Extreme Knitter Saki Chikaraishi is Colonizing the World with Color
Ikebukuro's Lumine department store is under alien invasion. Like ectoplasm, scarlet and pink knitting creeps over chairs and potted plants in a relaxation area, along balustrades near the escalators, up stepladders and around overhead signs.

According to artist Saki Chikaraishi, it's an invasion by the addi UFO, the Knitter in the Sky, a friendly alien who performs cattle mutilations in between wrapping the entire world in plain and purl. Chikaraishi acts as the alien's accomplice, spreading color, warmth and fluffiness over minimalist indoor spaces and cold concrete urban design. These invasions are part installation, part performance art, as the artist herself, dressed in a knitted NASA space suit, knits the piece on site.

At the recent invasion, Chikaraishi was busy weaving crocheted ropes around a store sign suspended from the ceiling. The wool is pre-knitted into long thin chains that are then wrapped around store furniture and fixtures. Unlike the murderous alien colonizers of old Sci-Fi films or the lizard people beloved of conspiracy theorists, these aliens are more like the Tribbles, the cute soft-toy creatures from the cheesy Star Trek episode. Scarlet wool aliens already cover a sofa seat and a balcony handrail, and other red inflorescences bloom like exotic flowers among the foliage plants.

Center stage is a piece of kinetic art sectioned off with wool ropes. The addi UFO has blood-red wool ropes descending from a knitting machine and endlessly looping into plastic tubes. A multi-media piece in wool, knitting machines, motors and tubes, it beguiles with its innocence despite its gruesome, cattle-mutilating connotations.

A One-Woman Quest

A graduate of Tama Art University, Chikaraishi has been on her quixotic quest to cover the world in knitting since 2004. She's exhibited in numerous group shows both in Japan and internationally, and also mounted several solo shows in Tokyo. In 2014, she was awarded the Grand Prize at the Lumine meets Art Award.

In 2014 she launched an ambitious piece of performance art entitled the Travelling Knitting Machine Project. The knitting machine is contained in a colorful Perspex suitcase and produces knitting as the case is rolled along the street. To date she has performed this piece in Japan and the UK, giving out lengths of tubular knitting to strangers she meets along the way. The willing victims get to wear the knitting as colorful sleeves or short mufflers. For the artist, it's a way to whimsically fabricate a connection among people, and between people and places.

In another installation from last year called Amigurumi (Knitted Stuffed Creature), Chikaraishi imagined urban objects as living things. She wrapped grim Tokyo street furniture such as electric transformers and concrete bollards in fluorescent knitting and turned them into plush toys. An exhaust-stained, graffiti-covered metal box was suddenly transformed into a neon-pink acrylic monster with lively eyes and hungry mouths.

Intergalactic Plain and Purl

Chikaraishi's art follows a long tradition of extreme knitting. As far back as the 1850s, the Irish crochet artist Riego de la Branchardiere published patterns for knitted flowers and a crocheted bracelet in the form of a snake.

More recently, so-called yarn bombers and graffiti knitters have been crocheting trees, lampposts and statues in US and European cities. As the Hyper Knit Creator, Chikaraishi aims to go much further. When she comes across an item that inspires her, be it koala bear, iPhone or space suit, she knits herself a replica outfit and becomes the thing itself.

So why is she so attached to her knitting needles as an art tool? According to her manifesto, "As long as I have my needles and my yarn, I can work wherever I am. Knitted fabric can gently fit the form of any object and envelop it. In other words, it can communicate with objects." Her current goal is to conquer the whole world use knitting to connect people and place, fantasy and reality, etc.

Saki Chikaraishi is actively bringing some color and warmth to the naked city streets, and connecting strangers together with her endless lengths of yarn. She's one of the few artists out there today who brings a sense of humor and an infectious feeling of joy to conceptual art.

So next time you see a woman in a surreal outfit dragging a knitting- machine suitcase and covering the city in colorful yarn, stop and say hello. It's the Hyper Knit Creator on her quest for wooly world domination.

Photo credits: Ventola Milk (#1); Kosuke Natatsuka (#6)
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