frequently asked questions
About the material...
What is ghost net?
Ghost net, or ghost gear, is fishing gear that has been abandoned or lost at sea. The nets, ropes, buoys and traps become a tangled mass that floats near the sea surface, drifting on ocean currents sometimes for thousands of miles before washing ashore.
Where does your material come from?
I collect responsibly recycled gear from commercial fisheries in Oregon and Washington. I collect ghost net from my own beach cleanups, as well as donations from individuals and beach cleanup crews in Oregon, Kauai, and Maine. Some of my partners are listed here.
The original source of ghost net could be thousands of miles from where it washed up. Rope and floats from Asia regularly wash up in Hawaii and on the U.S. west coast.
Is some fishing rope made of natural fibers?
No. Fisheries transitioned to plastic rope starting in the 1950s, because natural materials rot and must be replaced more often. Modern fishing gear is made of polypropylene, nylon, and newly developed high-strength materials like Spectra.
Do you paint or dye the rope?
No. It is made of plastics that are every color of the rainbow.
Do you clean the rope?
Responsibly recycled rope from commercial fisheries is usually already clean and does not have a strong smell. Ghost net, on the other hand, can be covered in sand, kelp, barnacles, and algae. I start by soaking the material in a large tub of water overnight. I use an 80 gallon metal livestock tank, adding vinegar and/or baking soda as needed. I use a vegetable scrub brush to scour off surface dirt. After unraveling the strands of three-strand rope, I will often do a second overnight soak and scrub. The cleaned material is laid out flat to dry in the sun. Click here for a video of me cleaning ghost net.
Has this project changed your lifestyle?
I eat fish, drive a car, purchase and throw away plastic. I try to limit my impact, but Ghost Net Landscape has mostly made me constantly aware of the large-scale systems that must be shifted to create lasting change, rather than placing the weight of responsibility and blame on individuals for utilizing the choices available within those systems. If we have a responsibility, it is to focus on transforming the systems that only provide us with unacceptable choices.
Ghost Net Landscape has changed my art practice from object-based to community-based, where I see my role as a facilitator providing a platform for creative, collaborative transformation.
What else can be made with this material? Who is doing it?
Companies around the world are re-melting used fishing gear back down into pre-production plastic base "nurdles," compressing it into building blocks, or shredding it into pavement aggregate. Accessible large-scale solutions for re-using fishing gear are not yet available everywhere, but here are a few companies doing this work:
Bureo · Net Your Problem · Byfusion · The Ocean Cleanup
More and more artists are also taking advantage of marine debris in their work. Check out Splash Trash on Instagram for 200+ artists making incredible art with plastic marine debris worldwide.
How can I help with the global issue of ghost net?
You can help by supporting existing systems that have fresh, future-focused ideas. You can help by doing your own research to find the people and groups that resonate most strongly with you. I highly recommend finding and joining a community-organized beach cleanup on your next coastal vacation. It is truly eye-opening and also fun.
Ghost Net Landscape is an invitation for you to imagine new solutions to global issues like ghost net, based on your own skills, knowledge, and passion. You can help by exploring how these issues intersect with your passions, then by thinking creatively about ways to improve those systems. Experiment and be generous with your findings. Reach outside your circle to collaborate and share your work, to amplify and deepen your impact. Make it a habit to imagine new ways our future can be bright, in the places that matter to you most.
I never find ghost net when I go to the beach. Why not?
Two reasons. One: popular beaches are usually patrolled by park rangers or volunteers who remove debris regularly. Two: local and global ocean currents tend to deposit debris in some places more than others. It is the historic "driftwood beaches" that are now accumulating the most ocean plastic.
About my baskets...
Do you teach basket-making workshops?
I facilitate open creativity sessions using reclaimed fishing gear, as part of my Ghost Net Landscape interactive installation series. I'd love to collaborate with you, centering your own skills and knowledge, during an exhibition of Ghost Net Landscape! I often demonstrate my process during Ghost Net Landscape exhibitions, but I do not offer skill-specific instruction in basket weaving.
How are your baskets constructed?
I use three-strand pot warp (the long ropes attached to crab pots or lobster pots), unraveled into its three separate strands. The baskets are coil-constructed from each separate strand. Starting from the bottom center, the baskets are coiled outwards and zig-zag stitched between each coil. I use a vintage metal Singer household sewing machine with a standard heavy-duty upholstery needle. Here are some images of me stitching baskets and here is a brief video.
How long does it take you to make a basket?
It depends. Needles break and bobbins get snarled up regularly with this material. A 10" basket could take an hour to stitch, or a day. The work to create a basket begins with days spent gathering, cleaning, untangling, and unraveling the rope in preparation for sitting down at my sewing machine. I might be starting out with rope that is clean and coiled neatly, or tangled and knotted up with sand, kelp, barnacles and driftwood.
Do you make other ghost net art besides baskets?
Yes. Click here for my complete portfolio of work with ghost net.
I focused exclusively on making baskets with this material from 2015 to 2018. In 2019 I began my ongoing social practice work through collaborative / interactive installations. In 2020 I started using the material to make wall-mounted sculptures.
How can I help / participate in Ghost Net Landscape?
During each exhibit, the community is invited to participate in collecting and transforming materals.
COLLECT: Gather ghost net from the beach, and salvage retired net and long line from local fisheries
CREATE: Untangle and unwind fishing rope... Take home materials... Explore a new material to make art... Lead collaborative work in your specialty!
© 2022 Emily Miller fine art - Ocean-inspired artwork from Oregon & Kauai.