A few years ago, I was on Kauai salvaging a suitcase worth of ghost net from a two-ton landscape made of trash. It was a surreal afternoon, climbing on a huge soft sculpture of marine waste, mountains and valleys created entirely from ghost net pulled off the beaches by Surfrider Kauai in just two months. By the time I had taken the rope home, unraveled and cleaned it, and stitched it into seven baskets, another five tons of ghost net had likely washed up on Kauai’s shores.
This experience made a deep impression on me. I had started making ghost net baskets three years earlier, and I knew the nets were one of the most abundant and dangerous sources of ocean trash. I knew that ghost net made up almost half the mass of the Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating, dispersed trash heap twice the size of Texas. None of this compared to being faced with the physical presence of the accumulated nets, which created an environment, a landscape, a powerful ecosystem that I could touch, surrounding me on all sides.
It was also fun climbing on the pile of ghost net. After years in the ocean, the rope was still bright and colorful, more like buried treasure than hazardous waste. Wind and waves had softened different pieces into fuzzy, knotted sculptures in their own right. If I found no joy in making this artwork, I could not continue to create it – despite the ambivalence of experiencing that joy.