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Ghost Nets Entwining Traditional Craft with Contemporary Concerns

Artist Statement

As a visual artist from Newfoundland and Labrador I owe much to my home province’s culture of resourcefulness and adaptability, which comes as a response to isolation, scarcity, and living in an unforgiving natural environment. I see my artistic practices as one that expands on the rich tradition of creating things – tools, furniture, shelter, vehicles – from whatever is lying around. This traditional way of making objects is inextricably linked to Newfoundland’s identity, as a place where people were and still are united by circumstances that put survival, community and cooperation at the forefront of everyday living. By contrast mass production and fabrication methods of modern industry are often wasteful of materials, and are adjoined to the values individualism. In my work I hope to explore the differences in making that inform the way we live, exploring how craft informs life and how life informs craft.

Ghost Nets

This ongoing project consists of exploring issues of the environment, survival and community through the traditional craft of net making. Creating nets by hand is a skill that was used throughout history for carrying supplies, protecting crops, hammocks, clothes, and sporting equipment, hunting, and most importantly to my interests fishing. The netting patterns in many of these projects were designed to make the most of expensive materials informed from a time before things could be cheaply mass produced. I am learning to make nets by hand a old craft that pushes me to explore its meaning in a contemporary setting where materials are cheaper and these skills are no longer necessary for survival.

The title of this project is in reference to ghost nets, which are fishing nets that have been left or lost in the ocean by fishermen. These often mass produced, large scale nylon nets, cause a lot of environmental damage, entangling wildlife and eventually breaking down and adding to the micro plastics and often end up in our food supply.

Square Nets

I became my journey by exploring the simplest form of netting, the square net. These nets a common and simple design used for small trapping and nets. I was working with standard netting twine to get comfortable with the medium. I learned a lot about how materials respond differently to being twisted and knotted.

Small Square Net, Nylon twine, Double Knotted
Small Square Net, Black and White acrylic twine, Single Knotted Diamond

Fyke Net

These nets used for fishing and designed to be easy to enter and difficult to leave. They trap fish that enter through their rigid ring structure. They are used in small to medium sized fishing expeditions and are comparatively less destructive than larger scale trawling methods, as they produce minimal by-catch and have less of an impact on the seabed. The fyke nets are usually operated in fast moving waters.

My small fyke net was cast onto brass rings creating a tubular design which undulates by the increasing and decreases of rows of knots, an important skill that made creating this type of net feel closer to knitting or textile work.

Fyke Net, White Nylon Twin and Brass Rings

Round Float Net

Typically made from a hollow glass ball, these round floats were traditionally used in the fisheries to keep nets upright in the water and helped fishermen locate their catch. While glass floats are no longer used today (instead we use plastic ones) many of them remain in the ocean today as floating debris and still wash ashore. The netting around it cushions it from breaking and allows it to be tied to larger nets.

The float I created however, isn't made from glass, it's made from a rubber party balloon, common one-time use object. Helium filled balloons are often let go into the atmosphere, landing in the ocean and harming wildlife. The act of releasing balloons has been made illegal in many parts of the world for this reason. I've also added an LED light inside the balloon emphasizing the object's frivolity and contrasting the serious environmental impacts balloons can cause. This piece asks: Do we care more about partying than the environment?

Ballon Float Round Net Design, Neon Twine, LED Light Rubber Balloon, Dark Lights.

Dental Floss Nets

These nets are made from dental floss a waxy material used for cleaning teeth. This one-time use, throw away material is a perfect ghost net material. Floss is manufactured on an industrial scale, in huge quantities. It is of little monetary value, and is dispensed and disposed of daily, often flushed down toilets where it eventually reaches the ocean.

Square Dental Floss Net, made from Oral-B Complete Satin Floss
G.U.M. Fine Mint 200 yd.
Life Dental Floss Mint 91.4 M.

Reflections to date

This project is not about reminiscing about the past or calling for the halt of industrial manufacturing techniques instead it’s about asking what has been gained or lost if we change the way we make things. For me simply learning traditional methods of netting has given me a new appreciate for traditional knowledge and the community aspect of passing along empowering cultural important knowledge. If we lose this knowledge we lose a reference point to a more sustainable past and future. By understanding past and present ways of making, I am able to create work keeps that knowledge going while also being critical of the harmful, wasteful, and polluting aspects of large scale of industries.

Craft informs life and life informs craft, to me this means our manufacturing techniques reflect our attitudes but can also enforce them. I'm combining contemporary, one-time use, mass produced materials, with traditional methods of making that were informed by scarcity and preciousness of materials. I find these contrasting world views fascinating, between scarcity and abundance, environmentalism and capitalism, hand-made and manufactured, community and individual. All these ideas enter the conversation when working with netting this way.

Bibliography

The palaeoenvironment of the Antrea Net Find The Department of Geography, University of Helsinki

Moyles, R. G. "Complaints is Many and various, but the Odd Divil Likes it": Nineteenth Century Views of Newfoundland. P. Martin Associates, New York;Toronto;, 1975.

Garner, John. How to make and Set Nets: Or, the Technology of Netting. Fishing News (Books), London, 1962.

Lacasse, M., and D. Maker. "Fishing and History Taking - from the Net to the Line." Canadian Family Physician, vol. 54, no. 6, 2008, pp. 891-892.

"Fishing Nets Reveal History." Turkish Daily News, 2007.

Roux, Géraldine L. "Transforming Representations of Marine Pollution. for a New Understanding of the Artistic Qualities and Social Values of Ghost Nets." Anthrovision, no. 4.1, 2017;2016;.

Ghost Nets. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Toronto, 2000.

Bassler, Gerhard P., “Develop or Perish: The Challenges of Newfoundland 1950-1953”,

Alfred Valdmanis and the Politics of Survival. University of Toronto Press, 2000.

Cadigan, Sean, Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Web Site http://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/politics/second-world-war.php, 2007.

Pocius, Gerald L., and Canadian Publishers Collection. A Place to Belong: Community Order and Everyday Space in Calvert, Newfoundland. University of Georgia Press, Montreal;Athens;, 1991.

Tilley, Christopher, et al. Handbook of Material Culture. SAGE Publications, Limited, Thousand Oaks;London;, 2006;2012;2007;.

http://www.seafish.org/geardb/gear/fyke-net/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass_float

https://www.mcsuk.org/downloads/pollution/dont%20let%20go.pdf

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