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Engineers from UNSW Sydney’s Water Research Laboratory (WRL) at Manly Vale have teamed up with the Manly Art Gallery and Museum (MAG&M) to create a unique exhibition that will showcase relationships and synergies between art, engineering and the environment.

The Manly Dam Project exhibition opens today at the MAG&M and organisers see it as an opportunity for visitors to learn about the Manly Dam area, which is a significant cultural, environmental and research site, and also to increase awareness of broader water management issues.

UNSW established the WRL at the base of Manly Dam in the mid-1950s to undertake research into some of the world’s most pressing water engineering challenges.

WRL Director Professor Ian Turner said: “Researchers and artists share a common aspiration to discover, understand, interpret and communicate the natural and cultural environment we live in. So, I feel it’s fitting to participate in an arts-science partnership focussed on ‘place’, with a particular emphasis on the critical role of water and coastal management to Australia’s future.”

MAG&M’s Senior Curator, Katherine Roberts, invited eight artists to create new artworks for the exhibition, based on themes spanning heritage, the environment, water research and coastal management, showcasing their diverse artistic practices. The artists toured the water research laboratories and the Manly Dam catchment with UNSW engineers and spent time understanding the research, science and history of the area. The Aboriginal Heritage Office also participated, resulting in the area’s cultural significance being captured in several of the finished artworks.

Ms Roberts said bringing the artists and engineers together at the laboratories in Manly created a genuine energy and an opportunity for everyone to express something meaningful about place and water.


Nicole Welch, Yarrahapinni # 1 (still), 2019, infrared time-lapse film

“The artists immersed themselves in the site, initiated their own research and enquiries, learned from the WRL engineers, educators and historians and created new series of works,” Ms Roberts said.

“The result is eight new works inspired by place, history, water management and engineering,” she said.

Professor Turner said that he and his engineering team gained new perspectives from the process as well.

“Our team works with partners from academia, industry and government to tackle civil and environmental engineering challenges. We’re not used to working with artists and it’s fair to say that this project has put us out of our comfort zone.

“Working with this exceptional group of artists has definitely given us new ideas on how we work and how to engage with our partners and community. It is an exciting exhibition that I hope many people will now take the opportunity to see for themselves,” Professor Turner said.

The Manly Dam Project exhibition is open daily at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum from now until 5pm Sunday 23 February, 2020.

Associated with the exhibition, the UNSW Water Research Laboratory is also holding a public open day on 15 February 2020.