In southernmost Berkeley, the Richmond BART emerges from its subterranean track with a ghostly howl and trundles into Oakland, elevated above Martin Luther King Jr. Way. On an abbreviated bit of greenery at the intersection of Adeline and MLK, in the shade of youthful evergreens, powder-coated steel-plate capital letters spelling out the words “HERE” and “THERE” stand eight feet high.
The public art piece is a riff on Gertrude Stein, who famously said of Oakland, “There is no there there.” Stein was referring to the disappearance of her childhood home, but the quote has turned into an epithet against Oakland. An artist subsidized by the City of Berkeley installed the sculpture in 2005.
Right now, the T in THERE is wearing a colorful, hand-knitted suit—a patchwork of blues, greens, reds, and yellows. Last month, the T was “yarn bombed” in the dead of night by a group of local knitters affiliated with the international organization KnittaPlease, which has committed acts of “knit graffiti” in cities around the world and boasts the motto “we knit graffiti.” The local chapter of anonymous guerilla knitters cozied up the T in a bit of wry commentary about East Bay identity.
“You can see it as commentary, you can see it as art, you can see it as a lot of things,” said Emily Jan, an Oakland-based artist and designer and knitter.
If you happened to pass by the T today, you might have been invited to join the renegade knitters for a tea and cakes provided by the bakery Sweet Adeline, which is just across the street. The knitters were holding a “T party” to bring attention to their piece, which the City of Berkeley has threatened to take down. Berkeley contacted them last week, according to one of the anonymous knitting guerillas, and said a piece of federal legislation prohibited altering public works of art.
“It’s so Bay Area,” Jan said. “In a way we’re very progressive. And in a way we’re really restrictive.”
“It’s brought way more attention to the sculpture,” observed Síla Convery, who owns knit one one, a knitting store across the street from the T.
Regardless of what becomes of the T cozy, the knitters vowed to yarn bomb again.