Bridging divides a stitch at a time .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} ISTANBUL - Anyone can help unite two continents across the Bosphorus Bridge in 2010 by lending their handiwork. The ’Greeny’ is a colossal manmade weed that requires weatherproof yarn, thousands of patient, selfless hands - and permission.

From Europe to Asia an organic-looking green material is creeping across the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, one tendril and flower at a time. Cliché’s beware: This is better than science fiction.

More than 10,000 hands from 31 countries, young and old, have already crocheted enough of the two kilometer expanse to connect the two continents, an event the German creator and her Turkish team hope to see in May 2010. One detail exposes this project as an act of pure faith in people’s good will: These folks don’t have permission to do anything on any Istanbul bridge. Not yet, anyway.

German artist and former fashion designer Yutta Saftien says the idea found her. Last week, she came to Turkey to meet with Turkish media, sponsors, a grade school and a culture official from the Istanbul Municipality.

The first sprouts of the Bosphorus-Greeny began in Saftien’s studio in 2005. She wanted to help people connect in a peaceful way. "The main idea is that in these not very peaceful times that people can work together on an artwork without serving themselves, their individual cultures, nationalities or religions," she told the Turkish Daily News & Economic Review.

Crocheting the bridge
When Saftien was here in the 1990s as a fashion designer, she wanted to find a project that celebrated the cultural mix of people "situated between tradition and this forward-looking society."

In 2002 she had begun installing greenys, or hand knitted artificial plants, in public. "My husband returned from Istanbul and joked that I should do a greeny over the bridge." This project wants to be done, she thought. "It came to me." And pieces of the Bosphorus Greeny have been coming to the project since 2006.

The "greeny" pieces, as they are called, arrive sometimes in tiny packages from China or Poland or New York. Meters of colorful leaves and flowers come from Germany and simple tendrils from Thailand and the U.S. Others come from Greeny workshops in schools from Istanbul and the Aegean to small towns in Anatolia. Individuals are generating interest and meters around the world in places such as San Francisco, Chile and Uruguay, Columbia, India and Italy.

Istanbul coordinator of the project Derya San said their team hopes to find enough to enable the people who have grown the Greeny to be there for the joining of East and West. "This should be a public event," she said. She said she hopes members from as far away as Tokyo and Osaka will be able to read about the project that they contributed to in their own language. "In 2010 we want people to read about it in five or six languages."

Working alongside Özlem Nurcan and Önder Ergin, San works with sponsors such as Karotopu and Coats that provide the yarn as well as Olympic Airlines and Movenpick hotel. Partnering with universities, grade schools and foundations, she sets up workshops all over Turkey.

The project was invited to Turkish northern Cyprus by the first lady Mrs. Oya Talat, who has helped organize workshops in schools and even invented an instrument to expedite the process by crocheting 12 strands at a time instead of four. After a dinner with President Talat and his wife, Saftien and a few other guests were knitting together.

"Some people can only do knots and that’s great," Saftien said. Recently a men’s club from an Urfa coffee shop that works with wool called to ask how they can contribute to growing the Bosphorus Greeny. Members of the International Women of Istanbul have also gotten involved this month.

Willful suspension
With a grant from the Sisli Municipality to preview the work of the Bosphorus Greeny, Saftien developed the idea of streetlamp-Greenys in the public space around historical Abdi İpekçi Caddesi in Nişantaşı. This past April, 58 streetlamps in the area were "greened up" with long shiny tendrils filled with leaves and blossoms. After the Greeny-days of Nişantaşı, Saftien and her team sent the Greenys on tour.

"The Greenys caused people to stop long enough to start talking to the folks around them," Saftien said. Passersby would stop and chat about what they saw, the definition of art or craft traditions in their families. Saftien knows this because she makes a practice of hanging around the installations as an undercover observer rather than revealing herself as the artist.

My idea is to let it grow over difficult, divided places. As a social and political work of art, Saftien said she hopes to transplant the Bosphorus Greeny to places that are important for peace. "Over the wall between Israel and Gaza would be idealÉ I hate this war," she said.

As for the lack of permission in the face of mountains of planning, big-name sponsors and thousands of tendrils, Saftien says they are not afraid. "So far we have met with only open doors."