Byline: Taylor Hill
SAN PEDRO — Santa Monica resident and artist Carl Cheng is busy preparing to install a 40-foot-tall bluefin tuna at San Pedro’s Berth 73, just south of Ports O’ Call Village, and he just acquired some important pieces to include in the sculpture.
With the sculpture’s debut tentatively scheduled for Dec. 8, Cheng organized a collection period Oct. 13 and 14 for local anglers and commercial fishing industry representatives to drop off historical fishing and nautical memorabilia, such as old fishing lures and fishing nets, that will be put inside the depiction of a giant fish.
The art piece is named “Ghost Fish 107,” for the fishing industry’s fading presence in Los Angeles Harbor. The number signifies the date when the idea came to Cheng: January 2007.
The giant galvanized steel-framed fish will hang upside down, suspended from rafters as though being weighed at the docks, just as large fish were weighed in when the local tuna industry was booming in the 1930s. The fish’s mesh design will allow for objects placed inside to be seen, and yet remain trapped inside — acting as a net holding history of the port’s fishing boom days.
Cheng was commissioned for the piece by the Port of Los Angeles, as part of the San Pedro Waterfront Redevelopment Plan currently in the works to redevelop the waterfront around Los Angeles Harbor’s entire main channel. At each new development site, the port is working to create a public art piece. Ghost Fish 107 will be one of the largest.
So far, Cheng has collected eight pieces that will go inside the fish, all of which were donated by local fishing industry veterans. Donations include handmade lures, old local boat parts and even a Norwegian stainless steel net hook that was used in the area. He has collected a number of objects from local salvage yards, as well.
“The project was conceived as an acknowledgement of the disappearance of one of Los Angeles’ most historically important industries: fishing,” Cheng said. “A fishing net in the shape of a bluefin tuna has only the past fishing history left to catch.”
Cheng, who used to paint watercolors along Berth 73 as a high school student, knows that getting public art approved — from concept to creation — is a long process. “Ghost Fish 107” was conceived five years ago and is still awaiting completion.
“There is plenty of time to allow the idea(s) to evolve into an inspired moment when you actually built it,” Cheng said. “In this context, I am as curious as anyone else to see how it will turn out.”
Along with the giant fish, San Pedro woodworker Harold Greene is crafting several teak benches and seating platforms on the plaza.
“Ghost Fish 107” and Greene’s benches are part of the Port of Los Angeles’ 1.5-acre Southern Pacific Slip project, being designed as a public plaza near the intersection of Sampson Way and Berth 73. The area will include access for pedestrians and vehicles, and the artwork will be illuminated at night with white lights, using solar energy.