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Liquid Sea

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


14 Mar 2003 to 08 Jun 2003


Doug Aitken, Christine Borland, Joan Brassil, Dorothy Cross, Tacita Dean, Joyce Hinterding & David Haines, Ani O’Neill, Elisa Sighicelli, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Zhu Ming, Leopold & Rudolph Blaschka, Louis Boutan, Jean Painlevé, Jules Etienne Marey


Rachel Kent

about the exhibition

Liquid Sea explored the artistic imagination in relation to aquatic themes. It was inspired by the unique history of the MCA building, as Sydney’s former Maritime Services Board, and its location at Circular Quay. Works by contemporary artists in this exhibition were contextualised through the presentation of significant historical material. From the undersea documentaries of early 20th century filmmaker Jean Painlevé to Doug Aitken’s immersive, cinematic installation, and from the colourful, late 19th century glass marine specimens of the Blaschka Glass Studio to Christine Borland’s ethereal study of bioluminescent jellyfish, links were forged across time.

Works in the exhibition drew upon diverse disciplines in their realisation, embracing art, science, design and museology. A key focus was the coming together of art and science by way of collaboration – artists who actively worked alongside scientists in the production of their work; and scientists who created works of artistic significance, as in the case of Painlevé, who originally trained in marine biology. Participating artists including Joan Brassil, Christine Borland and Dorothy Cross collaborated with diverse scientific and medical teams in the production of their art.

For other artists such as Hiroshi Sugimoto and Elisa Sighicelli, it was the cool, still grandeur of the ocean, coast and horizon lines that inspired their work. Tacita Dean drew upon narrative and metaphor to investigate humankind’s complex relationship with the sea; while Mariele Neudecker refered to the history of 19th century Romantic painting in her liquid-filled glass dioramas that depicted epic shipping tales. For Joyce Hinterding and David Haines, it was the language of the Gothic that inspired their collaborative film installation featuring a house from which torrents of salt water endlessly pour. Finally, Doug Aitken presented a three-dimensional, panoramic environment of moving imagery, in which viewers were surrounded by vast walls of water which shifted from liquid to vapour and from the micro to macroscopic.

Liquid Sea included several site-specific works which took into account the Museum’s building and its physical relationship to the harbour upon which it sits. Polynesian artist Ani O’Neill created imaginary water-worlds through the use of weaving, a tradition passed down to her through her aunts and grandmothers in the Cook Islands. Here, she created a new work incorporating gallery windows that looked onto the waters of Circular Quay below. In the first week of the exhibition, Chinese artist Zhu Ming undertook a series of water-based performances on Sydney’s harbour, sealing himself inside a plastic bubble which drifted across the waters of the Harbour.

Supported by

Supported by the NSW Waterways Authority