In an unassuming workshop tucked away from view in South Townsville, the Southern Hemisphere’s first Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) was pieced together.
Lead by the world’s most distinguished underwater sculpture artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, MOUA will unite art, tourism, marine conservation and cultural storytelling in four site-specific installations that will impact Townsville in ways never seen before.
Once complete, MOUA is expected to attract an additional 50,000 visitors to the region and generate an extra $42 million per annum in direct and indirect expenditure every year.
But MOUA’s impact is more than financial, as recent Visual Arts Graduate and local artist Bronte Perry learned first-hand. Bronte was employed as an Artist Studio Assistant and worked alongside Jason and his team to create the first two installations including a true-to-size underwater greenhouse, complete with life-size gardeners, workbenches, floral sculptures and – once submerged – a living coral garden.
We caught up with Bronte to learn more about her experience ahead of MOUA’s first tours due to begin this April:
How did you come to be involved with MOUA?
I came onto the project through Kellie Williams, the former Director of Umbrella Studio. I’d done a bit of work with Umbrella in an unofficial internship capacity and they were helping to advertise the positions. Kellie got in touch with me and a couple of other University of Canberra students from last year to see if any of us would be interested and I thought ‘Why not? I’ll jump onboard and give it a go’.
How did you find the experience?
It’s been really interesting, there’s a whole range of stuff going on here, so it’s been good to see what happens behind the scenes on a really big art project like this. Obviously, working with an international artist has been amazing and I’ve been involved in a lot of hands on stuff: seeing how big pieces like the greenhouse are constructed, helping with the life casting, and getting involved with a whole range of different things.
What does it mean to have an experience like this so early in your career?
It is fantastic! I’m really grateful for the opportunity to work with Jason. Gaining all of these insights straight out of uni, putting into practice some of the things I’d studied, and seeing how it all comes together is really cool. I don’t do any sculpture in my own Arts practice, but when you’re just starting out, you can’t say no to opportunities like this. It’s always good to see how different artists work in their own practice and how different mediums come together.
What’s been your biggest learning curve?
Being on a construction site! I was expecting it to be full-on, hard work, but just seeing how the guys work who have been involved in Jason’s projects before; they’ve taught me a lot and I’ve learned a bit of everything. It’s important to know how all the power tools work! That’s been a big thing.
Will you apply these new skills to your own work?
I haven’t got a plan for it at this stage, but I’ve been keeping some mental notes. I think the casting is interesting, so getting into some more 3D work might be on the horizon for me.
It’s piqued my interest in guess public art and large installations as well. It’s amazing that a group of people can come together and create something that everyone can see and that will be around for years and year and years to come. Something with a lasting impact like that would be cool to do in my own practice – at some point!
What do you think is the significance of a project like this for Townsville?
Having an international artist like Jason working in Townsville is really quite exciting for the Arts community and it’s great to make the wider community aware that these sort of projects can and do happen in regions like ours. To have work like this mostly made locally and then installed somewhere locals and tourists can enjoy is quite significant. Jason has work everywhere around the world, to have one so close to home is really, really exciting.
The first commercial tours of MOUA’s Coral Greenhouse on John Brewer Reef are due to begin in April 2020. Further installations are planned for Magnetic Island and Palm Island.