The Sweetest Sting

Posted October 29, 2009 in Arts & Culture

Katinka Clementsmith knits an environmental message into her art—literally.


Her latest creation is a collection of six- to eight-foot-long sea jellies she made by crocheting together strips of used plastic bags.


The collection is called “Medusa Bloom,” and it’s going on display at Back to the Grind coffeehouse in Riverside next week.


The sea jellies are each made of more than 20 grocery bags Clementsmith collected from her friends. They range in size from only four feet including tentacles to more to 12 feet. 


Some are white. Others are trash-bag black and Stater Bros. bag-brown. Some have colored lights glowing gently under the translucent plastic. And each is unique; Clementsmith made them up as she went along.


“I kind of let each bag speak to me,” she says as she sips coffee at Eclectic Books in Murrieta while her sea jellies dangled overhead. Clementsmith held her first exhibition at the book shop last month.


The sea jellies are more than art, Clementsmith says. They are a medium for an important message; humans are too wasteful.


Clementsmith explained each sea jelly is made from the bags one person or one family used and otherwise would have thrown away. The smallest sea jelly is made of 21 bags. The largest is made of 349 bags.


“We use [plastic bags] for 20 minutes at the most and we throw them away,” she said.


Making these bags takes energy and consumes natural resources. Then, after their brief use, they take up space in landfills and float around in oceans.


This kind of wastefulness, Clementsmith says, plays a big role in global climate change. “If these bags weren’t here, they would have ended up in our ecosystem,” Clementsmith says.


The explosion of the sea jelly population earlier this year is a symptom of global climate change, Clementsmith says, echoing environmental reports. Ocean water is warming where it’s usually cool, so the sea jellies are reproducing like mad. They’re flocking to beaches, stinging tourists and wreaking havoc on ecosystems all over the world.


She hopes her project will link the two concepts in the minds of her audience. 


The idea for the art project came to Clementsmith in a dream: She was walking down a dimly-lit hall, she recalled, when she noticed the sea jellies hanging from the ceiling in rows.


She asked a nearby docent who the artist was. The docent said, “It’s you, of course.”


She woke up and knew what she had to do. The next day, she began collecting plastic bags.


One of her sea jellies is made up of the plastic bags she collected just a few days after she had that dream, she says. She collected more than 30 bags on the side of a road in Temecula during a 10-minute walk.


But the task of washing them and drying them made her realize she would need a little help from her friends.


She brought it up at a meeting of Stitchin‘ Bitch, a knitting club she has been heading for the last two years.


Her friends were more than happy to dump their plastic bags on her, she says. Soon, her spare bedroom was crowded with piles of bags stuffed in bags.


She stuck a label on the wads of bags stating who donated them, how long it took the person to collect them and how many bags were there.


 Then, she cut them into thin strips, tied the shreds end-to-end, rolled them into balls and started crocheting.


She said the project combines two of her loves in life: knitting and sea jellies.


“I can remember the first time I saw [sea jellies] at a museum, the bio-luminous ones,” she says. They’re mysterious and beautiful, she muses, brainless but able to hunt, eyeless, but able to see.


“Medusa Bloom” at Back to the Grind, 3575 University Ave., Riverside;,, Nov. 5-31. (reception Thurs, Nov. 5, 6-9PM). Free. 


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