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Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, Where Lakes Once Had Water (video still), 2020. 2-channel 4K UHD video, stereo audio, 28:24 minutes. University of Wollongong Art Collection. CABAH Art Series Commission in partnership with Bundanon. Filmed on the lands and waters of the Mudburra, Marlinja, Jingili, Elliot, Jawoyn and Larrakia communities in Northern Territory, Australia, with additional filming and editing on Barkandji, Dharawal, Djabugay, Yidinji and Wurundjeri Country.

Sonia Leber and David Chesworth: Where Lakes Once Had Water

Now Showing
Closes 13 November 2022

Showing together with Rhythms of the Earth: Selected Works from the TarraWarra Museum of Art Collection, curated by Victoria Lynn

Where Lakes Once Had Water contemplates how the Earth is experienced and understood through different ontologies – ways of being, seeing, sensing, listening and thinking – that reverberate across art, Indigenous thought, science, ancient and modern cultures, the non-human, and in between.’

Situated in our Main Gallery, surrounded by six works recently gifted to the Museum by Judy Watson, which depict significant mountains and topographical features of Wurundjeri Country surrounding TarraWarra Museum of Art, we present the video work of Melbourne/Naarm-based artists Sonia Leber and David Chesworth who are renowned for their highly detailed, conceptual video works, soundscapes and installations.

In 2018 and 2019 the artists travelled with a team of Earth and environmental scientists who were investigating changes in the climate, landscape and ecology over many millennia in the Northern Territory of Australia. Their journey took them to the remote, expansive landscapes of the ephemeral Lake Woods, to Nitmiluk/Katherine Gorge and to Girraween Lagoon—to the lands and waters of the Mudburra, Marlinja, Jingili, Elliot, Jawoyn and Larrakia communities— traversing locations marked by long-term aridity through to lush, green waterways.

Where Lakes Once Had Water features a large-scale, dual-screen 28-minute video work which reflects this journey. The video introduces Mudburra man Ray Dimakarri Dixon, who calls to ancestral spirits to watch over Country as the scientists meticulously excavate the red earth of the once-submerged bed of Lake Woods. Working across the ancient shorelines, everyone is receptive to the signs, signals and rhythms of the land. Meanwhile, non-human cohabitants continue their struggles for survival. Back in the laboratory, scientists use the sediment samples to analyse cycles of wetting and drying in Australia over at least 130,000 years.

Where Lakes Once Had Water is the inaugural art commission of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH).

The exhibition will also feature three new sound, video and sculptural works by Sonia Leber and David Chesworth from their Sound Before Sound series, two of which are specially commissioned by TarraWarra. Sound Before Sound I: One and Three Scores, 2022; Sound Before Sound II: Auditioning the Archive, 2022; and Sound Before Sound III: Lyrebirdity, 2022, explore sound, landscape and the archive.


Sonia Leber & David Chesworth, Where Lakes Once Had Water was commissioned by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) in association with Bundanon. It is the first commission in a series initiated in 2018 that aims to engage artists with aspects of CABAH’s research to make new work that responds to, questions, and interprets the research for broader audiences.

The artwork and the scientific research have been supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence scheme (Project Number CE170100015). Views expressed are those of the artists and are not necessarily those of the Australian Government or Australian Research Council.

Thanks to

ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, University of Wollongong Art Collection, Bundanon

Publication partner:

Gordon Darling Foundation


Supported by

Inaugural Foundation Supporter

Major Partner


Museum Partners

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Sonia Leber and David Chesworth, 'Where Lakes Once Had Water' has been supported by

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