Last Saturday I learned how to weave a net out of invasive English ivy vines that had been pulled from the ground. Cool, right? My net will become a small piece of a functional bio-netting community art project led by Vancouver-based environmental artist Sharon Kallis.
What is bio-netting, you ask? It’s essentially a woven layer that’s placed atop the soil of an ecologically-sensitive area. The bio-net helps to prevent soil erosion and protect new plantings of native vegetation while still letting in light and air. Eventually (in about 2-3 years), the net biodegrades and enriches the soil around the newly established vegetation.
In 2009, Sharon led The Ivy Project, a community bio-net weaving and installation project in Stanley Park. If you’re interested in learning more about The Ivy Project, it has a website and a video. Sharon has recently written a good blog post about the growth results of the netted area on her website. The bio-netting from Sharon’s current project will be installed on a slope on the north side of Lost Lagoon in October.
I was greeted warmly by Sharon on Saturday morning as she was setting up above the Stanley Nature House on the southeast side of the lagoon. She was busily taking strands of ivy and looping them around a series of fenceposts, setting up about 4 or 5 community workstations so that people could drop in and try the weaving technique throughout the day. With a cheerful and relaxed attitude, Sharon showed me how to wrap the ivy around a fencepost and leapfrog a loop overtop of this wrap to create a “stitch” in the net. I worked back and forth across 6 fenceposts to create my rectangle of netting.
Over the course of the day, many patrons of the park stopped by and asked what we were doing. Sharon explained how, when, and where we’d be using the bio-netting, and also highlighted that we were repurposing English ivy (an unwanted, invasive plant that covers much of Stanley Park, crowds out native vegetation, and takes thousands of volunteer hours to remove) into a functional structure that will benefit the park ecology. She pointed out that the woven hat she was wearing – a stylish newsboy cap – was also made out of English ivy.
“Would you like to try? I can teach you the technique and have you weaving in about two minutes.” This is Sharon’s invitation to curious passers-by. Some people take her up on her offer and spend a few minutes to an hour at a work station, looping ivy around the fence and creating a length of netting. This community project is ingenious in its ease – no special tools or materials are required; we simply use what the built environment and the forest provide.
I’ve been thinking lately about environmental education, and how well-meaning messages can often come off as boring and technical. Sharon’s way of communicating about ecology is different. She channels fresh ideas into small, local projects that combine craft and conservation science, and have clear, visible, and measurable outcomes. She accesses the sensation of touch when she teaches people to weave, and invites us to create hand rhythms that literally seal nature in a loop and link our fingerpads to the forest. I wonder: how could other environmentalists make use of all 5 senses to impact people’s minds and actions? How else can the arts guide the sciences in delivering effective ecological messages?
Sharon told me that the next phase of the project will take place in August around Third Beach. We’ll be creating woven circles of ivy to join the larger pieces of netting together. If you’re interested in joining in, check out the events section of Sharon’s website and scroll down to the August listings.