Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide
A vibrant fever of hand-stitched eagle rays can be found encircling the canopy of Exchange Square, adjacent to Tower Three.
Appearing to have arisen from the depths of Sydney Harbour, the rays are hand-stitched and woven with “ghost net” - abandoned fishing nets that have been recovered from the ocean and repurposed into a sculptural installation.
The works, commissioned by Lendlease, feature eleven rays suspended in graceful arcs. The rays cast colourful silhouettes on the ground below, marking what was the original harbour tideline at the time of colonial settlement. At night the rays are lit from within and above, bathing the square in a luminous blue glow and creating an imaginary ocean experience.
The Ghost Net Collective has realised this public artwork with curator Nina Miall, who says: "With its unique hand-crafted materiality, Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide brings the diverse communities of Exchange Square together in a singular experience of wonder, joy, reflection and connection. Situated at the harbour’s historical tideline, 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."
A story of collaboration
Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide is an artwork by the Ghost Net Collective, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists from Cairns, Townsville and Erub Arts in the Torres Strait, working closely with lead artist Lynnette Griffiths.
Brought together by a deep respect for biodiversity and cultural practices, they connect culture with conservation, seeking to raise awareness of environmental marine pollution, both in their home waters and throughout the world’s oceans. Eagles rays are an important totem throughout the Torres Strait, and a common sight around most of the coastline of Australia and in Port Jackson where their numbers are improving. It is a symbol that many people can connect with.
Conceived and constructed in Far North Queensland, Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide has been stitched by Ghost Net Collective artists Lynnette Griffiths, Marion Gaemers and Jimmy John Thaiday, Lavinia Ketchell, Florence Gutchen, Racy Oui-Pitt, Emma Gela, and Nancy Naawi from Erub Arts, with a dedicated group of volunteers.
Vital administrative and project support has been undertaken by Diann Lui, Erub Arts. Miniature stitched rays have been made by individuals and communities from across Australia, including Sydney, Darwin and Perth, and from countries as far away as Canada, and incorporated into the finished artwork.
The creation of the eleven rays in Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide was a collaborative effort that spanned seven months and involved eight community workshops.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) and an Indigenous community in Canada conducted online workshops, while face-to-face workshops were held at Retreat Recreate, Bentley Park College in Cairns, the Whitsundays Art Festival, among others. Additionally, individual teachers in Townsville and the Erub community contributed to the project.
Overall, 160 individuals contributed to the making of miniature handstitched rays, which were incorporated into the larger rays, showcasing the power of community-driven art.
The creation of the rays involved a significant amount of stitching, as indicated by the following statistics:
- More than 6.5 kilometers of fishing line were utilised in their construction.
- The process of stitching alone took a total of 314 days, not accounting for the time spent on making the components or the cleaning, surfacing, and storage stages.
- On average, each separate ray required 28.5 days to complete, including the time needed to create its components.
Watch the rays being created in this video.
The completion of the Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide sculptures was finalised in October 2022.
This installation will join the esteemed collection of public art commissioned and created under the Barangaroo Public Art and Cultural Plan, including Esme Timbery and Jonathon Jones’s shell wall 2015 and Sabine Hornig’s Shadows 2019. The Mermer Waiskeder: Stories of the Moving Tide sculptures serve as a testament to the power of community-driven art and the importance of showcasing diverse voices in public spaces.