Yarn Bombing at Mall of America: From Public Nuisance to Artistic Expression

The Mall of America gets a new, huge, brightly colored installation of yarn art courtesy of local artist HOTTEA. It’s the same idea as graffiti—just less controversial.

From his yarn work woven into chain link fences around the Cities to his rainbow-gradiant installation in Loring Park for pride festivities last year to his recent work for the X Games, you might have already seen this local artist’s colorful creations. Using thousands of feet of yarn as his medium, Eric Rieger, known by his street name HOTTEA, takes graffiti-like street art to a new level—harnessing it in a non-destructive form that’s seen as artistic rather than as a public nuisance.

But before covering the Minneapolis scene in yarn art, Rieger did write graffiti. Then, after an incident involving a few Tasers and jail time, he worked on getting a degree in graphic design at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Rieger graduated in 2007 and became a freelance designer. Around this time, the death of his grandmother—who taught him how to knit—prompted him to turn his loves of typography, yarn, and street art into a combined art form. He produced his first fence work—yarn woven into a chain-link fence and spelling out the word HOTTEA. He continued to weave images and words into fences, then began making yarn hangings, including canopies on pedestrian walkways over highways in the Twin Cities.

Now, the public can marvel at his most challenging installation yet at Mall of America. With 721 pounds of yarn in 103 colors, “Hot Lunch,” a name inspired by his assistant who works as a school lunch aid, has become his largest installation to date. Visitors can view his work hanging in the Atrium at the north entrance of the Mall on display until October.

Almost a decade ago, HOTTEA wasn’t the only one using yarn as art in public spaces. The global phenomenon “yarn bombing” popped up across the world in places including London, Paris, Canada, and Australia. Yarn bombers knitted sleeves and blanket-like pieces to fill holes in concrete, wrap around trees, cover seats on public trains, and blanket statues. Yarn bombing has continued to make its mark on the art industry and in pop culture since the early 2000s. Books have been written about the movement, and Fortune 500 companies including Toyota have hired yarn bombers to complete projects such as knitting a car a Christmas sweater for a promotional video.

Yarn bombing and graffiti fall under the same category, yet unlike graffiti, yarn bombing often receives warm recognition while spray-paint graffiti remains less appreciated. That’s because, unlike graffiti, yarn bombing exists as a less permanent form of “vandalism.” HOTTEA’s yarn art never lasts more than a few days when in public spaces. People tend to tear his installations down, either by accident or on purpose.

Although more appreciated, yarn bombing is still considered vandalism in the eyes of law enforcement—though yarn bombers hardly have run-ins with the police. When they do, the police are more likely to laugh at them than issue any citations, the New York Times reported.

Yarn bombing gives urban, public spaces a Midwestern, homey touch. Considering the yarn craze has yet to stop after all these years, and considering HOTTEA is only garnering more and more private, legal commissions, you’ll likely encounter a work or two more in the future if you haven’t already.