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Beach Rope

September 8, 2014

Like a tourist reaching the ocean for the first time, my first mission upon arriving here at Baie Ste. Marie was to explore the beach. Not finding the rope-lined paths down the rocky bluff that I was given direction to, I took a gamble and headed straight over the guard rail. After negotiating boulders and dense undergrowth I landed on the rocky shore and was immediately confronted with a dense tangle of fishing rope caught up in the driftwood skeleton of a tree. Instantly I saw the potential for metaphor: the entropic mass representing the chaotic force of nature, the ebb and flow of the tides pushing and pulling on the ropes, eventually twisting them free from their utilitarian purpose and turning them into flotsam; rejected by the ocean as a plastic intrusion. The conflict was ubiquitous: everywhere I looked I saw tangled masses of rope caught on the rocks. The chaos somehow relates to my current state: here I am, four weeks from home, alone and with only a vague sense of purpose. Sorting the mess out seems like the natural thing to do.

I  began with the all-too-familiar exercise of untangling: un-twisting, pulling, and separating the organic from the inorganic. Rope has memory: on the deck of a boat, rope is carefully coiled so that is can easily slip into the water. The diameter of the coil relates to the natural motions of the arm swinging in arcs as one layer is laid on the next. The next time it is coiled it will remember this arc and fall easily into a similar circle. Poorly coiled rope easily tangles, and worse, can grab at ankles or hands as the weighted lobster trap pulls it’s tethers into the deep. The violence of the tidal currants pushes and pulls on these ropes, spinning the traps, twisting and binding the rope until it forgets the gentle circling of the fisherman’s arm. Eventually it breaks free and is ejected onto the rocky shore, sometimes, dragging the traps and buoy with it. Most of the rope is plastic polypropylene, which does not bend easily. Some of it has been so twisted that it forms freakishly deformed nodules of knots, like cancerous growths, that splay out from the main trunk. Some rope is cotton, which is softer and more flexible, with fibers that have a softer touch to the hand. This rope easily forgets the violence of the tides and falls easily back into coils. The softer rope will sink whereas the plastic rope will float. In some cases, the Lobstermen want the advantages of both: the buoy end to sink so as not foul the approaching boat, and the lower end to rise up as the traps are pulled. In this case, the two ropes are woven together, end to end, to form one length. The weave intrigues me as does the variety of colors in the bits of plastic rope that peek out from the rocks. The more I think about it, the more I see more layers of meaning waiting for my interpretation.

In the next few weeks will try to untangle the ropes and weave together all of the colored bits of rope I find, putting the rope back on the beach with a kind of absurd logic,  and documenting my process as I proceed.


work shot at Baie St MArie, Nova Scotia untagling flotsam 3 untangling flotsam 2 untangling rope # 5 Untitled-1


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