Integrated Catchment Management

Travelling River

A collaboration of artists, scientists and the people of the Motueka River catchment.

Rivers are roads which move, and which carry us whither we desire to go.
Pascal, Pensées, 1670.

Travelling River is a journey of exploration down one such river network to the sea. It is an exploration among scientists working with nature and the people who have lived and worked along those watercourses. Art is both the platform upon which this collaboration is built and a stimulus for thinking in new ways, wherever in our interactions we desire to go.

The exhibition explores life and science in the Motueka River catchment and out into Tasman Bay, where the impacts of the Motueka River are still felt. Twenty-four panels each present intersections of community photographs and a chosen science theme, and are organized around extracts from Cliff Fell’s work in progress Motueka Song.

The concept is to create an experience where the passage of the audience is directed by large curved freestanding screens, not permitting linear vision, leading the viewer on a slow and reflective journey. In keeping with its hydrological theme, our exploration weaves on curved corrugated screens from the ridgetops to the sea, from the micro to the macro, from the old days to the new… The aim is for these narratives to be visually and conceptually interwoven, exploring conversations and convergences. The catalogue layout continues to play with the concept of a chorus of overlapping narratives.

Where it all began

What began as a collaborative dialogue between Nelson artists and Landcare Research scientists in 2003 has matured into a visual and auditory discursion linking people’s life stories and histories in the Motueka River catchment with the sciences of catchment management. Travelling River is the outcome of an art-science collaboration, Mountains to the Sea (Creative NZ newsletter, 157K Acrobat file), funded initially as a pilot project under the Smash Palace Collaborations Fund, and by Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research. In 2004, funding for the exhibition itself has been provided by Creative NZ and Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research.

The project team comprises Maggie Atkinson and Suzie Peacock (Nelson artists), Andrew Fenemor and Chris Phillips (environmental scientists), Margaret Kilvington and Chrys Horn (social scientists). Maggie, Suzie and Andrew are curators for the exhibition.

Mountains to the Sea began with a workshop in Nelson with a group of artists and scientists, and facilitated by Margaret Kilvington and Chrys Horn, to explore the possibilities of connections across the traditional art/science divide. The science base of the workshop was the Landcare Research Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) programme, which is led by Andrew Fenemor and based in the Motueka catchment.

Collaboration and world-views

Mountains to the Sea aimed to do two things. Firstly, to understand more about the collaboration process between people with different worldviews. Secondly, to develop an art-science ‘work’ which would raise awareness and share understandings of the social and environmental interconnections within the Motueka River Catchment and the ICM science programme itself.

In the first phase, we tackled the challenges of being split between Nelson and Lincoln, and of differing work demands, through a three month web-based dialogue. Nelson artist and musician Ian MacDonald joined us for these digital conversations, from which excerpts will be published as Conversations about a River. It was not intended to be just a loose exploration of working together but a means to enable us to develop the language and the working process. Our ultimate aim was to enable us to develop a collaborative work.

The dialogue started as if we were all scattered across a wide field. Arts-science collaboration was in there, as were the huge concepts of integration, mountains to the sea, working with communities. They were all in the field – somewhere! We began shouting across the landscape – gradually circling until we came together in a smaller more defined area. In the process we eventually stopped “sussing each other out” and started focusing more on what we were working on. Those conversations gestated into the concept for this Travelling River exhibition, a convergence of art, science and community.

This collaboration has progressed much like the Motueka River – starting from a spring, tumbling over rocks, converging into a channel, building to a torrent as it grows, joining other streams, gaining momentum on its journey to the sea. The exploration of ourselves, our values and our place has been evaluated as we progressed. In a TV1 interview in March 2004, Smash Palace reviewer Dr Sian Ede, Arts Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in London, commented “the commitment and the passion that both the artists and the scientists have for this project is absolutely overwhelming, and I think it could well be a world leader”.

After the project was described at a Seattle conference on art-science eco-cultures in May 2005, conference convenor Professor Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren commented ‘I am excited to see how this work is housed in a science company. This is a cutting-edge model that I hope others will begin to think about replicating.’


Travelling River would not have been possible without the contributions and forbearance of many, many people. Foremost are our colleagues on the project team, the many contributors of photographs and science images, and Cliff Fell, our gifted literary colleague. To all those who gave their time to take us through their photo albums and memories, or explained with passion their particular research interest, our grateful thanks. We have been unable to use all the images provided, but our collaborations have shown the rich tapestry of life and science in the Motueka catchment. Finally, to our families, friends and colleagues who put up with our countless hours dedicated to assembling Travelling River, thanks.

Andrew Fenemor, Maggie Atkinson, and Suzie Peacock (Travelling River curators)

Exhibition details

The Travelling River exhibition opened at The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson from 7 - 31 August 2004. It was also on display in the Motueka Museum from 1 November to 10 December 2004.

Related documents

Travelling River Summary, January 2006, 117 KB Word file

Celebrating the arts – great stories from the Top of the South (Creative NZ newsletter about Mountains to the Sea, 157 KB Acrobat file)

Travelling River Exhibition Catalogue (available for sale at Manaaki Whenua Press)

Media release on the Landcare Research web site.

Evaluation report on the project, 10 July 2006, (418 KB)