Ghost Net Landscape: Interactive Installation

Ghost Net Landscape: a conscious collaboration and interactive installation - spearheaded by Emily Miller - transforming marine debris into revitalized fiber artwork.

Article by Lynsey Christensen (Modern Macramé's Social Media Marketing Manager)"Ghost net is one of the most abundant and dangerous sources of marine debris in our oceans. This lost or abandoned fishing gear makes up 46% of the mass in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where it entangles wildlife and disintegrates into micro-plastics, affecting every level of the food web and marine ecosystem." - Fact found on the Ghost Net Art website

Emily creates machine-stitched baskets from this fishing rope washed up on the coastlines of Oregon, Kauai, and Maine. The collection site of each rope tells its own unique story about the effects of coastal industry on local and global scales. But, Emily is the first to tell you, she could not have done her project alone!From start to finish, this installation has been collaborative. She had help gathering the rope from various groups - crab fishermen in Westport, WA; Surf Rider - a volunteer ocean clean up crew in Hawaii; Oregon State Parks Rangers on the Oregon Coast; family and friends in Down East Maine. The gallery opening was also a team effort - two brothers built the display stage, a group of actors scripted and performed for the opening ceremony (wearing ghost net mermaid costumes designed by Lucretia Hatfield). And, a vibrant group of various artists added their own unique pieces, ideas, and style to the show. It is safe to say, the Ghost Net Landscape Installation has had an inspiring ripple effect throughout the local creative community.

I the chance to interact with the Ghost Net Landscape first hand, and sit down with Emily Miller to chat about her process and experience with this unique fiber art installation. How she found the calling to not just create and add to the waste problem - but, take what would be wasted and create stunning & useful works of art.



Lynsey: Hello! Tell us a little about your background in art. Are you specifically a fiber artist?

Emily: No! I actually learned how to use a sewing machine for this project! I got an old metal Singer (it's actually the same machine my grandma had), because I was super intimidated by sewing machines my whole life, and didn’t think I could break this one... This project was worth it to learn how to use a sewing machine!

I have been an artist my whole life, and have always have been interested in fiber art, but I only got into it for this project. I have mostly done painting, ceramics, and sculpture art with metal, glass, etc. I love working with natural materials. Even though this rope is plastic, it feels natural because of where it's coming from. 

I learned how to make these baskets with cotton sash cord - which is a very forgiving material, this stuff is not. It is more difficult to work with because it's plastic, and it is much harder on your hands! But, it also has so much personality - the wave you get from unraveling it, the journey it has been on. I really love how it looks with all the texture and wear & tear from being out in the ocean. L: Do you have a preferred medium?

E: I am never going to choose just one… I love materials! This is my latest passion and I think this is something I am going to continue to do. But, I don’t think I am ever going to ever be just a ‘painter’ or a ‘fiber artist’ or a ‘potter’ - I can’t settle!

 L: Where is home? 

E: I was born in California, and moved to Kauai from age 16-28. I came to Oregon for Art School, and have been here ever since.L: Does your upbringing and "home" affect your artwork?

E: Yes! All of my artwork is inspired by the ocean.

I have spent my life on the coast, and all my artwork has its roots in my love of the sea. I see the coast as a border between the known and unknown, amid constant cycles of change. My work explores these transition environments to illuminate our connection to the larger network of natural systems. I believe that joyful exploration of the unknown creates a positive, active environment that enriches our relationships with ourselves, each other, and our world. L: What else inspires you?

E: I really am inspired by the materials themselves. I am a lifelong artist with a passion for materials. My work in different media ranges from watercolor painting to glass and metal sculpture, functional porcelain ware, digital and darkroom photo processes, and interactive installation work. So far I haven't met a medium I didn't like.

I learned how to make these specific baskets from Doug Johnston. I took a class from him at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (in Deer Isle, Maine). He is well known for making large sculptural stitched baskets using this technique.L: Have you run into any obstacles along the way?

