Artworks made of yarn and other fabrics have been proliferating locally — at the Orange County Museum of Art and Great Park Gallery — as well as internationally, at the recent Frieze London art fair. 

Yarn, traditionally considered a medium to be used primarily by women, is malleable, colorful and versatile. And as this unusual exhibition, titled “Zer | o,” proves, yarn can then be manipulated to create a wide variety of artful configurations, shapes and installations.

“Zer | o” by Threadwinners, a crochet art collaborative, includes more than two-dozen sculptural and installation art pieces, created from yarn. The works are installed throughout Irvine’s WorkWell, a communal office space that features modern industrial design and soaring ceilings. Threadwinners was formed by Liz Flynn and Alyssa Arney, artists who met as interns at the Orange County Museum of Art. 

Their art collaborative’s title is a play on words, based on the term, “breadwinner,” which alludes to the macho, in-control male. Threadwinners then, as the project of two millennial women, has political aspects, subverting the old-fashioned male patriarchy and marginalization of women. In fact, Flynn and Arney aim “to foster conversations and a sense of openness between art and craft, thereby dismantling the elitism, racism, and sexism surrounding fine art,” as they explain.

(Courtesy of the artist)

The title “Zer | o” refers to elaborate artworks that are based on simple stitches and basic shapes, “all layered upon each other to create something bigger.” The number “0” in the title connotes that basic stitches and shapes are the starting point for the resulting elaborate artworks.

Entering WorkWell, the visitor is greeted by several multi-colored yarn pom-poms in various sizes, with a few hanging from the vaulted ceilings. Titled “The Pom,” “Pom Prom” and ”The Pom II,” with other variations on these names, in sizes up to 17×20 inches, these whimsical creations were made through the laborious sorting and weaving of numerous pieces of yarn of many different colors. Reminding us of pom-poms used by cheerleaders, and reconfigured as art pieces, they could also be stand-ins for planets and other ethereal objects.

(Courtesy of the artist)

Three art pieces in this exhibition, “Knots I,” “Knots II” and “Knots III,” are more complex and larger creations as big as 36×24 inches and weighing as much as 20 pounds. These works, made from interwoven and knotted crocheted blobs of colored yarns, look more like conjoined primitive crawling creatures, perhaps snails, than like woven yarn. Even more fascinating is the obvious arduous work that went into making these creatures. 

Several mixed media works from the smaller “Hanging Orb, 2019 series,” ranging from 3×3 inches to 8×8 inches, are more intricate configurations with their tightly woven, crocheted and interlocking swaths of multi-colored yarn. These old-fashioned looking pieces appear to mimic clumps of extra yarn, which has been tossed into drawers or closets. Yet in spite of their prosaic appearance they transcend and even challenge — through their intense creativity and labored workmanship — the so-called marginalization of “women’s work.”   

Challenging art’s “look but don’t touch” guidelines, Threadwinners’ Flynn and Arney invite viewers to touch, caress and even sit on some of their “Zer | o” creations. Their mixed media “Abject Objects” is an inviting three-part artwork, consisting of two metal chairs and one table, onto which are crocheted intricate, colorful abstract yarn patterns. The artists seem to suggest that traditional women’s work can turn sterile, uncomfortable furnishings into objects of beauty and comfort. 

A surprising piece in this exhibition is the wall hanging, “Spectrum.” Made of long strands of yarn in all colors of the rainbow, it re-creates the color spectrum. Two other wall hangings, “Drips” and “Strings” also incorporate strands of yarn, along with tiny crocheted pieces in the first work, and with ribbons in the second one.

Here also are small collectible pieces, including: “crochet mini-succulents,” small green and yellow crocheted balls, mimicking pieces of fruit; “assorted crochet food plushies,” “knitted pocket tee,” a T-shirt with a pocket made of yarn; and a “churro pillow” in beige.

The most varied and colorful artwork in this show is a large vertical wall hanging titled “Succulents.” This sculptural piece in all colors of the rainbow includes knitting, crocheting and even knotting techniques, and is like a tapestry, demonstrating the artist’s assiduous dedication to their craft.

(Courtesy of the artist)

Beyond the beauty and complexity of the art pieces in this groundbreaking exhibition, there is apparent devotion by the artists to explore the many ways that crocheting can be employed. By doing so, Flynn and Arney are at the forefront of contemporary art movements that are using non-traditional materials to create the work. The artists also believe that their pieces “serve as an interactive playground for the viewer to explore their reactions, feelings and preconceived notions.” 

Aquila Projects, based in Irvine, an art collective that mounted the show, explains that it “was born from an innate desire to break down the barriers of elitism and create new innovative pathways into the contemporary art world, recognized for its pioneering approach to supporting emerging artists and role in expanding and diversifying audiences using experimental spaces.” Aquila then is an appropriate consortium to appreciate and display the unusual work by Threadwinners.

“Zer | o” can be seen at WorkWell, 17322 Murphy Ave., Irvine, through November 2. The space is open to the public Saturday and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.