by Valen Lambert
Until Oct. 14, walking into the Reese Bullen Gallery is to walk into an aquatic dreamscape. Artist Emily Jung Miller utilizes discarded fishing nets, also called “ghost nets,” to craft baskets, coral sculptures and build immersive installations that inspire meditations on waste and reusability.
In 2015, Miller had been learning how to stitch coil baskets with cotton cords when she came across some ghost net washed up on the shores of Maine where her grandparents lived. She was inspired by the material and its connection to place, and began stitching her baskets with ghost net.
Ghost Net Landscape is much more than a showcasing of Miller’s talent. It is a collaboration, inviting the public to create their own art with the giant mass of materials collected and cleaned by Miller. Her installation is a form of environmental activism that takes out the doom and gloom of climate collapse, opening up a space for play and collaboration.
“We are aware that there is a big problem, and the part where we figure out how we deal with climate anxiety and what our position is in making a change hasn’t been discussed so much,” said Miller. “…I think this work is not about the problem. And it’s also not exactly about a solution. It’s about being in a state of mind where I feel like I’m open to creative transformation, and feeling like I’m in a place with myself where I can feel good about making a difference, and I’m not doing it in reaction to a terrible thing that has happened or my need to fix it right away”.
Every Ghost Net installation starts unfinished, evolving based on the space and the community who’s making it in this show. Miller’s installation creates ripples in every community that she shows in, often using local material and focusing on regional issues. For the remainder of her show in Reese Bullen, the public will be creating a watershed map from Humboldt Bay all the way up to the Klamath River on the Oregon border using debris found in these areas.
“So, I was here for the first week of the show to sort of lay the foundation for that and kickstart people, and basically tell them it’s okay to take ownership of the process,” said Miller. “Because I feel like people need to be told a couple of times that this is your space. This is your thing… and then that piece is going to live somewhere else on campus after.”
There is something special about Miller’s installation and it is the level in which she connects with whatever community she shows in, often gifting her baskets and planting seeds for collaborative projects. As an artist-in-residence, she treats the gallery like a living room, inviting participants to feel at home in their creative potential and add to the community gallery.
“Seeing what other people make with [ghost net] is super inspiring, because everything in the community gallery was made by other people and I didn’t have any of those visions to make those things,” said Miller. “It’s so delightful.”