There was an alien invasion in the backcountry of Santa Barbara recently. Intricate, Technicolor yarn aliens descended upon Fir Canyon in the Los Padres National Forest to do a little “camping” just a few miles down the Davy Brown Trail.
However, just 36 hours after their arrival and subsequent camp strike of similarly brilliant and bright yarn-based tents, Mother Nature whipped up a brisk overnight wind storm and, by first light on Sunday morning, the gale force blow had rendered the “Alien Campsite” all but destroyed. By sundown that same day, it was if the alien invasion of our great outdoors had never happened, and the idyllic wilderness valley was back to its normal, seldom inhabited self.
The alien landing and prematurely aborted camp scene was the latest large-scale installation from the accidental 3-D textile artist Steve Duneier, also known as the Santa Barbara YarnBomber. A husband, father, and professional investment advisor, Duneier has been putting up bigger, more complex yarn art pieces across natural areas of Santa Barbara since 2012.
His “Alien Campsite” installation in the mountains of the Los Padres marked his seventh such undertaking. Previously, his projects have included a giant reflective starfish suspended 40 feet above the pools of Seven Falls, a full trunk sweater for a big eucalyptus tree high up the Cold Spring Trail, and cosmic-colored, custom-fitted sweaters for 18 large boulders at the popular climbing/hiking spot Lizard’s Mouth.
And while all of Duneier's projects are carefully crafted to “leave no trace” on the environment (he takes them down nine days after installation), they have still proven to be polarizing for Santa Barbara’s environmental community. In fact, many of his previous projects have been destroyed by angry hikers who come upon them and consider them a type of graffiti or safety hazard.
The fallout from some of these incidents has prompted Duneier to obtain permits from the appropriate National Forest authorities before rolling out his art, a tricky bureaucratic process with a degree of difficulty matched only by the piece of mind it promises the artist. “It is just insane to see all the people out there in nature. It is like an outdoor museum in the middle of nowhere,” Duneier says. “By the time I finished [the Lizard’s Mouth installation], I heard from a few Forest people that they were really excited about what I was doing. I think they know now that I am not out to exploit or hurt the environment in any way.”
“The goal in all of this, since the very beginning, has been to get people outside,” Duneier says. “I want people to get past their comfort zone and see things they have never seen before. Whether it is a new trail or spot in the mountains that they have never been, I hope my art inspires people to enjoy nature.”
With a healthy social media presence and a tight-knit international yarn bombing community behind him, Duneier’s “Alien Campsite” was made possible thanks to his own handiwork and donations from 656 other fiber artists from all 50 states and 41 countries. That work equalled 10 individual aliens (their yarn “skin” form-fitting a mannequin underneath) and 24 tents all erected a few miles down the Davy Brown Trail in a particularly flat and stunning stretch of the hike. The aliens “landed” in the Los Padres on January 23 and were enjoyed by scores of hikers before the wind storm ravaged the camp the following night, forcing Duneier to pack it all up a week before his intended finish date and return the battered art to his workshop.
“In the end, it's ephemeral art. Sometimes it is destroyed by people, other times it's Mother Nature. For now, the alien campsite is no more,” Duneier said in the wake of the big blow. However, he was quick to add that the campsite may very well be resurrected in the weeks ahead or repurposed into a new project at a new location to be announced. “It’s funny, but just the other night [before the wind wipeout], I said to my wife, ‘I have an idea for the next yarnbomb.’ To which she responded, ‘Wait. What? I thought this was the last one.’ All I will say about it is that it is an experimental idea that I am calling an inside-out yarnbomb and it will exist only long enough for me to take pictures. Beyond that, I have no plans.”