Working the Waters

18 MARCH 2023 – 28 MAY 2023
Working the Waters Exhibition-Graphic - Tina Havelock Stevens THUNDERHEAD video stil
Image: Tina Havelock Stevens 'Thunderhead' (video still)

Guest Curated by educator, curator and arts writer Ann Finegan, Working the Waters featured a collection of video and installation works by artists Christine McMillan, Terry Burrows, Sue Pedley, Tina Havelock Stevens, Josephine Starrs & Leon Cmielewski.

Working the Waters took its cue from the multiple modes of human engagement with the waters on the planet.  With an emphasis on the folly and resultant disasters of human psychology Working the Waters combined installation and immersive video to explore the liminal zone of the pedosphere where human action and water meet.

Cinematic works including immersive projections, invited the audience to contemplate the collective visualisation of the landscape and offered an insight into the many contradictions of human psychology and the limitations of our foresight – or lack thereof – in respect of working the waters.



HD video loop
Duration: 27 minutes 12 seconds

HD video loop
 Duration: 13 minutes 55 seconds

HD video loop
Duration: 13 minutes 43 seconds

In Ganga Ganguddy 1 the holy mother River Ganges in Varanasi, India, is under threat from an excess of devotion.  In contrast to the serene waters of Ganguddy, in Wollemi National Park, Australia, the banks of the Ganges are crowded with celebrants of the annual Chhath Puja Hindu festival. Indian authorities are struggling to manage the health of the river: the numbers, the refuse, and the high spiritual importance of the site.

In the companion work of Ganga Ganguddy 2 a decrepit buffalo is slowly revealed from close-ups of rock and textured skin. Covered in sores, the animal lies awkwardly, chewing its cud, symbolically representative of the present condition of the Ganges. Hinting at a post-human future, the final screen of Unstable Rorschach depicts running waters flowing around the long denuded ridge of an abstracted landscape evidently de-peopled.


With a painting centric arts practice, inclusive of video, drawing, sculpture and photography, Burrows has produced 42 solo exhibitions over four decades.  A major survey show, Objectivity (2018), at Bathurst Regional Gallery, spanned the previous ten years of his practice. The photographic essay of Banaras Backs was exhibited at RMIT, Melbourne (2015), ACP, Sydney (2014) and Lalit Akademi of Fine Arts, Delhi (2014). Ganga Dancing, an animated video produced during one of Burrows’ many residencies in Varanasi, was featured at Parramasala 2013, South Asian Arts Festival in Parramatta. In 2018 the Mahant of the Sankat Mochan Temple in Varanasi invited Burrows to create a variant of Agent Orange/Hanuman (2018) as a performance painting for the annual Indian Hanuman Jayanti Festival. From 1991-95 Burrows was director of Selenium Gallery, an artist-run initiative in Redfern, Sydney. In 1995 he co-curated Critical Spaces, a series of exhibitions and forums on contemporary Artist-Run Galleries at Artspace, Sydney.

Terry_Burrows_GG1_D_Web.jpgImage: Terry Burrows Ganga Ganguddy 1, (video still) 2019

Image: Terry Burrows Ganga Ganguddy 2, (video still) 2019


HD video with stereo sound
Duration: infinite loop
Soundtrack: A spontaneous response score. Unrehearsed. Liberty Kerr on Guitar and Tina Havelock Stevens on Drums

2-channel digital video installation, 5.1 sound
Duration: 19 minutes 35 seconds
Producer/Director/Editor/ Drummer/Cinematographer: Tina Havelock Stevens
Sound design/Instrumentalists: Liberty Kerr, Tina Havelock Stevens
Sound Engineers: Liberty Kerr, Bob Scott
Sound Mix: Bob Scott Post
Production consultant: Milena Romanin
Grade: Dwaine Hyde

Tina Havelock Stevens channels energies of place through drumming performance and video. In The Rapids actions of human folly play out through engagements with water. Thunderhead is the product of a random encounter with the towering spectacle of a Texan storm cell on a drive across America. Once regarded as gloriously benign, in the era of climate change, with storms intensifying, do such events now produce anxiety instead? 

