Art and the environment explored in Troubled Waters

Some of the most pressing environmental concerns of our times will be explored in a suite of exhibitions opening at UNSW Galleries this week.

Some of the most pressing environmental concerns of our times will be explored in a suite of exhibitions opening at UNSW Galleries this week.

Troubled Waters features the Australian premiere of internationally celebrated British filmmaker John Akomfrah’s landmark Vertigo Sea, Georgia Wallace-Crabbe’s five-screen The Earth and the Elements and a major art/science collaboration titled River Journey, which explores the impact of human activity on Australia’s marine environments.

Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea is a large-scale, immersive video installation exploring our relationship with the ocean.

Fusing archival material, readings from classical sources and newly shot footage, Akomfrah’s critically acclaimed piece focuses on the history and cruelty of the whaling industry and juxtaposes it with scenes of generations of migrants crossing dangerous oceans for a better life.

In River Journey, UNSW Professor Richard Kingsford hopes to inspire a national conversation about the importance of rivers and wetlands. The science-meets-art exhibition is co-curated with Dr Felicity Fenner, Director of UNSW Galleries.

The project combines the latest science with commissions from leading contemporary artists including Andrew Belletty, Nici Cumpston, Tamara Dean, Bonita Ely and Janet Laurence.


River Journey features Marine Mathematicians by Tamara Dean. The photo shows UNSW Coastal and Regional Oceanography Lab researchers Nina Ribbat, Dr Paulina Cetina-Heredia and Dr Amandine Schaeffer in the field at Sydney's Botany Bay.

“The exhibition follows a river’s journey from source to sea, capturing its vibrancy in photography, video and sound; reflecting its incredible biodiversity; but also illustrating the enormous management challenges and effects of competition for scarce water resources,” says Kingsford, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science. “Through art we bring life to the science of river ecology."

A series of evocative portraits featuring UNSW researchers working in the wild by artist and photographer Tamara Dean accompany the River Journey installation. Selected from Dean’s Wild Researchers series commissioned by UNSW, these uncanny images are shot in the half-light of dawn and dusk, drawing on the tradition of Romantic and still-life painting to reveal the dedication and passion of some of the nation’s leading researchers. 

Georgia Wallace-Crabbe’s The Earth and the Elements is an immersive film experience that offers a ‘big picture’ viewpoint of human relationships with the natural environment. It uses the Chinese philosophy of Daoism as a metaphoric frame to explore ecological issues arising from the extraction and flow of mineral resources from Australia to China.

Vertigo Sea is presented in partnership with the Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch, New Zealand. River Journey is presented in association with National Science Week 2016.

Troubled Waters runs from 19 August – 5 November

Also on exhibition at UNSW Galleries: John Fries Award 2016 (19 August – 1 October)

The John Fries Award 2016 features work by a diverse range of 14 emerging artists selected from nearly 1000 entries. The annual John Fries Award presents new and experimental works by emerging artists from across Australia and New Zealand. Since the award and associated exhibition were established in 2010, it has become a platform and launching pad for early career visual artists.