Tasmania's journal of discovery

Aqualux II

Sydney-based artist Peter E Churak spent three months at CSIRO Marine Research, Hobart in 2005, working with ecologists, taxonomists, engineers and technicians as they explored and documented the unique biodiversity of the waters that lap Tasmania and beyond. The end result was Aqualux II — a striking video and photographic exhibition.

Aqualux II included the images shown here and in the portfolio of stills from the video showcased here.

As a keen surfer and diver, an artist, photographer and lecturer in the visual arts at the University of Western Sydney, Peter has found himself increasingly intrigued by water. At the same time his work has developed into a combination of computer-generated images and documentary images.

Having bought an underwater camera he started taking shots while body surfing and diving. As he became artistically more involved with water he made a video out of work he’d been documenting on aquariums.

The video, Aqualux I, is a liquid mix of images of light flickering through water in abstract patterns that coalesce into pulsating jelly fish. This was the film that won him one of three Synapse Art and Science Residencies for 2005 — a program which aims to develop dynamic creative partnershps between scientists and artists.

If the expectations on each side during his Tasmanian sojourn were not exactly the same at first — “it was as if we were in two planes on parallel journeys” — the resulting video Aqualux II and a magnificent set of images show how well the parties came to understand each other.

“While I was learning a new language to do with calibration, coded targets, mapping and the like, the marine biologists were trying to understand mine — which is visual rather than word-based,” Churak explains.

“As an artist I am recording objects people who work in the field take for granted — I am looking for the unseen reality. Technology was inextricably linked with this project but technology can extend our bodies and our senses.”

He also involves computer-generated imagery in his work, combining ‘slices’ of sea creatures in ribbons of pattern and colour, illustrations from an early publication of the classic adventure novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and underwater video shots.

He gives credit to Alan Williams, Bruce Barker and Matthew Sherlock of CSIRO, along with “The Special Camera”, shown below.

Designed and made by CSIRO Marine Research in Hobart, the camera, more correctly called the Deep Video System, is capable of going to a depth of 2000 metres.

Within its aluminium framework are several cameras: high-resolution digital for stills, a stereo video filming the same image from two angles which gives scientists the ability to measure what they are seeing with accuracy, plus a navigation camera which allows the scientists to ‘fly’ the system from the ship above, plus strobe lighting for the digital stills and sensors to provide feedback on temperature, pressure and salinity.

Peter was particularly intrigued by the stereo view — and used a split screen much of the time in his video presentation as shown in the stills in the portfolio.

Next entry: Art meets science

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