The Art of Recycling
In early 2008 Sue Ryan received a surprise phone call inviting her to undertake a scoping study to investigate the prospects for turning ghost nets into art.
After the success of the 2006 Design for a Sea Change Competition which had lead to Hammond Island Art Centre making ghost net bags for sale and had created a ripple of interest elsewhere, Riki Gunn was keen to maintain the momentum and inspire others to explore more artistic uses for ghost nets. In early 2008, with assistance from Donald Coventry, then CEO of Southern Gulf Catchments Ltd, funding was obtained from Arts Queensland for a scoping study to be conducted in some of the indigenous communities where rangers were clearing ghost nets from beaches on their traditional lands. Sue Ryan was engaged to do the study.
Between September and the end of December 2008 Sue visited the ghost net “hotspot” indigenous communities of Hammond Island in the Torres Strait, Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Pormpuraaw, Napranum, Old Mapoon and Aurukun on Cape York Peninsula, consulting with artists and art centres. At the end of January 2009 she presented her final report to GhostNets Australia and Arts Queensland. The report outlined the responses in the communities as well as suggesting nationally recognised fibre artist/facilitators who could assist to roll out a program of ghost net art workshops in interested communities. Sue was retained by GhostNets Australia to direct the Ghost Net Art Project.
In June 2009 the first ghost net art workshop was held at Aurukun. Sue Ryan and co-facillitator Gina Allain spent two weeks working with Aurukun artists on a beach outside the community that was only accessible by boat. Baskets from that workshop were displayed at the inaugural Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in August that year where they attracted a lot of attention and, thanks to the entrepreneurial salesmanship of then Aurukun art centre coordinator Guy Allain, fetched surprisingly high prices. After that the Ghost Net Art Project was up and running.