We’re revisiting some articles from this year’s Art Collector DAAF 2021 Special Edition.


Lavinia Ketchell’s ghost net creations turn harmful trash into precious treasure. 

Words by Louise Martin-Chew

Her ghost net jellyfish are presented with Erub Arts, but she is also a finalist at Darwin’s prestigious National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) with other members of Erub for a collaborative “mischief of rats”. 
This series of ghost net sculptures draws attention to the Bramble Cay Melomys, a tiny native rat and notably the first mammal species endemic to the Great Barrier Reef to suffer extinction due to climate change.

“This little native rat has largely gone unnoticed as it made its way from endangered to being declared extinct in 2016,” say the artists in a statement.

“To make this point, we have deconstructed the deadly net and rope, stitching it back together to breathe imagined life back into a species which will never again scurry wild and free at the outer edge of the Australian landscape. Our art makes environmental and political statements of national and international importance: the Melomys might have been a tiny rat, but every part of life affects the health of our reef and oceans.”

Image: Artist Lavinia Ketchell with her artworks Bloom, I, II & III, 2019. Ghost net twine and rope, 60 x 22 x 22cm.

Banner image: Lavinia Ketchell, Racy, 2019. Ghost net twine and rope, 112 x 47 x 15cm. Photo courtesy of the Artist and Erub Arts.

Born in 1993, Ketchell grew up on Erub (Darnley Island) and gravitated to the Art Centre after she finished school. She began working there in a media support role, and is now an integral part of the art collective.

“Once you unravel the ghost net, the colours make my works bright and happy,” says the artist.

“I love how I can turn something so harmful to our reefs into a beautiful art piece.”

Her work has been recognised as part of the Erub Arts Collective in the Premiers Award for Excellence at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in 2018, and her individual awards include four-time winner at the Gab Titui Indigenous Art Awards and a 2015 NATSIAA finalist.
Her work has been exhibited in group shows all over the world, notably in London as part of Caught in the Net, at JGM Gallery in 2019; in Taba Naba at the Oceanographic Museum, Monaco in 2016; and at ACM Singapore as part of the 2017 show Au Karem Ira Lamar Lu, Ghost Nets of the Ocean.
Ketchell also directed a short film called Island of Fire for NITV in 2017, and reflects on the experience saying,

“I like to take photos and explore media as an artistic expression and combine this with my work at the Art Centre.”

Ghost net is a movement that has been described by anthropologist Carol Mayer as “environmental advocacy seeking to bring awareness to the global destruction of our oceans.”

 The Torres Strait is amongst the last remaining safe havens for marine animals and, with installations of ghost net sculpture, artists draw attention to the devastating impact of human activity.

Image: Lavinia Ketchell, Bramble Cay Melomy, 2021. Ghost net twine and rope, 20 x 4 x 5cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Erub Arts.

“Turning something that is dangerous and harmful into something beautiful is important to me,” says Ketchell. “I live in a beautiful part of Australia. I want to share that with others.”
Her jellyfish are increasingly popular, with their translucence echoing the creatures with which Ketchell has lifelong familiarity. Like the movement of a jellyfish through oceans, Ketchell’s work is travelling the world.
Indeed, the artist concludes that;

“Working with ghost net has allowed me to meet people from other cultures, see different places and get inspiration from international artists.”

We’ll be watching to see where this talent travels next.

Image: Lavinia Ketchell with her artwork Kebi Nam, 2020. Ghost net twine and rope, 40 x 38 x 5cm. Photo courtesy of the artist and Erub Arts.

See more from Lavinia Ketchell and Erub Arts HERE


This article originally appeared in the Art Collector 2021 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Special Edition, head here to read more.

Cover Art by Madeline Purdie, Boabs After the Fire. Natural earth pigments and synthetic fixative on canvas, 60 x 60cm. Courtesy of the artist and Warmun Arts.

Contributor Louise Martin-Chew is a freelance arts writer and arts historian.


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