E: Yes! The original plan was to have an installation at Cawein Gallery in October (to coincide with Portland Textile Month put on by Textile Hive). But, in March I was approached about this May 2rd Gallery Opening. The surprise short time frame actually altered my plan for the better. I had to ask for help! Which brought in all these amazing people and their unique ideas/talents! My vision has evolved and grown so much more because I have invited other people in.(Macramé made by Maggie Machado)

L: I think the two biggest things that drew me to your installation, is the fact that 1) we are taking this out of the ocean and keeping it from hurting our ecosystem! And, 2) the fact that it is a community effort. These environmental issues will affect each and every one of us, if we continue to think we can't make a difference. Or, if we keep denying global warming/littering our oceans/doing horrible, thoughtless things to the world we live in... it is going to affect every single one of us! So, it is really beautiful that you are open to other people's input and help. This installation is giving creatives an opportunity to do their part in this environmental movement.

E: That is what I have seen! People WANT that opportunity. People are ready to do something… but, what? What do we do?! People have asked me to teach them how to make these baskets, but I think it is more important for them to do what THEY want to do, and bring their own ideas to the movement.L: Any advice for up-and-coming artists?

E: One of the most interesting things about being a professional artists (which I have only been full time since 2016… I did this evenings and weekends before that, I had a day job) is that you define your success! If you want to do something it is up to you to just go for it. And, just do it… Nobody is going to make you do it, nobody is going to stop you (I guess that depends on your project haha). In general, it is YOU. How much time do you want to devote to it? Where do you want it to go?

I just decided to do this *insane* thing, right? And, it all worked out. But, that was just because I was like ‘I am going to do this!’ So, you need to have a certain amount of confidence in your work - that it is worth pursuing. This is something that I had to learn - you just have to GO OUT AND DO IT!” L: Sidenote, I actually did an Environmental Art Installation for my Capstone Project in college (tying together my Graphic Design Major with my Environmental Studies Minor). I created a "tunnel" in the art gallery that people walked through, made of 1,500 plastic water bottles - which is, at the time at least, the amount of plastic water bottles consumed in ONE SECOND in the USA. As I have navigated forward throughout my *adulthood* after college, I have been pulled away from that passionate environmental advocate - to focus on various responsibilities and career goals. But, this installation has sparked something inside of me, and given me a sort of renewed sense of excitement and motivation.

E: I really felt, when I started doing this, I stopped feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and guilty -- about all of these facts (like knowing how many water bottles we consume in one second, or how much ghost net is in the ocean)... I kept feeling, ‘I can’t solve this problem, no matter what I do. And, I am not doing enough in my life! I should transform my life and solve this problem!!’ But, when I started doing this project I stopped feeling that way. I really did feel like I was doing something. And, empowering other people to do something, too!

I am not doing this because I feel like I have to - I am doing it because this is something that I LOVE doing! I love this material. I love the process of making the baskets. This is fun. So, it’s not just ‘well you need to save the environment’ - no, I want to do this! This is what I am trying to get: I want other people to come into this space, and realize this is a fun and good thing!

L: It’s approachable! Why wouldn't we start using these types of baskets rather than buying new? These are practical/useful/beautiful, and they have a story! This is showing reused materials, that might otherwise be thought of as trash, as something beautiful and desirable. And, proving that by simply doing something you love and are passionate about, that you can also create positive changes!

E: I think that is really important to my work. That THAT is the first response.

I feel like there is a lot of shame being used for Social Change in our culture. While you can get results that way, you have to keep shaming people forever. You can’t stop, or they will be like ‘well, that feels bad, so I m not going to do that anymore!’ Whereas, if you get people to do things because they feel good about it, then they’ll keep wanting to do it!

I wasn't thinking these things before I made this installation, this has become a shift in mindset. I had go through this process me to this realization.

L: YOU have evolved along with your art!

E: Yes! L: Anything else you would like to share?

E: This installation will be up at the Elisabeth Jones Art Center until June 23rd. The Magical Mermaid Playshop event is this Friday & Saturday (6/14-15).(Mermaid Crowns made by Lucretia Hatfield using Ghost Net Rope - made your own June 14-15)

You can come in anytime, and create your own piece with the Ghost Nets in this space, and at the end of the exhibit you are welcome to take as much rope as you'd like home with you to create more! You can also purchase my handmade ghost net baskets.(Macramé Rug made by Maggie Machado)

October is going to be a whole other experience - I will be doing another exhibition at Cawein Gallery at Pacific University in Forest Grove for Portland Textile Month.


Check out Emily Miller's website and instagram for more information, and to stay updated on her future projects!

Stay updated with Modern Macramé's future events, sales, patterns, blogs, etc. by signing up for our Email Newsletter!

Let us know if you have any questions or comments: