Citizen Water Map Lab

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“Water stops being part of our world – we get abstracted from it.”


How is your local water quality? Test it. Hutt citizens was asked to bring a two-litre plastic milk bottle full of Hutt bore, stream or river water to the lab. A public access workshop for experimenting, testing and “modelling water with water”, the lab slowly filled with samples to create a visual computerised model of Hutt water quality. For a bit more of a challenge others tried a sterile collection for bacterial testing (the CWML-collection-howto).

As recent dramatic events in Havelock North have shown our relationship with clean water is to be cherished. In the Hutt Valley it is already held precious by many, and our artesian water is celebrated for its quality. But as citizens we don’t always think about where our water comes from and how it ends up coming out of the tap. We have had clean drinking water supplies in New Zealand for so long that we take water for granted as an expected cornerstone of our daily infrastructure.

The Hutt supplies the entire Wellington region with water, with catchments including Wainuiomata and Kaitoke. Filled by the Hutt River a large aquifer under the valley and harbour supplies the Hutt’s water needs and is visible through two celebrated wells in Petone (with Louise Purvis’s sculpture) and Lower Hutt (at the Dowse Art Museum). Water for the Wellington region is fluoridated, except in Petone and Korokoro, who are supplied from Hutt City Council’s Rahui reservoir.

Citizen Water Map Lab is a public access citizen science water laboratory set in a vacant space in the central Lower Hutt CBD. Glowing and growing in balloons, bottles and dishes behind the retail glass, CWML is both water testing facility and a visual display.

An invitation is made to community groups, schools and the general public from around the Hutt valley to collect water samples and bring them into the CWML lab. There the samples may be tested in a variety of ways to measure characteristics such as turbidity, bacterial count, ph, conductivity and others.Over the course of the week the lab slowly fills with samples and results to create a visual model of Hutt water.

The CWL lab is a chance for people to look more closely at local water by performing simple water tests, and by having a sense of ownership of their water and its display consider the physical fragility of how our water is held for us naturally, and the effect we have on it.

“I want people to find water samples, take care of them and bring them into the lab,” says artist Julian Priest. “As an artist I’m interested in infrastructures – the supporting structures that hold us and the technologies that underpin day to day life. With water, when we act as passive consumers a whole series of relationships disappear from view.

“By getting close to water and its infrastructure we get closer to the ‘groundtruth’. People become equal actors rather than subjects – we begin to physically shortcut the abstractions.”

With thanks to About Space, Dowse Art Museum, First Assembly, Wellington Water and NIWA.


Julian Priest is an artist living and working in Wellington and exhibiting internationally. He works with participatory and technological forms exploring themes which include infrastructures, time, energy, security, and communications. Recently he has been making a series of works, which explore gravity including a large interactive work for Artspace and an orbital artwork The Weight of Information. His work Local Time at the Dowse in 2012 created a local time zone based on movement via a wireless sensor network in and around the gallery.

Julian previously worked with Letting Space with his work Free of Charge in 2012. He is a member of the Aotearoa Digital Arts trust board and has lectured at the Banff Centre, Whanganui School of Design, AUT University and Massey University.

Date: November 15, 2016