Where Lakes Once Had Water is a 2-channel 4K UHD video (28:24 minutes), filmed on the lands and waters of the Mudburra, Marlinja, Jingili, Elliot, Jawoyn and Larrakia communities in Northern Territory, Australia, with additional filming and editing on Barkandji, Dharawal, Djabugay, Yidinji and Wurundjeri Country. University of Wollongong Art Collection. CABAH Art Series Commission in association with Bundanon.
Where Lakes Once Had Water contemplates how the earth is experienced and understood through different ontologies – ways of being, seeing, sensing, listening and thinking – that reverberate across art, Indigenous thought, science, ancient and modern cultures, the non-human, and in between.
- Sonia Leber and David Chesworth
In 2018 and 2019, Australian artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth travelled with a team of Earth and environmental scientists who are investigating changes in the climate, landscape and ecology over 130,000 years. Their journey took them to Australia's Northern Territory, from locations of long-term aridity across the ephemeral Lake Woods, to Nitmiluk/Katherine Gorge and tropical Girraween Lagoon.
Leber and Chesworth deploy video as a tool, scanning the surface of the earth from a multiplicity of perspectives, recording signs and markings in rocks and landscapes, registering termite mounds, erosions, tree lines, and the effects of water, sun and fire. Their disquieting sound design encompasses natural and human-made sounds, and also the hidden signals and energies that exist beyond the range of human hearing. From expansive fieldwork to microscopic work in the laboratory, the project is a journey across audio-visual realms, scientific endeavour and traditional Indigenous knowledge, stories and custodianship - a coalescence of efforts to understand the ancient land.
Where Lakes Once Had Water was commissioned by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) in association with Bundanon. It is the first commission in a series initiated in 2018 that aims to engage artists with aspects of CABAH’s research to make new work that responds to, questions, and interprets the research for broader audiences. Where Lakes Once Had Water is on loan from the University of Wollongong Art Collection
A symposium will be held on 17 May 2023 at CDU Art Gallery involving Sonia Leber, David Chesworth and CABAH scientists to discuss the making of Where Lakes Once Had Water and the exploratory scientific research undertaken by CABAH in the Northern Territory. More information about this public program will be available soon.
The artwork and the scientific research have been supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence scheme (Project Number CE170100015). Views expressed are those of the artists and are not necessarily those of the Australian Government or Australian Research Council.
The artists acknowledge the traditional owners and sovereign custodians of the land and waters throughout Australia and the Torres Strait Islands, and pay respects to Elders, past, present and future, and to all First Nations Peoples.
Image (banner): Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Where Lakes Once Had Water (detail, video still), 2020.
Image (above): Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Where Lakes Once Had Water (video still), 2020