The Derwent Project is a collaboration between artists David Stephenson and Martin Walch, working with Hydro Tasmania and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery; it visualises in new ways the natural and cultural history of Tasmania’s Derwent River watershed. The Derwent is a technologically altered water system of beauty and fascination that encompasses a remarkable range of environments; it arises within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and passes through ten hydroelectric developments before meeting the sea at Hobart. The entire watershed is fractal in structure and complex: it is rich in natural and cultural history, with in situ artefacts that provide information from the Aboriginal period back to more than 30,000 years ago, and from colonial settlement up to 200 years, along with structures in the environment such as dams, power stations, suburbs, and factories that provide information about the industrial period up to the present. The aim of the Derwent project is to create new aesthetic models for representing such a multilayered landscape over time, conveying its rich layering of information and ongoing environmental changes with clarity and impact.
One approach being developed is a highly portable system of 360º image and sound capture that immerses the viewer in the remote environment of the Derwent – and conveys the embodied experience of being in the river. This approach is being applied to produce multi-screen panoramic video works. To create an imbedded viewpoint and allow the environment to be an active agency in the delivery of these new kinds of representations, much of the 360º imagery is being recorded at water level itself. To do this video and sound is recorded with multiple camera arrays from floating capture platforms such as small watercraft moving on the surface of the river – to evoke a sense of immersion in the river flow.
The Derwent Time-lapse Array (DTA) is another method being explored: it consists of 12 camera stations dispersed across the Derwent in representative environments ranging from wilderness headwaters to urban estuary. Still photographs are recorded at each camera station every five minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These photographs are then compiled into videos that display one hour in one second – a day is compressed to 24 seconds, a year will pass in just under 2.5 hours. The 12 resulting videos can be displayed with synchronised playback of the 12 camera stations, allowing environmental changes and events such as storms, floods, bushfires and manipulation of hydroelectric impoundment water levels to be visually tracked along the 160km (100 mile) wide expanse of the Derwent watershed.
The Derwent Project commenced in 2010 and was supported by two University of Tasmania research grants before receiving funding from the Australian Research Council as a 2014-16 Discovery Project. A major exhibition is planned for 2017 at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.