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Artist tests the water with bold project

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Brendan Rees

An artist hoping to raise awareness about water health in the Yarra River has made a powerful statement on a Southbank footbridge.

Standing at two metres high with a capacity of 1300 litres, a water tank filter has been turning heads at Evan Walker Bridge as the artwork’s creator Georgia Nowak sought to cast a light onto the effects of stormwater pollution in river systems.

The tank, which was on public display over 10 days as part of a public art project called Channel, contained polluted stormwater from the Yarra – which was treated by microscopic insects, aquatic snails, endemic plants, and charcoal created from timber. 

The organic materials helped to purify the water by increasing oxygen levels and neutralising pollutants such as motor vehicle runoff – which all affect river health.

Through her work, Ms Nowak said she hoped that “we can take care of our waterways employing natural systems and methods”.

“I see this tank as a vertical wetland, a way of making visible the often unseen or undervalued ecologies of our cities,” she said.

 

The Birrarung [Yarra River] has been legally recognised as a living entity which deserves protection, and this project looks to support this through building public awareness around clean stormwater in urban environments.

 

Ms Nowak said her practice focused on uncovering hidden ecologies with the project stemming from the waterway under Elizabeth St, once named William’s Creek. 

“Today, it is the city’s main stormwater drain, a critical piece of infrastructure yet invisible to the public. Channel is located adjacent to the large stormwater outlet for this main drain, connecting it with the Yarra River.

“The project pumped water from this point in the river where stormwater pollution is at its peak.”

The runoff from the drain is considered one of the largest contributors to pollution in the lower Yarra catchment, disturbing habitats within the river and further downstream into the bay. 

Ms Nowak’s artwork, which was exhibited from February 26 to March 6, was born out of an ongoing water study into water health, which was curated by Arie Rain Glorie as part of Test Sites Phase 2.

Mr Glorie, who is the program manager of Testing Grounds at Queen Victoria Market, said Ms Nowak’s piece was a “really good way” to engage the public.

“It is an experiment within itself – we like work that takes risks,” he said. “We can come along the journey to see if the experiment works as well, as opposed to a lot of public art which is a metal sculpture.”

“I think a livelier, creative city is one that is constantly influxed and you’re getting different temporary public artwork all the time and activating the city in different ways.”

The project was also co-produced by the City of Melbourne with the tank loaned to Ms Nowak by the Science Gallery and lighting sponsored by the Light Project.

“At night the tank becomes a beacon seen from over 100 metres away which helps bring water back into the forefront of people’s minds at all hours of the day,” Ms Nowak said •

 

Caption: Artist Georgia Nowak with her artwork at Evan Walker Bridge.

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