Inspired by discarded fishing nets, contemporary weaver Ploenchan Vinyaratn shares how she creates a vibrant utopian vision through dead-stock yarns and sea waste.
Sprawled across Nova Contemporary’s exhibition space in a vibrant array of textures and visually-striking hues, The Sea Ghost and Beyond marks the latest solo exhibition by Ploenchan “Mook” Vinyaratn. In an effort to draw beauty out of waste, the exhibition sees her weaving together scraps collected from the sea, old yarns, and materials that are wholly unconventional — think hand-spun paper documents, used stockings and more. What comes as a surprise isn’t so much what she chose to work with, but how she so capably manages to weave together a beautiful tale of environmental conservation, Thai cultural traditions, and the boundaries between art and craft. We sat down with the contemporary weaver and artist to discuss the vision of utopia she’s created, and how she manages to draw beauty out of waste.
Tell us about how you started the exhibition. Why the focus on discarded waste?
I’ve been working with recycled materials for over twenty years. I’m not an environmentalist or anything, but I like to do what I can to help, so I started with my community — my factory and my team all operate on zero waste, and I use scrap fabrics and yarn leftovers and turn that into art. Two years ago, when I started working on this exhibition, I began by just collecting trash and waste from the seas. I collected all these craps, and grinded and disinfected them, without knowing what I wanted to do with all of it. I just knew that I wanted to use this waste as a material, and turn it into art.
And how did this collected waste turn into The Sea Ghost and Beyond?
I had to think about how I was going to put everything together — the content, and how I’m going to tell the story. So I started researching, and it occurred to me that I just wanted to teach my kids something. I wanted them to know that ‘you don’t just use plastic and throw it away, or keep asking for straws. We can take these things that people throw away, and turn it into something special, and if your mum can do this to create awareness, you can too.’ So once I figured my goal was to create awareness, I focused on global warming. I made these maps that show the effects it has on our planet.
How does it feel to work with discarded materials? Is it difficult to draw out beauty from waste?
Everything that goes into my work comes from recycled materials. There are plastic bottles I collected from restaurants near my house, which I would cut into strips and weave. Then there’s also upcycled yarn from fast fashion brands like H&M, and Zara or whatever, which I turned into fibre and used as yarn. You’ll also find newspapers that I’ve kept for over ten years, which I cut into strips and handspun into string. Like I said, at first I didn’t even know what I was doing. Learning how to weave — well, anyone can weave. What matters is finding your own technique, discovering the things you’re going to use, that all comes with trial and error. I think when people see my work, they can tell it’s my signature style. I innovate new raw materials, my own way of weaving, and it’s the way I put all these unconventional materials together that makes up style. It’s like creating a whole new technique and approach, so that’s where the difficulty lies.
How do you want people to feel when they first enter?
I want them to be amazed. Things that we don’t want, things we don’t take care of — all that can turn into all of this art. You see stuff like plastic bottles, and plastic straws that we just throw away out of habit, without even thinking. It’s actually quite a selfish act to be wasteful, and all these habits have to change. But I can’t change you, I can’t force my kids to change either. We can just set an example and try to bring a positive influence.
Do you have a favourite piece in the exhibition?
Well, I actually like every single piece, because they all take so long to create. There’s a particular one called ICE, AT ROOM TEMPERATURE, which shows an image from Greenland of ice, water, and shadows. It’s a beautiful landscape to look at, and I made it using plastic bottles with sea waste stuffed in stockings, and hand-spun paper. When the plastic bottles touch the light, it really feels and looks like ice, so when you stand in front of the piece, it feels like you’re actually there in the North Pole.
Then there’s SEA GHOST, which is this massive structure that hangs down. For that one, I was inspired by the time I spent working with local fishermen in Koh Lanta. I taught them how to make bags for income, and during that time, I got along really well with their wives, so when I decided to do this exhibition, I asked them if I could use their discarded fishnets. That’s when they told me no one brings those fishnets back, because their husbands would leave it out there in the ocean. So that’s how I decided to make my own “seagulls” — which is the name they give to fishnets left in the sea. You can see that the piece is woven from all these unwanted scraps, as a way of telling people that what you leave out there actually accumulates to create all this trash, like a literal ghost floating on the ocean.
What are your thoughts on how things are now?
I like the generation. Things are getting better. Back in the day, for example, people would smoke everywhere. Even I smoked when I was younger — in restaurants, in cafes, everywhere on the streets. Now, smoking is no longer cool for kids. It shows that if you set a good example, eventually things will change, so hopefully all these kids will eventually grow up to be more aware of the waste they create, and think twice before doing anything. That’s what I want for my own kids. Everyone wants their children to get into great schools, but for me, what’s most important has always been responsibility. I want my kids to be accountable for their own actions, and to be kind. They don’t always have to be nice, but they must always be kind.
What is the role of artists when it comes to environmental conservation?
I don’t think you necessarily have to be an artist. Anyone can help in different ways. I’m an artist, so I help in a way that I can. I just want to create awareness — that’s why I started with my community. If you look closely, most of my trash is collected from my neighbourhood in Hua Hin. I go there often on the weekends with my family. Sure, me collecting trash won’t stop people from throwing stuff away, but at least I embed these values of awareness and saving the environment into my kids.
Experience The Sea Ghost and Beyond firsthand at Nova Contemporary, or find out more at novacontemporary.com.