Indeed, humanity’s ambivalent attitude to water is reflected in The Rapids, a collage of drumming performances, archival footage, and found images from multiple locations around the world, including the Aquang River, Philippines, where Coppola depicted the dropping of napalm in his film Apocalypse Now (1979). In surreal superimposition fish swim across dams out of season, and Havelock Stevens’ performances are marked by hesitancy and conflicting impulses as if caught in the uncertain agendas of climate change.


Tina Havelock Stevens’ performance installations explore the ambiguities of human nature whilst revealing atmospheres and sociological, environmental and emotional space. As such her intimate, transcendent, immersive art experiences draw connections between personal histories and loaded sites. She recently completed a 32-channel immersive sound installation commission, HEAR HERE, for the new Sydney Football Stadium as part of the permanent Public Art program (2022). Following a major solo show of video and neon at PICA for Perth Festival (2020) her survey show NATURE EXTEMPORIZE was held at The Substation, Melbourne (2021). The dual channel video The Rapids was exhibited at the MCA for The National (2019) and her underwater drumming performance of Submerge featured at MONA FOMA (2013), Tasmania. A recipient of the prestigious 65th Blake Prize (2018) and the 55th Fisher Ghost Prize (2017) her international participations include Afterglow, Yokohama Triennale, Japan (2020), and BEATS OF DARKNESS for the Manila Biennale (Philippines, 2018).

Image: Tina Havelock Stevens The Rapids, (video installation) 2019


100 unfired clay bowls, oil, coal dust

Holding Ponds refers to the extraction industry’s use of clay-bottomed dams to hold mining waste. Calling attention to the frequent catastrophic failure of these dams, Holding Ponds brings the toxic leaks and stains to the surface and into presence of mind. The discoloration that appears on McMillan’s unfired clay bowls (filled with coal dust and oil) simulates the movement of leachate and its contaminants.

Viewed from above McMillan’s array appears more benign, resembling a topographical view of rock holes in the western desert, or natural clay pans that fill with water after good rains. However, the holding dams she walked alongside in her youth - close to Wollongong colliery where her grandfather worked - were her principal inspiration. Photos from the era confirm her memories of how nothing would grow there.


Christine McMillan is a mixed media artist. With an interest in botany, bushwalking and ecology she works with materials sourced from the natural environment. In 2012 she participated in Love Lace, a major exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, where she contributed a work made of echidna quills (sourced from road kill). For the Out of Office exhibition, Artstate, Bathurst, in 2018, she exhibited a dress fashioned from carp scales and fishing line. Her survey show, Push the Idea, at Orange Regional Gallery (2015), included sculpture and installation incorporating Xanthorrhoea resin, echidna spines, carp scales, Stipa seeds, clay and coal. For Sydney Contemporary, 2015, the Curator’s Department installed her Firewood. One tonne. This consisted of split logs that had been polished and varnished on one side only, with the other left rough for burning, thus exhibiting our conflicted response to the same natural resource. An educator who works in art and health she is currently developing community projects in Bhutan.

Image: Christine McMillan Holding Ponds, 2023


HD video with sound loop

Lake Margerat Teshima House

Duration: 5 minutes

Duration: 10 minutes

Teshima Ships
Duration: 14 minutes

 Camera: Sue Pedley – loop diptych. 
Editor: Virginia Hilyard
Locations: Teshima Island, Seto Inland Sea, Japan, and the confluence of the Queen and King Rivers, Queenstown, Tasmania.

The global trade in contamination from the resources and refining industries is tracked from Queenstown, Tasmania, where copper ore is sourced, to the smelters close to Teshima Island in Japan. At the juncture of the King and Red Rivers in Tasmania, one half of the waters run clear, with the other running red from the leachate, an ongoing legacy from the copper mining operations upstream.

Moonscapes, denuded of vegetation, now mark the mining zone around Queenstown, source of the ore, and also the site of the ore’s destination, the smelter on Naoshima Island close to Teshima. Post-World War II, this smelter was a major customer for Tasmanian copper ore. Additionally, Teshima, now remediated, had been an illegal toxic waste dump from 1970 to 1990, with the fishing, the livelihood of the local village, badly impacted by the contaminated waters from the smelter.


