Oceanarium was created in response to an EOI advertised by Warrnambool’s Fun4Kids Festival in late 2013. My response to that EOI was the beginning of a long and valuable relationship with the festival which sadly called it a day after 19 wonderful years last month.
Oceanarium took two years to develop before being funded by Festivals Australia, Creative Victoria, and the Isobel & David Jones Foundation in 2016. I worked closely with Fun4Kids Program Coordinator extraordinaire Rebecca Elmes through that development period.
Oceanarium was presented over 7 days at the 2016 Fun4Kids Festival. Film maker and photographer Distan Bach captured the story of this amazing world.
The concept emerged from the idea of letting visitors to the winter festival experience the wonder of our local rock pool environment in the warmth and safety of an indoor art space. I initiated a relationship with Marine Biologists from Deakin University and began to research the idea. Rebecca and I met with Marine Scientist Julie Mondon and were captivated by the marine worlds, known as biomes, she described. As she described the deep dark ocean environment in which sea creatures often emit their own light- I thought of local artist Karen Richards and the intricate worlds she makes using iridescent embroidery. Julie described the many hundreds of hours of film footage collected by Deakin researchers and I thought that local film maker Colleen Hughson could be the right person to interpret these for the space. It became clear that Oceanarium needed to extend from the rock pool world I had first imagined and become an intersection of multiple marine biomes imagined through art. One final artist completed the collaboration- the beautiful hanging textile sculptures made by Narrawong artist Deborah Saunders provided a way to recreate the under water kelp forests that grow along our coasts.
The best thing about my job is getting to work with brilliant people. Thankfully Deborah, Colleen, and Karen jumped on board enthusiastically. Fellow textile artist Sue Ferrari was enlisted by Karen to collaborate, together they create the art biome “Deep Dark Other World.”
Oceanarium’s evolution was captured and shared through our Oceanarium Facebook Page– it was a massive adventure!
Not only did Oceanarium create an incredible multi-sensory world for children and families to explore, it also presented a program of activities which enabled more than 700 people to contribute to its creation. This included the crowd sourcing of footage from marine lovers by Colleen Hughson as well as video editing workshops through which school children and community members created short films for the final installation.
Together Deb Saunders and Becky Nevin Berger (aided Becky’s children and Deb’s grandchildren) taught people how to arm knit and finger knit using recycled t-shirt fabric at the Port Fairy Folk Festival, Flagstaff Hill’s Day on the Hill, and the Warrnambool Art Gallery. With the help of fellow artists Julie Poi Kelly, Becky continued this program through primary schools in Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Koroit, and Dennington. This provided an opportunity to teach students about the wondrous kelp forests that provide food and habitat to sea birds, seals, sea urchins, whales, star fish, and other creatures.
After months and months of hard work, late nights, and weekends in our respective studios, Oceanarium was installed in the Warrnambool Art Gallery for the Fun4Kids Festival. Through our partnership with Deakin University third and forth year marine biology students and education students worked as invigilators within the space` enriching the children’s interaction with the artworks.
Deborah Saunders created the Woven Forest Whale Sanctuary, a series of seven hanging textile sculptures hand dyed and lit with coloured lights to create the sense of an underwater forest.
Colleen Hughson created the Open Ocean Video Sphere which included video projections throughout and almost twenty individual films on screens embedded within the installation space.
Karen Richards and Sue Ferrari created the Deep Dark Other Work in which visitors put on head torches as they “dove” into the deep dark ocean discovering new and strange creatures as they moved through the space.
And I created the Rocky Shore Wonder Space, a large network of wooden sculptures able to be climbed on and through. Inspired by the Pickering Point rock pools in Warrnambool these rock pools were animated by coloured lights, hand engraved Perspex, “rock flaps”, hand made shells, and an assorted of texture fabrics and reclaimed materials.
I even managed to squeeze a little “rock” pool tribute in for these couple of creative geniuses who left the world as Oceanarium came to life- Prince, Lemmy, & Bowie 🙂