Visual Information presents

A film by Barry Nichols

In association with

UNSW Water research Laboratory (WRL)

Manly Art Gallery & Museum (MAG&M)

Gulgadya Muru

We walk the grass-tree path at Manly Dam

The Manly Dam area is a unique landscape, rich in natural biodiversity, shaped by the interventions of engineering and science.

Once the source of drinking water for Sydney’s north, freshwater continues to flow from the catchment to the sea.

Ian Turner: “We are the Water Research Laboratory and we're a research facility of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which is part of the University of New South Wales. Welcome to the laboratory. This year’s our 60th anniversary. For us launching into an arts project, that makes us nervous and that's a good thing. So it's pretty exciting.”

“This is the first morning of the Manly Dam Project. This is a brand new collaboration between the Water Research Laboratory and the Manly Gallery. This morning we have eight artists who've been commissioned to work with us over the next nine months, culminating in an exhibition being mounted in December.”

“I think it's exciting to bring together a group of contemporary artists around the space of water, which in Australia was such a valuable resource, and working with us, a group of engineers, we're going to have the opportunity to showcase issues as well as art practice to the community. The interface between arts and science is an exciting place to be.

Francois Flocard, WRL engineer: “This wave flume is a pretty dramatic one. It's a model of a floating pontoon such as the one that can see at Circular Quay or all around the Harbour for people to board the vessel. I think this is what's really important with the way flume, that you can submit it to very extreme events that couldn't be really accurately simulated in a computer.”

Katherine Roberts, Senior Curator, MAG&M: “It's a really exciting experiment and the artists are excited and we're just at the beginning of the journey. So, what unfolds over the next eight months will be a revelation to us all.

“It's called the creative process. And, and I, as the curator, am going along for the ride as much as the artists are and I'm there right beside them and supporting them.”

Karen Smith, Aboriginal Heritage Office: “As far as we know this was the land of the Gayamaygal People. Now we know that their country would have stretched through the wetlands and these creeks would have supplied the lowlands. They had a great life here. They've left many indications of their presence here in a way of sites and shelters and what they ate. So think of the proud ancestors that managed and looked after this land and the animals and plants on it.

“You're probably following a path they would have walked themselves, you never know and we're going to start today on the self-guided walk, which is called Gulgadya Muru. Gulgadya is the name of the grass tree. Okay, let's start. We're going up the nature trail and we'll keep going the Gulgadya Muru trail.

“You can see Angophora's and different types of trees, also turpentine in here, there's peppermints and so those are the main tree types. As we progress higher and higher to the ridge-top, you get more heath plants. Wow, what a beautiful place.

“The artists are all having a fabulous time looking at all the bushland and incredible funguses and flowers and plants.

“When you're in the bush for long periods of time, there's this connection. There's something that the bush gives you, that gives off. It's a very healing, energetic place and very soothing place and everyone is quite excited by this whole walk.

“And I can see everyone down there at the bottom of the waterfall just about to go for a swim I think.

Blak Douglas, artist: “As an artist, it's imperative to immerse yourself in the energy of the place. This is my first visit here to Gayamaygal country and when you get into a waterhole, it takes you close to the essence. I can feel the yabbie bubbles on the back of my neck.

It's important for all of us to visit this place as a group because we're going to interpret things in different ways and having a unison here with our party is a lovely thing, because the underlying common denominator is the beauty of this place and the beauty of the bush and just the essence of this spirit of this land here.”

Shoufay Derz, artist: “The water is the, the mysterious element. But I think the other thing that's really struck me today, as our guide was telling us is to think about the histories of the place and the social stories that aren't being told. They're not my stories, but I think it's really important for me to listen to them. I feel like I'll be taking a piece of this place with me and developing it from a far away place.

Cathe Stack, artist:  “This facility is world class. It's uh, ranked 12th in the world. It's ahead of Stanford University for example. It's incredible what they're doing. I'm really going to go and listen to the scientists, the water engineers, they're doing three dimensional modelling with wave flumes and so look at the impact of say ocean waves coming in as they draw closer to the landform and what that means. I kind of have flooding in my head, the changing line of coastline. I'm just going to listen to them and observe what they do.

Nicole Welch, artist: “When I'm starting a project like this, I allow the place and the location to inform the type of work that I make. The engineers and the artists have come together really nicely. It's exciting because there's a shared interest in environment, working with water and it's bringing scientific knowledge into it anchors what I'm going to do, I think.

WRL site staff: “Here is where we set up our community beach monitoring program, so that is called Coastsnap and here we get the local community involved in beach monitoring.”

Nigel Helyer, artist: “It's not a question of the artists wanted to become scientists or the scientists want to become artists, but I think if you can somehow make a creative work which is effective emotionally and aesthetically, but also from a scientific point of view that has some kind of utility, some sort of takeaway in a scientific sense, that maybe this is a way of thinking about data that's slightly unusual or something thought about before. It gives an insight, a different insight into something they might be working with every day. You can find that third way.

You got the whole beach? Yep, fantastic and so I'm just going to upload that to the website.

Sue Pedley, artist: “Water is precious and it's been highly impacted by climate change and because we live in a country where there's not enough water. I mean you can just see what's happening in the Murray Darling and how people are grabbing for water. It's a commodity and it has a relational quality that can only be part of this project. I can't imagine doing anything without that kind of understanding of it.

Melissa Smith, artist: “My practice is really with printmaking, so I anticipate print, but the content is still to be revealed. It's swimming around in my head. So I think we're all part of the water cycle and I'll be thinking about that, as well as the layers on top of that and in the water itself.

Blak Douglas, artist: We're in a decidedly white demographic and I like to bring it home to that demographic and it's a wonderful honourable opportunity to be able to do that in Manly Regional Gallery. So it's nice to come over here and rustle the feathers a bit.”

Katherine Roberts, MAG&M: With any group project and this will be the third that I've worked on, it's going to be a surprise. We don't know what we will get. The artists don't know yet what they're going to make. When they start to absorb their experiences and intellectualise their content and interrogate their mediums and think about how they can express what they want to express.

The eight artists cover diverse fields, including ceramics, mixed media, multimedia artists and multidisciplinary artists that are working in film, photography, sculpture, sound, and together that's going to create such an interesting exhibition, and that's what we're after, something that's really going to unpack what this area in this place is all about.”

Ian Turner, WRL: “Sixteen people together who introduced each other in their art practice and their scientific practice. And now we've come out and looked at the dam and seen the environment and I'm hearing conversations about stimulus for art and how we can put that together with the science.

Over the following months, these eight contemporary artist will have created new work for the gallery inspired by place, history, water management and engineering.

Shoufay Derz
Blak Douglas
Nigel Helyer
David Middlebrook
Sue Pedley​​​​​​​
Melissa Smith
Cathe Stack
Nicole Welch

Participating Engineers
Ian Coghlan​​​​​​​
Chris Drummond
Francois Flocard​​​​​​​
Mitchell Harley
Alice Harrison
Tino Heimhuber ​​​​​​​
Gabriella Lumiatti​​​​​​​
Ben Modra

Karen Smith
Aboriginal Heritage Office

Ian Turner
Professor & Director, Water Research Laboratory, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of New South Wales Sydney

Katherine Roberts
Senior Curator, Manly Art Gallery & Museum

Barry Nichols
Cinematographer, Producer & Editor

Chris Drummond
Drone Camera Operator

Exhibition presented by Manly Art Gallery & Museum and the Water Research Laboratory (WRL), School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UNSW Sydney, and supported by the Aboriginal Heritage Office.