Weaving Waters - Talks 2023

Artists with Ocean Connections

Bribie Island Seaside Museum, Artist Talks | Weaving Water @ Yarun 6 Dec 2023

Sandy Sur, Sarah Jane Pell, Darren Jew and Desna Whaanga-Schollum

How does traditional knowledge, technology and art contribute to how we understand life under water? The keynote panel presentations from participants of the Weaving Water @ Yarun ArtSci program complement the current exhibition Out of Sight, Out of Mind interactive ocean exhibition at the Bribie Island Seaside Museum.

Sandy Sur introduces us to a diverse range of cultural activities, including traditional kava ceremonies, the art of weaving costumes, sand drawings and the iconic water music. Sur manages the Leweton Cultural Experience, established in 2008 to unite the Mwerlap community in Luganville and to preserve, celebrate, and share their rich heritage. Named after six originating villages on Gaua and Merelava, the Leweton group, showcase 'na-matto,' a fusion of Melanesian stringband music with traditional elements, 'ma-mag,' a traditional men's dance featuring bamboo and wood slit gong drums, and 'ne-leang,' the women's traditional dance. The preservation and transmission of traditional skills and knowledge are paramount to resist the influence of outside values and mitigate the cost and impact of climate change. In fact, Vanuatu ranks as the highest-risk country worldwide when it comes to natural hazards and climate change. Within community, cultural heritage plays a pivotal role in shaping identity and promoting social cohesion, and now global awareness. In the western part of the South Pacific lies the Republic of Vanuatu, comprising over 83 islands. It stands as one of the most vulnerable nations in the South Pacific, facing a multitude of hazards such as cyclones, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, urban and coastal flooding, and landslides. Traditional knowledge, skills, and practices have historically empowered the people of Vanuatu to not only survive but thrive in the ever-changing environment.

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Sandy Sur (Vanuatu): Director of Leweton Cultural Experience, an organisation devoted to the ancient customs of the Islands of Gaua and Mere Lava. Bribie Island Seaside Museum, 6 Dec 2023.

I was introduced as an award-winning occupational diver and aquatic performer known for pioneering 'aquabatics' underwater. Ultimately, I am experimenting, exhibiting, and exploring what it is to be a body of water, and perform within other bodies of water simultaneously. This is both a craft, and a self-reflexive critique amid high-risk operational environments. I've also delved into bioastronautics research, design and human-computer interaction. My work spans sea, alpine, and space environments, exploring human performance, expression, behaviour, and limits and in so raising questions about culture, colonialism, and ecological responsibility in these contexts. During the audience Q&A, I faced skepticism about my representation and motivations, addressing concerns about colonialism, capitalism, commercialisation, individualism and techno-mediated futures. Questions arise about the role of play and waterHCI practice in serving the ocean, indigenous land rights in space exploration, and my motivations in space analogue and bioastronautics research. By describing the ability to navigate different worlds and realms while embodying various attributes, I posit a means facilitating an exchange and interactions among individuals and communities. My lens on arts-led research practices and aquabatic sensibilities aims to bridge the gap between technology and real-life ecological connections for the benefit of future generations. This crowd want braver truth-telling: my personal discoveries and universal answers, and at the same time, they are repelled by the scale, complexity, cost and consequences of my acts/actions/activisms and contemporaries such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Have I only been enraptured by the questions and the interdimensional intellectual, physical, and spiritual adventures? The value of any interdimensional traveler lies in their ability to transcend the boundaries of their own reality and engage with the unknown. They bring diversity, complexity, and endless storytelling possibilities to the narratives in which they appear. Their adventures can explore philosophical questions about the nature of existence, the consequences of choices, and the interconnectedness of all realities. Where I abide by law, I have not written new lore. Where I practice lore, I have not written new law. Utimately, the next step involves deeper self-reflection, exploration, and a commitment to aligning thoughts, beliefs, and actions, for greater alignment of my unique knowledge with actions, for informing creative expression, promoting values, and clearer contribution to society and life long learning. Where my professional seaspace journey involves navigating the fine line between neutrality and personal convictions. Does weavingwaters involve taking a controversial stance and staking a claim on my culture and territory?

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Sarah Jane Pell (AU): award winning Australian Occupational Diver, aquatic performer and versatile art and science collaborator, best known for pioneering "aquabatics" that is performed underwater. Bribie Island Seaside Museum, 6 Dec 2023.

Photographer Darren Jew is renowned for his 30-year career capturing the world's landscapes and wildlife from Antarctica to Zambia. Inspired by his father's Antarctic expeditions, Jew's lifelong passion for nature photography began at an early age. As a certified scuba diver since age 14, his deep love for the ocean shines through his award-winning underwater images, revealing the power and grace of the Pacific's majestic whales, and the great white shark, for example. Shooting in the ocean is a demanding challenge that requires confidence, specialized skills, and an unwavering passion for aquatic environments. Darren seamlessly combines work with pleasure, driven by his love for the ocean and the desire to share the mysteries hidden beneath its surface, evoking awe and wonder. Yet, there's an ironic twist to his craft. While capturing extraordinary wildlife encounters through his lens, Darren never fully experiences the moment himself. It's a fleeting instant, filtered and perfected for sharing with others. A six-time Australian Professional Nature Photographer of the Year, we recognise and still marvell at how he captured most of his images.

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Darren Jew (AU): award winning Australian photographer of underwater, wildlife and landscape with a passion for the ocean, based on Bribie Island. Bribie Island Seaside Museum, 6 Dec 2023.

Desna Whaanga-Schollum is an artist, designer, and Māori Communications Advisor at Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge. Based in her tribal territories on Aotearoa New Zealand's East Coast, she conducts important research on how Indigenous values can enhance the blue economy's cultural relevance, economic impact, and environmental sustainability. As an Ambassador for Landscape Foundation NZ, Whaanga-Schollum actively engages in indigenous discourse, reinvigorating ancestral narratives within cultural landscapes and advocating for respectful, reciprocal relationships with Place. Her work addresses the challenges posed by settler-colonialism and emphasizes the importance of language, translation, and interdisciplinary collaboration for meaningful land and water stewardship, bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. I also found it aptly facinating, beautiful, and relevant that Desna comes from a place by the name describing the resonance produced by water crashing on the coastal rocks. This coast is also linked via the undersea to a freshwater body of an offshore rock stack.

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Desna Whaanga-Schollum (Aotearoa New Zealand | nō Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu, Pāhauwera): Māori communications advisor for Sustainable Seas (NZ) and Co-Chair Māori and Indigenous design network Ngā Aho. Bribie Island Seaside Museum, 6 Dec 2023.

Pell's participation in WeavingWaters@Yarun was partly supported by the Australian Government through an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant. The residency aligns with the Monash University Faculty of Information Technology SDG targets for improving Life Underwater, and Healthy Communities.

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