Mixing science and art to explore water quality

Visual artist Julian Priest is setting up a citizen's water lab as part of an art installation exploring water quality ...
ELEANOR WENMAN/ FAIRFAX NZ

Visual artist Julian Priest is setting up a citizen's water lab as part of an art installation exploring water quality in the Hutt Valley.

There's been no lack of water this summer, and swollen streams and rivers are exactly what one artist is after.

Visual artist Julian Priest is calling for Lower Hutt residents to grab a milk bottle and start collecting groundwater samples.

"I'm after water from rivers, streams, bores or even puddles," he said.

It's all part of his new project called Citizen's Water Map Lab, looking at water quality around the Hutt Valley.

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"I wanted to be able to walk into a space and see the water in the Hutt," he said

He got the idea after water in Havelock North was contaminated with campylobacter last year, resulting in about 5000 people falling ill with gastrointestinal issues.

"It made me think, 'What's going into our groundwater?' "

He decided to call on people in the area to help him look into it.

Up until February 24 people can bring in two-litre milk bottles, full to the brim with water from ground sources, to the Dowse Art Museum to contribute to the installation.

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When dropping their bottle off, people can fill out a sticker that details where the water came from.

Priest aimed to collect about 200 samples and once he had them, he explained testing would begin on them.

His idea to examine groundwater went through a few iterations before he decided to conduct a few simple tests on the samples he was sent in, looking at markers such as acidity.

From there, the samples would be put in glass bottles and spread around the floor of an old pharmacy building on High St to form a map of Hutt Valley.

Each small glass bottle will rest on a plinth with lights underneath it to illuminate the water.

The light will change colours depending on the result of the tests. For example, Priest said, if the sample wasn't safe to drink, it might glow red for a bit.

Community groups such as Friends of the Waiwhetu Stream, Friends of the Hutt River and schools taking part in the Enviroschool initiative were also helping out with the project, providing drop-off spots and helping people collect water.

 - Stuff

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