Major public artwork by Ghost Net Collective unveiled at Barangaroo

A major new permanent public artwork by the Ghost Net Collective is set to enliven Sydney’s Exchange Square at Barangaroo South from 12 May 2023.

Commissioned by Lendlease, the work has been created by a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists from Cairns, Townsville and Erub in the Torres Strait. The Collective are renowned for making creative use of harmful fish nets that have been abandoned, lost or discarded in the ocean, known as ‘ghost nets’, washed up on beaches all around the world.

Curated by Nina Miall, the site-responsive permanent installation titled Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide will be one of the largest hand-crafted public artworks in Australia and draws inspiration from the artists’ own histories along with the rich history of the Barangaroo site.

Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide comprises 11 eagle rays, meticulously hand-stitched with colourful ghost nets covering aluminium frames each measuring 2.8 metres in width. The sculptures will be illuminated at night from within and suspended against projections of rippling water, creating a fully immersive underwater effect across the square as the rays glide elegantly overhead, conveying the impression of a fever of rays swimming in the shallows.

The project seeks to shed light on the implications of ghost nets to Australia’s natural environment, and highlight the importance of marine conservation by placing the issue in the heart of the city.

The Ghost Net Collective is known for its deep respect for cultural practices, biodiversity, sustainability, and the environment. By incorporating ghost nets, the Collective seeks to highlight the importance of marine conservation and caring for Country while working collaboratively in a cross-cultural space.

The artwork has been stitched by Lynnette Griffiths and Marion Gaemers from the Ghost Net Collective, and Jimmy John Thaiday, Lavinia Ketchell, Florence Gutchen, Racy Oui Pitt, Emma Gela, and Nancy Naawi from Erub Arts. Joining this core group of artists are more than 100 people from around the world including communities along Australia’s coastline and Canada, who contributed hand-stitched miniature rays to be incorporated into the finished sculptures.

  • Nina Miall, curator said:
    “With its unique hand-crafted materiality, Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide promises to bring the diverse communities of Exchange Square together in a singular experience of wonder, joy, reflection and connection. Situated at the harbour’s historical tide line, the artwork engages with Barangaroo’s earliest history as a place for fishing by the Gadigal people, having developed out of respect for the deep and continuing connection of First Nations people to the site, as well as the rich tradition of civic spaces as places of shared knowledge and community engagement.”
  • Lynnette Griffiths, lead artist commented:
    “We’re looking to share the knowledge that we’re an island nation connected to the world by the oceans. The work provokes a magical underwater feeling that not only makes you think about the animals that are affected by ghost nets but also raises awareness about the problem of abandoned plastic and fishing gear. This work is about connecting people through collaboration and the ancient practice of stitching. It is historical yet through this medium it is thought provoking with a call to action.”

This installation forms part of the overall Barangaroo Public Art and Cultural Contribution by Lendlease in excess of $40 million. Lendlease has previously delivered two major permanent artworks in Barangaroo South: Shellwall by Esme Timbery with Jonathan Jones in 2015, and Shadows by Sabine Hornig in 2019, as well as the recent temporary photographic exhibition from multidisciplinary artist Brenda L. Croft (Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra), Naabami (thou shall/will see): Barangaroo (army of me).

All artworks are being delivered under the joint NSW Government and Lendlease Public Art and Cultural Plan for Barangaroo, which provides a strategic framework for Infrastructure NSW, Lendlease and Barangaroo’s future development partners to guide the commissioning and management of public art across Barangaroo.

  • Professor Cav. Simon Mordant AO, Chair, Lendlease Art Advisory Panel commented:
    “This commission will further transform the landscape of Barangaroo with a work that embraces culture, responds to place and engages the audience. I look forward to seeing the work by the Ghost Net Collective installed at Barangaroo South to inject a sense of wonder, imagination and delight through the precinct.”
  • Tom Mackellar, Managing Director of Development, Lendlease added: 
    This continued investment into public arts and cultural programs across Barangaroo South will see the precinct become home to one of Australia’s largest public art collections. Working with artists who celebrate and showcase the local cultures and stories of our precincts is an important part of our placemaking, and we hope the addition of this spectacular installation will be enjoyed by all.”

About the Ghost Net Collective: The Ghost Net Collective is a group of artists working mostly between Erub in the Torres Strait, Cairns and Townsville. Their work in hand stitching ghost nets help raise awareness about the thousands of kilometres of abandoned ghost nets that wreak havoc across the oceans. The aluminium frames in this commission will be covered with ghost nets hand-stitched by Lynnette Griffiths and Marion Gaemers from the Ghost Net Collective, and Jimmy John Thaiday, Lavinia Ketchell, Florence Gutchen, Racy Oui-Pitt, Emma Gela, and Nancy Naawi from Erub Arts.

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