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MONA & MADA collaborate in Hobart river decontamination project

MONA & MADA collaborate in Hobart river decontamination project


Finishing touches are now being made on the Heavy Metal Retaining Wall, a part of the Heavy Metal Project along Hobart’s River Derwent estuary. The project is a community-based initiative led by Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) founder David Walsh’s partner, curator and artist Kirsha Kaechele.

Industrial development in the region has left the Derwent River’s estuarine sediments contaminated with high levels of mercury, lead, zinc and cadmium. The project aims to contribute to the remediation of water contamination and create a public awareness associated with the dangerously high amount of heavy metals in the river.

Bringing together three varied fields – science, art and architecture, the project is off to a good start with the inclusion of an enthusiastic group of local and international artists, architects, scientists, industry experts and students. According to Kaechele, “We are essentially taking a depressing problem with no obvious solution and turning it into an opportunity for artists, architects and scientists to come together and see what innovative solutions they can create.”

Apart from active participation from a team from the Monash Art Design and Architecture (MADA) Design-Make Studio, there are many other educational institutes associated with the project including the University of Tasmania, the University of Texas and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Other collaborators include the Derwent Estuary Programs, the Alvar Aalto Foundation, Finland and CSIRO.

MADA Head of Architecture Dr Diego Ramirez Lovering says, “The MADA Heavy Metal project is exactly the type of experience that we seek to provide for students: not introspective, but real, outward looking, and engaging multiple stakeholders.”

The Heavy Metal Project will comprise two structures: an Oyster Pontoon and a ‘Retaining Wall’, a large land-based pavilion that will act as a repository for the retention of heavy metals.

The plan is to filter heavy metals using oysters, which act as natural bio-filters decreasing the level of metallic residues in the water. The Oyster Pontoon will serve as a small-scale oyster farm to culture native mud oyster that will eventually filter metallic impurities. The pontoon will be a research hub for scientists to gather data about the surrounding ecosystem. At the end of each cycle, a selection of non-contaminated oysters will be entombed into the retaining wall – a so-called oyster mausoleum.

The lawns surrounding the retaining wall will also serve as the venue for the MONA summer market that works to support local farmers. It will also help bring awareness about the issue and engage the community at the same time.

“We understand that it is extremely unlikely we will clean the Derwent in our lifetime,” says Kaechele, “but if the project raises awareness and inspires more people to think about solutions, we will see that as a successful outcome.”



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