Part of the watercolour painting of Wollongong's coastline. Photo: Paul Jones

How the sea is at the heart of Wollongong’s identity

How the sea is at the heart of Wollongong’s identity

New art exhibition at UOW explores connection between city and ocean

A new exhibition has captured the deep connection between the city of Wollongong and the rugged coastline on which it is built.

City+Sea, an exhibition curated and created by a team of researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW), will officially launch this week (Thursday 20 June). The unique exhibition celebrates how the ocean has influenced the evolution of the city.

More than just a scenic backdrop, the ocean shapes the heart and soul of the city. The juxtaposition of the industrial urbanity with the wild, pristine beauty of the ocean underpins the history of Wollongong, but also informs its future.

The exhibition is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Dr Kim Williams, Associate Professor Leah Gibbs, Dr Lucas Ihlein, and Associate Professor Sarah Hamylton with artistic contributions from Hayden Griffith and Aunty Barbara Nicholson.

The researchers behind the City+Sea exhibition Kim Williams, Sarah Hamylton, Leah Gibbs, with Lucas Ihlein have their backs to the camera as they watch a video on the screen. . Photo: Paul Jones

Associate Professor Gibbs said Wollongong is one of many global cities facing rapid social and environmental transformation in the wake of a changing climate.

“The coast is always present in the lives of Wollongong, and the Illawarra’s, residents. We live between the escarpment and the Pacific Ocean, and we’re never far from the sea and its influence,” she said.  

“We wanted to explore the relationships between the city and the sea. And we also wanted to consider what that connection means in a world that is being changed dramatically by sea level rise, climate changing, and all the social, cultural and political changes that go along with it.”

The geographic footprint of City+Sea stretches from Otford in the north to Bass Point in the south. It portrays the dramatic cliffs of the escarpment to the rolling waves of the Pacific, and everything in between.

The exhibition comprises a continuous video of the coastline, filmed over three and a half hours from a fishing boat. It is complemented by a striking, intricate 26-metre-long watercolour artwork.

“This is a space for people to come together, to slow down, to yarn, to write, to draw, to create, and to share stories of this place,” Associate Professor Gibbs said.  “City+Sea is not just about viewing art, but about nurturing our sense of community.”

The researchers behind the City+Sea exhibition Kim Williams, Sarah Hamylton, and Leah Gibbs, with Lucas Ihlein in front, with one of the watercolour artworks on the wall next to them. Photo: Paul Jones

Dr Kim Williams, Associate Professor Sarah Hamylton, Associate Professor Leah Gibbs, and Dr Lucas Ihlein in front.

The interdisciplinary team of researchers have long explored the tension between art and science, using their unique perspectives to raise awareness of the threat posed by climate change. In 2019, Associate Professor Hamylton, Dr Williams, Associate Professor Gibbs, and Dr Ihlein, collaborated on a song, called Rock The Boat, to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef.

“Most people see art and science as a binary, but there is often an unacknowledged creativity in science. Creativity is the heart of the some of the 21st century’s most useful science. It is really about thinking outside the box,” Associate Professor Hamylton said.

The official launch of City+Sea will be held on Thursday (20 June) at 5pm, in the UOW Art Gallery in Building 29 (the Jillian Broadbent Building). The exhibition is open daily from Monday to Wednesday, from 10am to 4pm, or by appointment, until 11 September.