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A complex issue expressed through art


Zoe Satherley
26 March 2009
Drawing on a seemingly simple theme, the exhibition Water delivers a diverse range of work by 12 of the Northern Rivers region’s nationally recognised artists responding to an environmentally and politically complex issue.

The artists have approached the subject matter from quite different perspectives. For example, Jan Davis uses water as a mark-making component of a studio process while Liz Stops makes ceramic objects based on the apparatus needed to transport water on rural properties.

The exhibition, which opens tonight, March 26, and runs until April 11, at Southern Cross University’s nextart gallery in Magellan Street, Lismore, was organised in response to the UN Decade of Water for Life. All of the artists featured are Southern Cross University staff members.

Shelagh Morgan, nextart gallery coordinator and curator, said her work titled Third Nature referred to designed landscapes such as gardens. “The work is a process by which we rethink our definitions of nature which in turn underlies how people value and shape landscapes,” she said.

“The fact that the imported water features are dry is a significant counterpoint to the underground spring that emerges just in front of my house.

“The Australian environment is water poor. Western culture is water greedy. Before long something must give.

“I am acutely aware of the luxury of being able to turn on my tap and amongst other things, drink the water. The idea of facsimiles of Greek goddesses as garden ornaments certainly seems ridiculous and about as desirable in this place as a bottle of Fijian water.

“My intention is to draw attention to questions of sustainability.”

Half of the proceeds from the sale of the art works will go to the PlayPumps project in Africa, to help bring safe drinking water to villages in Malawi.

“When most Australians want clean water, they just turn on the tap. But many people in Africa do not have clean water to drink and getting what water there is can be hard work,” Shelagh said.

“A new invention called the PlayPump helps turn this work into play. Kids spin the wheel on the device, the wheel pumps water from deep underground as it spins, and this action pumps the water into a large village tank. It is a wonderful concept now being used over many parts of rural Africa.”

Water opens tonight at nextart gallery, Magellan Street, Lismore (next door to the Commonwealth Bank), at 5pm.

It runs until Saturday, April 11, from Tuesday to Friday (10am to 4pm), and Saturdays (10am to 12pm).

To learn more about the PlayPumps project visit

Photo: Shelagh Morgan’s Third Nature.