Lobster lines the landscape
A few years back, the federal government was buying back fishing line and New England lobstermen were bringing tons of it to collection sites up and down the coast. That program has successfully concluded, but there still is some line gathering going on, on a smaller scale and for a very different purpose.
Last spring, Brooklyn-based artist Orly Genger installed her largest sculpture to date in New York City’s Madison Square Park; since November, most of "Red, Yellow and Blue" has been re-installed at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass., on loan from the commissioning Madison Square Park Conservancy through the end of this summer and, perhaps, beyond.
The 100,000-pound work is made from more than a million feet of commercial fishing line — specifically, the copolymer rope used for multiple-trap lobster fishing. This rope is Orly’s medium of choice and she uses it a way both traditionally homey and conceptually astonishing — she hand-crochets it into long, loping runners that she uses to “flow” along and around landscapes. Orly’s large-scale work not only engages the environment with its physicality, it also “paints” it with color; the crocheted mats of "Red, Yellow and Blue" are spray-painted with house paint.
The rope used was purchased, at 50-cents per pound, from fishermen in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“The total [for fishermen] from Maine was 31. From the Rockland area, we got rope from fishermen in Friendship, Rockland, South Thomaston and Owls Head,” said Laura Ludwig, who coordinated rope acquisition for the artist.
Ludwig, formerly of the nonprofit Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, administered its Bottom Line Project, a four-year buy-back program that collected more than 2 million pounds of floating groundline, which had been mandated to be replaced with sinking groundline due to the former’s danger to North Atlantic right, humpback and fin whales. She traveled all around the region, often in a U-Haul, for the collections and explored a variety of ways to re-purpose rather than discard the banned rope. It worked — none of it ended up in landfills.
One of the re-use options was the burgeoning local manufacture of woven doormats using the retired groundline. Ludwig funneled a lot of the line to David Bird in Waldoboro, whose Custom Cordage made a big media splash at the time. That splash ended up reaching Genger, in a roundabout, local-connection way.
The artist had been doing her crochet sculpture work with a soft, easy-to-manipulate climbing line. But her first substantially larger installation — “Big Boss,” part of the 2010 “Material World” show at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art — required something bigger, and a lot of it.
“Someone on the MASS MoCA board of directors had summered in Maine for years; his family is connected to CedarWorks in Rockport. He contacted me about the doormat guy and I said OK, I’ll see what I can do,” said Ludwig.
Orly needed some 20,000 pounds of rope for that work, and some of it went into the exponentially larger "Red, Yellow and Blue." Madison Square Park Conservancy contracted with Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation in late 2011 to procure more rope for the commissioned artwork. Project Manager Ludwig arranged collections in Machiasport, Milbridge, Harrington, Hancock, Rockland and Harpswell; Georgetown, Westport, Dartmouth, New Bedford, Fall River and Sandwich, Mass; and Wakefield, R.I. The rope was collected at transfer stations or at fishermen’s homes and was weighed, boxed and shipped in seven deliveries to the artist’s studio in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Orly and her interns spent more than a year transforming the discarded line into a huge work of art. They began by meticulously removing the lobster claws and fishbones the sea had woven into the fiber. Then they handworked the rope into long, crocheted runners that were painted in the title’s three colors.
Prior to its May 1, 2012, opening, Genger and the Madison Square Park Conservancy team took a week to install the artwork onsite. Thousands of feet of crocheted rope runners were stacked in curving walls in three separate areas of the six-acre park. The layers were secured by wire and steel poles sunk into the ground, so each part of the sculpture was solid enough for people to interact with it safely.
The sculpture’s second incarnation at deCordova is quite different, as appropriate for a work designed to reflect and enhance its siting. Ludwig said she thinks it is well worth the trip to the well-known sculpture park, located just outside Boston.
“I loved it in New York, it was so massive … It’s very different [in Lincoln], I like it. You really feel she is paying attention to the land,” Ludwig said.
Ludwig, who has moved to Provincetown, Mass., still works with Orly to procure fishing line for the artist’s work. The Midcoast fishermen she has worked with thus far are Bob Baines of South Thomaston; Brad Rackliff of Rockland; Micah Philbrook and Justin Philbrook of Owls Head; Jimmy Wotton of Friendship; and Vinalhaven’s Harold Poole, Jim Poole and Mike Philbrook. Currently, she is working with a couple of them on procuring rope for Orly’s next, as-yet-unannounced, sculpture.
“Truthfully, the artist could care less where it comes from — she needs rope! But she’s glad she’s helping lobstermen get a little money from something that would’ve gone to a landfill and that they may have had to pay for to dispose. And I like that it’s going to posterity,” said Ludwig.
The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays during the winter, closed some holidays (and occasionally snowed in) and open on others; visit decordova.org for more information and to see a video about the installation of "Red, Yellow and Blue."