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Stumbling on our science story at an art exhibition

Luminescent blue panel in a darkened room with several people silhouetted in the foreground.
Part of the visual art installation in Melbourne featuring coral. Photo Melissa Marino

Coretext science writer Melissa Marino was checking out the (fabulous) Melbourne Now exhibition recently when an exhibit linked to her work for a client caught her eye.

In a darkened room people were sitting on a padded bench staring at surreal black and white images of corals, moonscape-like underwater. A blink and the image flicked to a classroom empty except for dead lumps of coral sitting on students’ desks. Beside the viewers in the room, a vertical panel of dead coral set flat in aggregate glowed white then luminescent purple under changing lights.

It was mesmerising, but what really grabbed my attention was the accompanying description of the installation.

It explained that Coral Coralations (the film) and Death Assemblage (the sculpture) are artist Nicholas Mangan’s ode to the impact climate change is having on the Great Barrier Reef.

The artworks were informed by his visit to the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) where researchers study coral and the impacts of environmental changes on it.

Science writing, inspiring art

Coincidentally, I’d just written about the world-class SeaSim facility for the AIMS In Focus magazine – a publication highlighting the tropical marine agency’s research highlights for the past 12 months.

SeaSim scientists are widening – through simulation – the normally tiny reproductive window for coral (dictated by the lunar cycle and sea temperature in nature), to learn more about climate impacts on coral spawning.

Finding this artist’s take on this scientific endeavour was more than just a happy coincidence – it was also a reminder that we can learn about this important research in many ways.

Those images have lingered in my mind, and seeing new audiences gain an appreciation of the issues through art was really, quite wonderful.

The Melbourne Now exhibition, showcasing new and ambitious art in many forms, is free and on now at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square until August 20.

And you can read about the work of SeaSim and other AIMS research highlights in its booklet written by Coretext here:

The exhibition at the Ian Potter Gallery is part of Melbourne Now activities. Photo: Melissa Marino

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