No Loose Ends
An artist transforms a Manhattan park with 1.4 million feet of recycled lobstering line.
Editor's note: If you missed seeing Red, Yellow, and Blue at Madison Square Park, don't despair. Orly Genger's massive installation will be on view at DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, from November 1, 2013, to September 1, 2014.
Lobstermen have rope, lots of it, which they have to regularly replace and discard. Artist Orly Genger needs rope, lots of it, for her enormous hand-knotted sculptures. Laura Ludwig of the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation has been happy to be their middleman, collecting used lobstering ground lines — the ropes that connect buoys to traps — for Genger’s latest artwork, Red, Yellow, and Blue, which ripples through Madison Square Park in Manhattan from May 2 to September 8.
“It’s a massive amount of rope — 80,000 to 100,000 pounds,” says Ludwig, who began collecting the material in January 2012.
Can’t picture one hundred thousand pounds of ground line? Try this: Imagine a rope stretching from one end of 13 ½-mile-long Manhattan island to the other — twenty times.
Better still, of course, would be to see it firsthand, as Genger has transformed it into brilliantly colored (thanks to three thousand gallons of red, yellow, and blue latex paint) undulating walls that have reshaped Madison Square Park into numerous hidden and exposed chambers.
“I have been interested in using rope as a malleable material, but at the same time, one that allows me to build structures and walls usually thought of as hard and perhaps unapproachable,” Genger explained in an email. “I knot the rope by hand and transform the material inch by inch, using the simplest way of building: accumulation. Rope allows me to work on an intimate level, while also creating sculptures that I can build on a large and unexpected scale.”
Genger has used lobstering line before, notably 20,000 pounds of it for Big Boss, a massive all-red installation likened by art critics to a molten lava flow, but the rope’s history is not important to her. “My work is not about transcendence,” she told Museo Magazine in 2010. “I really get into what I call a wrestling match with the material. I play with what it can do naturally. I try to resist what it does naturally, and I try to push and take advantage of it in some ways.”
The rope’s provenance does matter to Ludwig, however. The Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation’s projects in support of the lobster fishery and the marine environment have included the weaving of colorful doormats out of floating ground line purchased from lobstermen after it was banned under federal whale protection rules in 2007. In the case of Red, Yellow, and Blue, fishermen were paid fifty cents a pound for their old sinking ground line. “It blows my mind,” Ludwig says. “[Genger] is providing a great service. This rope would otherwise be burned, thrown in a landfill, or dumped into the ocean.” — Virginia M. Wright
Photo courtesy of the artist.