Reading the River

James Geurts
Julie Gough
Natalie Jeremijenko
Justy Phillips & Margaret Woodward
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Swimmable! was a bold collaboration addressing Elwick Bay’s poor water quality; once a popular swimming spot, it is now ‘un-swimmable’.

This program was a multi-disciplinary collaboration between GASP!, Carbon Arts, artists, scientists, educators, environmentalists, industry and community. It was conceived by GASP with Melbourne-based environmental arts organisation, Carbon Arts, as a three year project to deliver temporary and permanent, internationally resonant art in all forms, connecting the local community and visitors to the health of the River Derwent.

The project originated in 2009 when a 17-year-old student summarised the desire of her generation - to make the water swimmable again. Building on an inclusive community approach, GASP sought the involvement of partners to elevate the possibility of beautiful, thought-provoking and intelligent outcomes based on strong knowledge beds and in-depth enquiry.

Over 2013-2014 targeted consultations were undertaken including a half-day workshop in April 2013 with 23 participants representing stakeholder groups. This established an approach for project development and a process for engaging professional artists, leading to the Swimmable! Artists Lab held in September 2014.

The Lab was designed to foster collaboration and encourage the development of artwork concepts. Over four days it offered participants an immersive experience of the environmental and community context, and introduced them to the wealth of supportive stakeholder organisations and resources available to develop emergent concepts. The Lab then envisioned a series of thought-provoking and original artworks responding to the River Derwent, some of which were later realised at GASP between 2015 and 2018.

Read a full report on the Swimmable! Artists Lab here.

To experience the GASP Site from the river really invites a different way of relating to the site, the land and the river itself. This really brought to the fore, the fact that the river is a working river and that it remains a critical process of many of the industries that are situated along its riverbanks.

Justy Phillips, artist

Spending time at the site was really important. I experienced the restless atmosphere of the river and the park and how the site was connected to the surrounding community. The different perspectives from the week’s speakers and guests revealed the complexity of the river’s history in both a social and environmental sense.

Tega Brain, artist

This sharing throughout the Lab kept opening up spaces around thinking and sensing the river in a deeper way.

James Geurts, artist

Technically the biggest issue for the Derwent at Elwick Bay, which makes the area less ‘swimmable’, is most likely water quality affected by urban runoff and nutrient input.

Lance Stapleton, TasWater

The Swimmable! Lab helped me to visualise and understand the River from a different contextual viewpoint. It expanded my understanding of its ‘function’ as a system, to beyond functionality.

Sean Riley, Aquenal

Strong discussions at the end of the lab about data and information, what it is, how it can be used, how it can be interpreted and/or how it is interpreted by different groups, were stimulating.

Stewart Frusher, IMAS

I was excited by the various projects and possibilities that were raised, most in passing as tiny germinating mind sketches.

Julie Gough, artist

I think TasWater would be keen to continue some involvement with the project particularly as there are synergies with other projects we are carrying out such as the Greater Derwent Sewerage Strategy.

Lance Stapleton, TasWater

The multi-perspective approach to site by both the artists and scientists gave such a generous and inspired dimension to the Derwent River as a living body, complex and continual. This sharing throughout the Lab kept opening up spaces around thinking and sensing the river in a deeper way.

James Geurts, artist

GASP gratefully acknowledges and thanks our many partners who worked with us to achieve Swimmable! including:

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info (at) gasp.org.au

PO Box 4541, Hobart TAS 7010

0427 700 100

ABN 30 145 591 304

©2019 by GASP.