why shouldn’t the “artist”?

  • Sharkey

    Putting the word artist in quotes?
    Looks like somebody decided to start trolling early this morning.

  • http://www.berkeleyhomes.com/blog Ira Serkes

    I saw it Monday morning and it made me smile.

    Reminded me of “The Gates”

    Perhaps we could call it “The Knits”

    I also vote for preserving all these knit-picking comments.

    Ira

  • chris juricich

    Yarnbombs. Absolutely fun.

    Anyone who complains about yarnbombs is just a big ol’ candy ass in my opinion. Seriously. It’s yarn and its biodegradable.

  • http://www.artcarfest.com Emily Duffy

    More color, more yarn, more, MORE , MOOOOOORE please! I can’t get enough of your work, be it new, old, faded, raggedy, pristine, or otherwise.