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Yarnbomber Aims to Lift Spirits in Outdoor Art Gallery

in Arts & Culture/Journalism by

Twillingate is in the midst of a yarnbombing that aims to lift spirits while encouraging safe physical distancing during the pandemic. Yarnbomber Nina Elliott has knit what she dubs “Newfoundland’s First Outdoor Art Gallery.”

Elliott is the Rock Vandal, a Twillingate-transplant from Hamilton, Ontario, who uses yarn to create temporary street art. Her work oozes positivity, and during spring to early fall often adorns the clapboard structures around picturesque Notre Dame Bay. The Rock Vandal’s latest endeavour, which kicked off over the weekend, marks her biggest project yet.

Her yarn bombs often show as stand-alone pieces. This time, she’s exhibiting her work at scale, featuring up to nine pieces that collectively conjure a common theme: uplifting spirits, while living under coronavirus. Partnering with the local recreation committee to raise awareness for the project, Elliott says the show is something she can do at a time when everyone’s usual lives remain out-of-sorts as we all battle a global pandemic.

“Everything non-essential is closed, but street art can’t be closed,” Elliott told the Independent. “It’s an artistic avenue that will continue regardless of these lockdowns.”

Elliott says she’s seeing more street art like yarn bombs showing up through her social media feeds, likely because it’s a safe way for people to express themselves during the pandemic.

“Street art doesn’t need validation of a selection committee,” she says. “It’s just this organic thing that’s happening.”

And it’s not only professional artists. All over the country, home-owner’s windows, lawns and driveways are featuring children’s artwork and chalk drawings for passersby to enjoy, for instance. Elliott says it’s important that people share these examples—be it their own art, or showing appreciation for someone else’s work—because it can lift people up during what for many is a dark, heavy and lonely period.

The Rock Vandal released her first two yarn bombs over the weekend on social media. One is a more literal take on uplifting spirits, featuring a bunch of colourful balloons—an installation encouraging an immersive experience (as Elliott demonstrates in her photo). The other features a Yeti, the Himalayan Abominable Snowman, who Elliott says is the original social distancer (that’s why the Sasquatch-like creature is holding up its social distancing championship belt). While there will be at least one more brand-new piece, the remaining works will be refurbished versions of past favorites. Characters like Homer (from The Simpsons) and Waldo, Wenda and Woof (all from Where’s Waldo?) will make special appearances, with a new relevance, for example.

“Waldo typically likes to hang out in crowds,” explains Elliott. But visitors can expect Waldo to offer a teachable moment for safe social distancing.

The Abominable Snowman: Social Distancing Champion.

Over the next week, the Rock Vandal will round out her exhibit, releasing new instalments in her solo, self-directed show, and sharing via social media. Her goal is to lighten moods and help relieve stress.

“It’s stressful to be working in healthcare now,” Elliott, who works as an occupational therapist with the regional health authority, told the Independent. “We’re all living with this and managing the stress of it. This [show] offers a mental reprieve for me, personally. And it’s a contribution I can make toward [community] health in another way too, resuming some normalcy in people’s lives.”

The Rock Vandal’s work is often appreciated by residents as well as the many tourists who visit Twillingate each summer. Elliott is hopeful tourism will get back up and running this season, but expects it may have a delayed start and will bring more local visitors than out-of-province ones. She also says the streets are noticeably empty these days, as people are respecting public health measures by not going about their usual activities like going to church or visiting family for Sunday dinner—a time-honoured tradition in these parts.

Creating the show has required ingenuity like none other. The usual places where Elliott procures her yarn are not readily accessible, so she’s had to depend on her own stash (which she says represents “an unreasonable amount of yarn by most people’s standards”). This experience is encouraging the artist to be thriftier too, using the materials she has, while still creating new experiences for patrons (and “the bigger and bolder the better,” she says.)

Once all of the yarn bombs are installed, the Rock Vandal plans to keep the show up for at least two weeks. The show will cover a nearly two-kilometre route, running the main strip around the harbour from 38 Main Street (near Peddle Law) to 120 Main Street (near Foodland). Onlookers can view the exhibit safely from their cars or by walking the route. Elliott is encouraging everyone to take the recommended physical distancing precautions and her show will include messaging to reinforce public health measures. But the main goal of this outdoor art gallery is to spark joy.

“It really comes down to bringing some positivity to the community,” says Elliott. “Ultimately, my long-term vision of putting art up is to create a happier and healthier community. A happier community results in a healthier community. Something I’m conscious of is there’s a lot of fear right now. So, if in some small way, this can distract people, provide some mental reprieve or help people feel good, then that’s what I’m hoping.”

“There’s so little news that’s getting through my waves that’s not coronavirus, fear-related. I want to try to turn that and bring some happiness and joy.”

For those who take in the show locally and snap photos, the Rock Vandal encourages sharing broadly and tagging her Twitter (@rockvandal) or Instagram (@rock_vandal) handles or by using the hashtag #rockvandal. For those not in Twillingate, Elliott suggests people snap and share photos of local, positive street art from their own communities.

Jenn Thornhill Verma is a freelance journalist from Newfoundland living in Ottawa.

Photos provided by author.

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