"What the earth needs is really a good housekeeper."
Ghost Nets is an exciting example of how an artist's exploration of the
traditional concept of space, that is as a tangible or real place, can
be used to create ephemeral threads of community relationships that thrive
beyond its limited physical boundaries.
Aviva Rahmani was suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (a debilitating
disease), when she moved from New York City to an isolated island fishing
community off the coast of Maine to contemplate the concept of safety
and implications of past abuses. Feeling the need to reach out of her
isolation, she began her Ghost Nets project. It became an evolving ten
year performance art journey that used the physical setting of her home,
a former dump site, to examine the concept of interdependence. The evolution
of this site and the artists role in that process was a paradigm for her
(and our) interconnection to the earth, community, sense of place, health,
time, and revealed the frameworks of feminism and ecology.
Her exploration was all-encompassing. Truly art and life became one, as
she and her emerging community documented and transformed the site into
a series of ecologically-thriving salt water marsh wetlands. The complexity
and resonance of this project is amazing. For example, during one aspect
of the project she recorded what she had done to the site, as well as
her own literal and emotional housekeeping chores, in a daily Ghost Nets
journal. This allowed her to open a reflective dialogue on the roles of
housewife, caretaker, and steward in the context of the earth as body.
But choosing this form of documentation, the journal, is also a reference
to women's rich literary history. It is a testament to our need for self
-reflection, and traditionally one of the few forms of creative expression
open to women.
Rahmani writes that "as a feminist, it was most interesting to explore
the metaphor of housekeeping to an ultimate conclusion: the world is our
home and we keep it orderly, healthy for our common well- being. It was
interesting to layer the experience of meticulous attention to the details
of the entire process that included my personal well- being. When it came
to actual bioengineering of the site, the release of seeing those big
machines carving up the former dump and making it into a beautiful habitat,
was exhilarating. It was also amusing throughout to see people struggling
with the idea that a single woman was doing this. It was more profound
to get across the idea that I was limited in resources both physical and
financial. Of course many people never did get that idea."
Ghost Nets has established a rare bond between environmentalism and visual
art, a model for seeing the world around us. Its name is taken from the
gill nets used by fishermen. When lost overboard, these invisible ghost
nets drift through the ocean, trapping fish indiscriminately, in effect
strip-mining the sea. Rahmani claims these nets as a metaphor for how
the threads of our familiar patterns in thought, relationships or actions,
can trap and kill us all.
It is this familiarity and the comfort of these patterns, which make them
almost imperceptible and so destructive. The exploration of her art, her
workshops and activism brought a new perspective to her community's memory
and understanding of their townsite. She explains: "This was not only
a ten year performance about how individuals can effect global environmental
change, but a statement about the resonance of all human interaction."
Rahmani embraces the idea that any relationship is a work of art. Her
gradual acceptance into the insular local fishing culture is a fascinating
commentary on community relationships. Since moving to the village in
1990, she has immersed herself into the community by cultivating relationships
with neighbors, going out on fishing boats, taking oral histories and
doing extensive interviews. Rahmini continues to expand her definition
of community and to experiment with the ecology of place and art. She
has been asked to contribute to vision planning in Israel and cities such
as Philadelphia. She recently started singing with the local church choir
(considering her Jewish roots an interesting adventure!) and has found
a new tool to reach others with her voice, not only integrating it in
physical space, but through the new technology of her website: www.ghostnets.com.