By Urszula Dawkins


If at first the word ‘gauge’ conjures the image of a weather-beaten farmer stamping across cracked ground to check the rainfall, let your thoughts drift around the word a little more. Before long, other associations might surface…you might find yourself imagining silt and cloudscapes, bubble chambers, dripolaters…perhaps a waterpiano?

For creator/directors Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey, the title of their new work Gauge is nuanced, suggesting both “a specific sense of measurement and the febrile nature of choice”. Created in collaboration with three other artists and two scientists, Gauge is a playful and curious investigation; a hands-on encounter with weather, water and scale.

Flynn and Humphrey first considered creating a work that considers climate change two years ago, in response to Arts House’s Six Degrees project. Gauge naturally began to “brew and build” as an extension of ideas already important to Flynn and Humphrey’s practice: “Making sense of large amounts of data in poetic and physical ways,” cite the artists, replying together to interview questions. “Paying attention to sound in public places, from both people and the environment. The tempo of a long approach. And a childhood growing up on a farm in country Victoria, where it is all about the rain gauge and telling how far away someone is by the Doppler effect from their car.”

As collaborators, Flynn and Humphrey invited artists they knew were “specifically and beautifully” engaged with ideas that would fit the project: “Cameron Robbins, whose work uses the forces of the natural world; Graeme Leak, who has a lifetime of working with water in percussion/installation; and Rosemary Joy, whose work is concerned with site-sympathetic scale.”

Two scientists completed the equation: the ANU’s Michael Roderick; and Adrian Pearce, from the University of Melbourne. Dr Roderick, Flynn and Humphrey say, was happy to receive “a cold call from artists from the south” – he is author of the ANU’s Global Atlas of the Water Cycle, “which synthesises data on the past, present and future patterns of rainfall across the world”. Dr Pearce’s research interest is more arcane: as part of an ongoing mutual interest in systems, Flynn and Humphrey wanted to explore with him “the real symmetries between orchestration as it is understood in music, and the meaning that it has in artificial intelligence”. More about “orchestration” a little later…

“Short, sharp and focused” is how Flynn and Humphrey describe the occasions on which all seven collaborators were able to meet and work together – excursions to laboratory and gallery; discussions around cycles, systems and inspirations.

“The questions we all asked each other and ourselves concerned the place of art in a world of storm-warnings; infinite process and finite systems. And specific details concerning the closed system of the water cycle – cloud seeding – the Tank Stream – vapour – artesian basin…”

“The water cycle is a closed system: this means the amount of water in this system has always been the same. Do you remember the drawings of the precipitation and evaporation cycles from primary school?”

Two weeks of onsite development at Arts House, Meat Market, enabled Gauge to take its initial form. “This onsite daily development was crucial to interweaving, inter-locating and impressing upon each other’s works, to create an environment that is one orchestrated whole.” In essence, say Flynn and Humphrey, each artist responded to phenomena that had emerged during discussions with the scientists; and then to one another’s work in the space.

“These responses emerged as a series of quite discrete works that shared a particular aesthetic history. Within this ‘exhibition space’ the sounds are orchestrated, using the aesthetic principles of musical organisation, with the source timbres that result from artists’ reflections on the world water system, or cycle.”

Which brings us back to ‘orchestration’. How do the myriad materials, sounds and textures of Gauge’s enigmatic ‘apparatus’ – from clay, water and steel to compressor and humidifier; from bubbling tanks to ‘falling numbers’; from galvanised downpipes to melting ice; from live weather data to an old piano – add up to a coherent whole?

“The orchestration of found, or what are often called‘concrête’sounds is quite a fine task…,” say Flynn and Humphrey, who worked with sound designer Michael Hewes on the overall aural environment. “If we think of each of the works as part of a texture/timbre: we have the low, sustained liveness of Graeme’s outside framed drips; the energetic interruptions of Rosemary’s percussive water storage/rainfall data performances; the intermittent texture of the water piano, varied through the real-time data from the weather station on the roof; the regular tempo of a gauge; the continuous, low frequency pitch of Cameron’s bubbles…”.

Not to mention “the public interventions of the mud play and vortex creation”.

“These textures are then heard both locally, close to the works, and through the whole, open listening space of the Meat Market. In a way, the work only exists through the people and weather who activate it.”

Gauge, say the artists, is a temporary, hands-on weather museum, where visitors can play with mud, ice, water, fog and rain. In the grand, 19th-century surrounds of its venue, Gauge is beautifully and deliberately lit by Jen Hector to create the feeling of a curiously contemporary Wunderkammer.

“And you don’t need to wear your gumboots. All this weather is happening indoors!”

Out in their backyards and paddocks hundreds of Melburnians, apparently, regularly tread the worn pathways to their own rain gauges, reading and submitting their data to Melbourne Water to help build microclimate pictures of rainfall across the state.

“There are people who have been doing this for 30 years. We love the idea of this very particular local participation in large-scale data collection. We hope that Gauge has a similar invitation and sense for people to participate in the creation of a weather sound-world.”


Madeleine Flynn & Tim Humphrey

Arts House, Meat Market
Thu 15 – Wed 21 Nov 2012

Open daily from 12–8pm
Daily live ‘weather forecast’ performances at 6pm.


Gauge will also be open from Fri 23 – Sun 25 Nov 2012 as part of Going Nowhere


(03) 9322 3713



About Arts House

Arts House presents contemporary arts in programs encompassing performance, exhibitions, live art, residencies and other activities that nurture, support and stimulate cultural engagement. For more information, please visit
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