The Lagoon reCycle

This multi-screen installation, to be realised beginning in 2023, will update and extend the Lagoon Cycle (1972 – 1984), created by Helen and Newton Harrison. The thirty-panel work is housed in the Pompidou Art Centre collection and is about watershed ecosystems, life’s complexity, human hubris and climate change. It entails an exchange between a lagoon-maker searching for technological solutions to enable a specific of crab from Sri Lanka to live under museum conditions and a witness critically assessing them, in areas of California including Los Angeles and the Salton Sea. As the story progresses, the Harrisons widen the scope of their environmental concerns until they conclude with a discourse on the greenhouse effect and a consideration of the ecosystem of the entire Pacific Ocean.

Through the work’s key idea of the importance of paying attention to beliefs and the enacting of desire, viewers of the work will be led through the different perspectives of the lagoon maker (science) and the witness (wisdom), in alternating responses that have been rescripted from story voices. These will be played as characters alongside others that represent ideal types of Sri Lankan society and culture, and the working of our Western market economy. In this way, the installation viewers will occupy the space/psychology of the characters/archetypes so that they can challenge their own positions and complete the complex personal development cycle of the work.

The first phase of this new work comprises the storyline set in Sri Lanka, where the two characters in their quest for understanding and control encounter difficulty. The original storyline will be captured digitally including trajectories involving the crab farmers, the actual participants whom the Harrisons knew and still know about, and themes of the work. This will be embedded within an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade $2M clean drinking water program involving Professor Richard Banati from the University of Sydney and academics and community participants in Colombo and rural Sri Lanka. Creative interpretation will also explore changes over time, given 40 years have past since the Harrisons made this work.

Preliminary investigation in California involved visiting the Harrisons and the Salton Sea. In the short video below Helen and Newton read a section of the  Lagoon Cycle that describes the compounding planning mistakes and short term focused commercial exploitation of the Salton Sea, which has caused irreparable environmental degradation.