The story of Claudia Weber's train delay scarf goes beyond an impressive dedication to knit chronology. Like many pieces of statement art, the train delay scarf made an impact- but what makes statement art effective, and why is it valuable?
As a busy commuter, Weber was impacted by railway maintenance that meant she needed to travel by bus to get from Moosburg, her town in Bavaria, to where she works in Munich. An avid knitter, Weber began making a scarf that used a color code to depict the delays she encountered while commuting. She added two rows each day, resulting in a four-foot scarf at the end of the year. Pictures of the scarf quickly gained attention online. When Weber realized the kind of interest her scarf had attracted, she auctioned it off on eBay for $8,650 and donated the money to a charity called Bahnhofsmission.
The Bahnhofsmission, or Railway Mission, is an organization that provides assistance to people at train stations. They provide a wide range of services for people in need, including assisting people who have been robbed, people struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, mothers looking for a comfortable place to breastfeed their children, and people with disabilities who would benefit from assistance getting on to a train.
Why Statement Art Works
Claudia Weber could not have known that her grey and red scarf would impact her community as much as it did. In sharing her artwork, she brought attention to a relatable problem: the frustration that commuters feel when faced with delays. Looking at the scarf puts into perspective just how much time we spend waiting. And in so doing, she saw the opportunity to bring light to another issue. Train stations are hubs of activity; people coming and going in intersections of socioeconomic status and life circumstances. Whether in the first rows of her scarf she intended to or not, Weber artfully moved people's focus from the personal discomfort of transit delays to the question of how to help those around them.
Statement art functions through many mechanisms, and sometimes that function shifts over time, as in the case of the train delay scarf. Bringing attention to problems on any scale should not be undervalued. The ever-growing impact of the AIDS Memorial Quilt seeks to raise awareness for those affected by HIV and AIDS. What started as a single panel in 1987 is now made up of more than 48,000 panels and has raised over $3 million for AIDS service organizations over the course of its many displays. The public art project Stop Telling Women to Smile is in its 7th year and displays street art in cities around the world.
Can Statement Art Fail?
What happens when statement art does not achieve its intended result? Let's take the example of Charles Krafft. For decades, his provocative Nazi-themed artwork was interpreted as ironic. "Hitler Idaho" is a ceramic teapot with an empty-eyed Hitler painted on the side, and the word "Idaho" at its base. What could be more incongruous? But what no one saw coming was that Krafft turns out to be a Holocaust denier. What the public considered absurd pairings meant to delegitimize Nazi ideologies may have actually been intended to depict what Krafft considers exaggerated demonizations. Given that art is interpreted differently by each viewer, how should the intentions of the artist influence our perception of statement art? One could argue that, regardless of intentions, art borne out of deeply troubling convictions creates exactly what statement art is for: dialogue.