Film Review: Yarn

This uneven examination of artists and activists using textile materials to explore sociopolitical issues is best suited to art-house and other non-mainstream venues.
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Directed by Icelandic filmmaker Una Lorenzen and narrated by critically acclaimed, Kentucky-born novelist Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible), this intensely personal documentary focuses on the work of female artists deeply committed to using media generally dismissed as craft rather than art—needlepoint, crochet, knitting—to explore issues of sustainability, women's rights and political revolt.

Of the four artists on whom Yarn focuses, Icelander Tinna Thorudottir, who expresses herself through "yarn graffiti," is by far the most engaging. First seen climbing over a fence and nailing small stars made from local wool to a post, she's simultaneously funny, articulate, fearless, and focused on her mission to use a medium most people associate with their grannies to both engage the eye and make a pointed statement about the knee-jerk devaluation of art that frankly acknowledges its roots in women's work.

Danish Tilde Bjorfors takes a more academic approach to her large-scale performance installation for Copenhagen's Cirkus Cirkor and leaves much of the talking to the various earnest aerialists and gymnasts who inhabit her piece, while the Polish-born Olek—a Madonna-esque provocateur—makes a glib case for art that brings together generations by smothering ordinary objects in colorful yarn throws, though her crocheted mermaid tail is surprisingly enchanting.

By far the most articulate creator is also the most practical: Japanese sculptor Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam started her career as a fine artist but later dedicated herself to stimulating urban children's imaginations by creating indoor, fiber-based recreation areas. Picture enormous, suspended, soft jungle-gyms dotted with hidey-holes where youngsters can revert to being the little apes they are...it's hard to imagine them catching on in the lawsuit-crazy U.S., but they look like a lot of fun.

Sad to say, Kingsolver's narration is just plain dreadful, tending to such laboriously poetic proclamations as "beneath her greening scalp, the Earth frets and dreams and knits herself wordless," and her readings are consistently flat and far less eloquent than a single shot of shaggy Icelandic sheep (whose wool is, of course, the origin of yarn) standing on a slope just being sheep, thoughtlessly at one with the larger world.

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