For artist Orly Genger, one of the hazards of using recycled lobster rope to make massive, site-specific art installations is dealing with fish guts. Lots and lots of fish guts.
“The rope I use comes straight from the ocean,” Genger tells Smithsonian.com. “There are a lot of things attached to it, like fish scales and boat parts. It’s quite messy and dirty. I’ve even started a collection of lobster parts I’ve found stuck to the rope.”
But getting her hands dirty is all part of the creative process, and the end result is an intricately woven masterpiece like that of her latest project, Hurlyburly, at the mouth of Waller Creek in Austin, Texas. Over the course of several months, the New York City-based artist and a team of assistants have been busily weaving together what amounts to approximately one million feet of lobster rope. To mimic the color and flow of the creek, which zigzags through downtown Austin, they’ve painted the massive crocheted pieces varying shades of blue and stacked them one on top of another. The result is a meandering pattern of “rolling hills” on a chunk of park land that sits adjacent to where the creek empties into Lady Bird Lake.
The installation, which will be on view now through February 2017, is part of a collaboration between Waller Creek Conservancy, a nonprofit that serves as a steward for Waller Creek, one of the largest urban creeks in the United States, and The Contemporary Austin, a community art museum dedicated to art education.
“I wanted to create an installation that would draw people into using the space and interact with it in a way that feels natural,” Genger says.
So far Hurlyburly has done just that, enticing passersby to flop down on one of the sprawling blue-hued mats, some of which rise six feet above the ground, and snap photos that are already flooding social media.
Genger has a track record for making selfie-worthy rope installations, drawing crowds with previous pieces like Red, Yellow and Blue, a colorful piece in New York City’s Madison Square Park, and Terra at the Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. Rope has been her medium of choice since 2007, when she uncoiled about 200,000 feet worth of climbing rope into the Larissa Gladston Gallery in SoHo for an installation called Masspeak. More recently, she created a sculpture for Laguna Gloria (a branch of The Contemporary Austin) called Current, coating it in gray latex paint in a nod to Minimalist artists of the 1960s. Rather than start from scratch by curating coils of rope from fisherman to make Hurlyburly, Genger repurposed rope from Current and painted it blue.
“All of her rope [was] in storage here in Austin,” Meredith Bossin, director of programming for Waller Creek, tells Smithsonian.com, “so we’re glad to see that she was able to find a way to repurpose it into a new installation. It’s a good opportunity to add art to an area that has a lot of bike and walking traffic.”
It’s also a great way to infuse more art into a city that’s already a creative mecca. Last year, Unesco designated Austin a “City of Media Arts” thanks to its abundance of visual arts, music venues and other creative outlets. It was only fitting that Genger would be tapped to create a custom piece of artwork using a medium rarely attempted by other artists for a city that prides itself on being weird.
Just what about lobster rope does Genger find so appealing? Wouldn't it be easier (and less messy) to make art on canvas or paper instead? Genger scoffs at the notion: “Rope has a huge range. It’s also malleable and I can sculpt it with my fingers, working on small pieces that can be made into something much larger than myself.”
An art installation combining guts and glory? You couldn’t ask for more.