Spatial Dialogues is an international research project aiming to draw attention to the rising global tensions over water by extending our sense of urban space to include the regional and global ecologies upon which cities are dependent. The artists and cultural theorists on this team see water not only as a significant, contestable resource, but also as an element essential to all life and, as such, replete with deep cultural values frequently overlooked in the expedience of everyday urban life. The three key cities in the project occupy quite different environmental contexts and arise from diverse historical legacies. Yet these three portal cities also have things in common, and the Melbourne team aims to connect with artists in Shanghai and Tokyo to explore how water prevails as something crucial to us all. In these ways the team seeks common ground through social network systems for a dialogue on global environmental questions and the adaptation to climate change.

The project is based at RMIT University in Melbourne, and has received substantial support from two major Australian companies: Grocon, Australia’s leading privately owned development and construction group, and Fairfax Media– one of Australia’s largest diversified media companies. These companies have joined with the RMIT team as part of their aim to actively engage the public in civic dialogue on contemporary environmental questions that affect us all. The Spatial Dialogues project was awarded a category one research grant by the Australian Research Council.

This project explores how innovative art projects on public urban screens can combine with electronic social network systems on smaller screens to initiate an international dialogue on the problem of adaptation to climate change.

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Spatial Dialogues will consider the impact of the global flow of virtual water between nations.

This is the largely invisible, yet substantial economy of water resources embedded in the production and trade of goods and commodities. While Japan is one of the world’s largest gross importers of water, Australia and China are amongst the world’s biggest gross exporters of water.

Water Stats

The three major ports that are the focus of this project – Melbourne, Shanghai and Tokyo – are intensively engaged in the trade of embedded water in the production and exchange of raw materials, goods and services and are, as such, significant locations in the economy of water in the Asia Pacific region.

Water is already a globally contested resource, and is increasingly made visible as a commodity in our cities through the rising cost of domestic water, water restrictions or the ubiquitous urban presence of plastic water bottles. With the incremental environmental pressure of increasing human populations and climate change, battles over water will gather global momentum in the 21st century.

Shanghai artists at work on a landscape made from plastic bags.

Shanghai artists at work on a landscape made from plastic bags.

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