Operation Crayweed: Ecology and Art

by Paula Llull

This week I have collaborated in a workshop organised by artists Turpin + Crawford with a group of Year 4 students at Coogee Public School. It hasn’t been a traditional art workshop where artists teach kids painting or sculpture techniques, not even an introduction to conceptual art just to mention a few examples. In this occasion, the words that artists and kids have used most have been “sea dragon”, “pincers”, “crayfish”, “tentacles” and similar ones.


Jennifer Turpin explaining Operation Crayweed workshop to Year 4 students at Coogee Public School. You can see some of the stingray costumes (13 September 2016)

The story of this workshop starts one year ago when the SRAP organised the Australia-Spain water Forum, three days of talks and presentations related to water with speakers who do their research or work in Australia. Jennifer Turpin is the 50% of Turpin + Crawford Studio, and she participated in the forum with a very engaging talk about her public art projects that have water as one of their main components. We all have seen some of Jennifer and Michaelie’s kinetic sculptures in Sydney. The iconic Halo in Central Park (Chippendale) is one of their major achievements in their usual integration of art, science and engineering as they won the President’s Prize at the Engineering Excellence Awards in 2012 and the model is now part of the collection of the Powerhouse Museum. Another speaker was Dr Adriana Vergés, a marine ecologist at the University of NSW who presented her most recent project called “Operation Crayweed”, which aims to restore metropolitan Sydney’s underwater forests. Crayweed, she explained us, disappeared completely in the 80s due probably to the poorly treated sewage pumped directly onto Sydney beaches. This seaweed is essential for the ecosystem of Sydney’s shores and especially to the survival of certain marine species as the crayfish, the blue ring octopus, the sea dragon, the sting ray and the abalone, among others.

While listening to Adriana’s project, Jennifer’s creative mind was buzzing with ideas on the possibility to disseminate the information about this important underwater reforestation. As she usually says, “we should take the situation inside out” and take advantage of an area which is very close to the shore and at the same time ignored by the thousands of people who walk and run on the coastal walks between Cronulla and Palm Beach every day. Fortunately, one of Adriana’s interests is communicating science to the wider public through other means like art. Thus, as soon as the opportunity arose they starting to collaborate.


The working table for the sea urchins costumes.

Many meetings and a lot of fundraising later “Operation Crayweed Art-Work-Site” is up and running. The workshops have been the first phase of the project, where kids learnt from the scientists about the problem on the underwater forests of crayweed and then met Turpin + Crawford to create a very special event to let everyone know what is happening just a few meters from the coastal walk. My role in the workshop was being a “buddy” for a lovely girl called Matilda (I was very excited, I had never been a “buddy” before!) to create a very special stingray costume. As I missed the site visit with the scientists, I asked Matilda what were the researchers doing down there and how were they replanting the crayweed. “They glue the crayweed to the rocks, not planting as we would do in a garden” she told me. That was illustrating enough to me as I actually imagined the divers with shovels and rakes replanting the crayweed. I hope I am not the only person who thought that could happen, and I believe it is a good example of how ignorant we can be about environmental issues that happen in our backyards. During the visit with the scientists, the children learnt how important is to be aware that everything that goes through the pipes reaches the sea, it affects the life underwater and, in the last instance, it affects us, too.

The first public event of this collaboration will take place during Sculpture by the Sea 2016, and it will be the first one of a series of art, science and community events framed in Operation Crayweed in the following months. Turpin + Crawford will install a very particular working site on the first 50 meters of the coastal walk that starts in Bondi Beach. It will mark the area in the water where the scientists are working and will inform visitors about what is happening there. As part of this installation, on Tuesday 25th October, a group of school kids will parade between Notts Avenue green area and Marks Park (Tamarama) dressed in costumes of the marine creatures that will hopefully come back after the reforestation of crayweed and will tell anyone who wants to know about the Crayweed Project. The rest of the days the visitors will also be engaged on matters of coastal marine health, biodiversity and climate change.


Jennifer Turpin explaining Operation Crayweed workshop to Year 4 students at Coogee Public School disguised as sea critters (13 September 2016)

I recommend you to visit Operation Crayweed website, where you’ll find a very approachable explanation of the problem and the solution, and you also can get to know the team, which counts with the volunteer collaboration of one of SRAP members, Berta Companys.

Also, it is worth a visit to Turpin + Crawford Studio website where you’ll be surprised at how many iconic artworks they have in Sydney, all of them site-specific kinetic works that combine art, science, nature and built environment.

Paula Llull Llobera

About Paula Llull Llobera

My research deals with the aesthetic and philosophical theories that define the different art movements since the late 60s, specifically in the field of sculpture and installation art. In this context, I analyse the way artists have tackled the natural environment and in particular the work of three contemporary artists that address environmental issues within the museum institution; the Australian artist Janet Laurence is one of my case studies. Also, I am a regular contributor to “Sculpture” magazine and “re:sculpt” blog.