Sue Pedley is known for large-scale drawings in multiple mediums,
site-contingent multimedia installations and collaborations. She has worked extensively in the Asian region for more than twenty years, across Japan, China, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, participating in the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial (2006 & 2018) and Setouchi Triennial (2010), where she worked closely with rural communities and volunteers. The environmental degradation of water and its impact on communities and the natural world is a recurring theme: in 2022, she collaborated with Phaptawan Suwannakudt on Line Work: Rivers of the Basin, a response to the Nepean River at the site where Penrith Regional Gallery is located. And in 2019, she exhibited a large-scale drawing in soot and ink, Otolith: in the ear of the fish in the Manly Dam project at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum. Her work frequently involves exchanges with dedicated activists, scientists, rangers, engineers and ecologists, and is noted for her incorporation of dense accumulations of materials such as wool thread, seaweed, cloth and fleece, bamboo, seeds, plaster and stone into her ephemeral installations.

Image: Sue Pedley Copper Ships - Teshima Ships (still), 2011

Image: Sue Pedley Copper Ships - Queenstown (still), 2011


HD video, 5.1 surround audio.
Two channel looping video projection installation
Duration: 12 minutes

This project has been supported by a Creative Australia development grant from the Australia Council’s Emerging and Experimental Arts program.
Audio design: Alex Davies

Thanks to: 
Julianne Pierce
Marko Peljhan, C-Astral Aerospace Slovenia, with the support of the Ministry of Culture of Slovenia
Mike Manning, Synergy Positioning Systems NZ
Professor Ann Henderson-Sellers
Performance Space, Sydney
Creative Practice Lab team at the Io Myers Studio, UNSW
The Australian Marine Conservation Society for use of Dean Miller footage

Trading on the sublime effects of scale this floor projection places the gallery goer on the banks of the Murray-Darling river system that is literally underfoot. Randomly embedded symbols and text appear shaping up in the formations of the river-scape as if the river and the land were alive and attempting to communicate the impacts of human action on its fragile ecosystems.

But, And the Earth Sighed also includes a cautionary tale, suggestive of a sigh of abandonment, as if the Earth is giving up after her attempts to warn us through signs of more intense floods and droughts. Unmistakably, with warming oceans, the natural systems of the planet will readjust, recalibrate and reset – indifferent to the plight of humans. And, sadly, as if in affirmation of the modelling of contemporary climate science upon which this work is based, catastrophic floods along the Murray-Darling indeed followed catastrophic drought in 2022.


Long-term collaborators Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski have produced media art installations situated at the juncture of cinema, informational visualisation and sublime landscape. Passionate about presenting the land and oceans as spectacular living organisms and showing the impact of human intervention on fragile environments, they have exhibited widely in Australia and overseas. Incompatible Elements, an installation focusing on landscapes in crisis due to climate change, was exhibited at the Maldives Pavilion, Venice Biennale (2013). Seeker, a cinematic-scale interactive multi-screen work won a prestigious Award of Distinction at Ars Electronica (2007), Linz, Austria. And sms origins (2009) a mobile phone texting work, was created for Federation Square’s big screen, Melbourne. The hybrid art installation Trace used sensor technology and performance to explore biometrics (Sydney Records Centre, 2002). Bio-tek Kitchen, a modified computer game, was exhibited in Experimenta’s House of Tomorrow, Melbourne (2003), and Seoul New Media Biennale (2004).

Josephine Starrs & Leon Cmielewski and the earth sighed (video still), 2016


Anne Finegan is a writer, educator and curator who divides her time between Kandos and Sydney. In 2013 she was a co-founder of Cementa Contemporary Arts Festival. 

In respect of climate change and environmental degradation we all know the drill: we’ve been very well informed on what needs to be done. Yet a question remains of how humanity as a species, dare I say collective, continues to fail on these accounts.  


Click here(PDF, 2MB) to download a copy of the Working the Waters exhibition essay.




Working-the-Waters-Josie-Starrs-and-the-earth-sighed.jpgImage: Josephine Starrs & Leon Cmielewski 'and the earth sighed' 

18 March 2023 - 28 May 2023