New exhibition plunges depths of coral reefs

9 February 2012

One of the artworks featured in the exhibition is Cocoon #8 by Carmen Wallace (2009), beach-found fishing rope with coral, thread, 48 x 22cm, photographed by Tim Gresham
One of the artworks featured in the exhibition is Cocoon #8 by Carmen Wallace (2009), beach-found fishing rope with coral, thread, 48 x 22cm, photographed by Tim Gresham

Coral from one of Australia's oldest collections, striking renditions of coastal marine life by Australian artists and works from students living in the reef-rich Torres Strait will help examine our treasured-yet-fragile coral reefs in a new Macleay Museum exhibition at the University of Sydney.

Coral: Art Science Life is underpinned by the museum's vibrant and historic coral collection, featuring specimens from the eponymous William John Macleay's 1875 expedition to New Guinea. The University collection dates back to the mid 1800s when the understanding of coral utterly changed, says Macleay Museum Senior Curator Jude Philp.

"It was quite recently, in 1842, that Macleay's famous correspondent Charles Darwin demonstrated how coral reefs are living entities rather than static stone structures," says Dr Philp.

Artistic interpretations of Australians' relationship with reef life have also been created for Coral: Art Science Life. Four prominent Australian artists - Jenny Pollack, Carmel Wallace, Jackie Redgate and the University's Dr Debra Dawes - have developed new artworks inspired by the collection. Students from two Torres Strait schools have produced works engaging with their life in one of the world's most vibrant marine environments.

"It's exciting to host the view of the reefs through these professional conceptual artists, invited to participate because of their engagement with biology and deep concern for human impact on the natural environment," says Dr Philp.

"We were delighted when two primary schools from the Torres Strait's Tagai Colleges - Mer and Mabuyag islands schools - agreed to produce works for the show. These schools show the potential of regional and remote education and the challenges of building a teaching program that maintains local culture while adhering to curriculum requirements. For these Islanders the reef is not just about biology and ecology; it is also their cultural world from which we can learn."

Coral: Art Science Life also incorporates tertiary learning. Displays on the University's research on coral reefs highlight the diverse work of four researchers' to better understand and preserve Australia's evolving marine systems:geosciences senior lecturer Dr Jody Webster, Director of the University's One Tree Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef Dr Maria Byrne, Macleay Museum ichthyologist Dr Tony Gill, and marine biologist Dr Adrienne Grant.

"Coral: Art Science Life examines the boundaries of our concern for the coral reefs and spongy life forms sustaining life on the Queensland and NSW coasts," Dr Philp says. "It allows us to appreciate the richness, history and vulnerability of these treasured natural assets."

Event details

What: Coral: Art Science Life

When:13 February to 31 August

Where: Macleay Museum, Gosper Lane, off Science Road, Camperdown Campus. See map and directions

Opening hours: Monday to Friday 10am to 4.30pm, first Saturday of the month, 12-4pm, closed public holidays

Cost: Free

For more information, call 9036 5253 or visit the Sydney University Museums website.

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