Mary Babcock

Gillnets salvaged from the Lower Columbia River (Oregon)
Gillnets and fishing line salvaged from the Oahu shoreline (Hawaii) (works in progress)
Deep sea fishing line, Crimps

click images for larger view.

The Salvaged Net Series is an ongoing project of creating large scale weavings from abandoned and obsolete fishing nets, salvaged by small scale commercial fisherman from the NW where the Pacific Ocean and the mighty Columbia River meet, and salvaged nets and other marine debris that wash up on the Pacific shores of Hawaii. The project was initially inspired by a chance meeting with Mr. Jon Westerholm, founder of the Columbia River Fishermen’s Protective Unit’s web [gillnet] recycling program in Astoria, Oregon. I met Jon in 2005 while living on the Oregon North Coast. I was struck by his passion for the history that these time-worn nets carry, his love of the river, its ecology and the communities it touches, and the plight of small scale gillnetters. I was also struck by the incredible beauty of this “trash”, it’s palette softened over time by the waters of the Columbia. Since that time, I have been creating a series of large-scale tapestries woven from deep-sea fishing leader line and old and obsolete monofilament gillnets – originally discarded or abandoned in the river’s shallow waters and inlets and later harvested by fisherman in this community-driven recycling project. The nets are naturally patterned by years of practical use by small-scale commercial fishermen. Nature has begun the process of organic evolution; I, as artist and craftsperson, further follow that creative evolution.

Common rhetoric in the NW leads one to believe that the decline of the great NW salmon runs in the Columbia River is the direct fault of fishermen over-harvesting. What this narrative sidesteps is the glaring damage created by the massive damming of the river to suit our households’ consumptive thirst for hydroelectric power.

Coming to Hawaii, I saw a parallel phenomenon concerning the discourse of over-fishing made the more haunting by the prevalence of marine debris that threatens larger eco-systems and challenges our fantasies of sustainability.

Although the work speaks most directly about the complex cultural and environmental issues of the Columbia River and its basin as well of Pacific shores, it also explores the larger concept of “reclamation.” Time, material and process are all central. The use of salvaged nets (the joint efforts of concerned fisherman and artistic action) serve as a metaphor for reclamation of the rivers and oceans and points to the synergism of art, community engagement, and time dedicated to introspective process. As I sit at my loom I consider the actions I am NOT taking, choices that challenge our current paradigm. I am NOT shopping, engaged in new technology, consuming, stressing, productive in any economically feasible way, progressing, advancing, thinking intellectually, moving, doing, achieving, escaping, spending, amassing… I am with color, process, and repetitive action, facing the anxiety of choosing to trust the metaphysics of choosing to be with time in other than economic paradigms.