heavy water 1200



Fall 2013  |  Museum of Old and New Art (MONA)  |  Hobart Tasmania  Australia

Project Team: Shelby Blessing, Danuta Dias, Shelley Evans, Andrew Houston, Lauren Jones, Kye Killian, Alex Krippner, Jorge Martinez Jr, Morgan Parker, Mitch Peterson, David Sharratt, and Katie Summers

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The Derwent Estuary was named one of the most polluted rivers in the world in the 1970s. For over sixty years heavy metals were freely dumped into the rich estuarine system there. Water treatment plants, paper mills, and a zinc smelter (the main culprit) degraded the health of river to the point that oysters and fish are still unfit for human consumption thirty years after clean up began.

MONA (The Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart invited UTSOA students to design + build a permanent work on their grounds to address heavy metal contamination in the estuary. This project was in conjunction with their 2014 MONA-FOMA festival organized by Kirsha Kaechele and appropriately named “Heavy Metal.” The student’s project was intended to raise ecological awareness of ongoing problems in the estuary, which is the center of life for Hobart’s economy. Student research was coordinated with marine biologists at the Institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies,University of Tasmania. Emilie Taylor and Seth Welty of Colectivo in New Orleans coordinated the initial research investigation and provided design + build assistance.

The work is a series of runnels (overall 170m in length) at four separate sites on the museum’s grounds.  Brushed aluminum edging forms the sculpted cuts in the landscape meant to trace the slope of the land down toward the estuary and draw attention to current human-generated pollution from communities bordering the estuary. Contaminated water runoff caused by pollutants from automobiles, sewage treatment plants, waste from pets, lawn fertilizer, and pesticides, just to name a few, exacerbate the ongoing heavy metal problems in the estuary by increasing algae which depletes oxygen levels. When oxygen levels are low, the heavy metals leech from the sediments at the bottom of the estuary, continuing to pollute the river’s waters today. The project’s four locations are filled with either shredded automobile tires, oyster shells from nearby bays and native grasses meant to soak up water-borne contaminants. Visitors to the students’ work can learn more about the issues highlighted in the installation through a website that is etched into glass at each location. There, information on heavy metals, oxygenation, and how local citizens might help clean up the problem are described in detail.

Materials included aluminum plate, cast-in-place concrete, custom etched glass, recycled shredded tires, oyster shells and native wetland plants.