In the summer of 2012 the innovative ecomuseum in Douarnenez, The Port-Musée/ Musée du Bateau presented an exhibition, Fibres Marines as part of a larger regional theme (Chanvre et Lin/ Hemp and Linen) shared that season across multiple sites: the history and importance of the natural fibers linen and hemp in Brittany’s history and the role of these materials in global maritime history.
|"Organisé par le réseau Lin et Chanvre en Bretagne, le projet 2012 – Année du lin et du chanvre en Bretagne, vise à faire découvrir ou redécouvrir ces plantes au public à travers leurs applications passées, présentes et futures."|
For centuries, hemp and linen were grown, processed and finished in Brittany and were the materials from which nets, lines, ropes and sails were made.
|Map of linen and hemp areas in 16th to 17th century Brittany.|
Jane Bennett in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things has encouraged us to look differently at the relationships of the human and non-human worlds. She writes that she aspires “to articulate a vibrant materiality that runs alongside and inside humans to see how analyses of political events might change if we gave the force of things more due” (viii). Putting these materials at the center of an exhibition, and using representations (photographs, objects, films) as supplementary, contextual evidence shifts the terms of a museum visit. The humble matter itself assumes the agency it had all along in the telling of local history.
|Duhamel du Monceau's Enlightenment-era encyclopedia of fishing, Traité général des pesches (1769-82. This image demonstrating the fabrication of nets comes from the first volume (1769) which offers a remarkably detailed inventory of halieutics, or the science of the exploitation of living aquatic resources. The images that follow from this volume also speak to the material actors that enabled the harvesting of ocean fish.|
|Denis Diderot, Hemp and Cotton|
Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences,
des arts et des métiers. Plates vol. I Paris (1762)
A few years earlier, Diderot's Encyclopedia had also demonstrated the processing of hemp (and cotton).
In the Douarnenez show, from hemp plants under grow lights to bales of fragrant raw fibers, the ecological materiality of these fibers was foregrounded.
Viewers had to think about the way that these plants made sea travel and shipping possible. Taking the use of these materials for ropes and ship rigging up into the World Wars of the 20th century, the show concluded pointedly: there is too much plastic in the ocean—much of this comes from plastics used in fishing gear and lightweight boats.
Linen and hemp, finally, were offered as solutions to ocean plastics. In concert with other fibers and composites, they can replace petro-chemical resins in promising ways, such as the light, yet biodegradable boats . This show that made materiality central also opened up the possibility of new, sustainable futures.
|Naskapi Canoe, made of composite of bio-materials including linen fibers.|