Name of Scientist / Researcher: Dr Karen Privat


Name of Artist: Dr Bonita Ely



I believe that this type of interdisciplinary, collaborative work is an extremely effective form of outreach, generating and conveying ideas in new, innovative ways to individuals who may not otherwise be exposed to them. This project appeals to me as it promises to not only develop our personal understanding of our subjects and each other, but to be a vector for the exchange and dissemination of observations, insights and creative outcomes. In connecting artists with scientists in a creative environment, I know that this project will inspire and motivate me – I expect that it will do the same for my fellow participants, my colleagues and the public as well.


Since historic times we have progressively regarded humanity as superior to Nature, whether it be our special status, favoured by an omnipotent deity, our capacity for reasoning, our perceived mastery of Nature. Recently this special status has been questioned:

Like it or not, we are members of a particularly large and noisy family called the great apes.

                                                                                  Y. N . Harari, 2014

Observing chimpanzees’ interactions at Jane Goodall’s Research Station, Gombe, in Tanzania certainly illustrated Harari’s call: a mother lovingly protects her tiny baby; the alpha male luxuriates in the attentions of humble subordinates; his predecessor stares into the middle distance, ostracised by the community. Suddenly the call goes out. The males launch a co-ordinated attack, the prize a meal of monkey. The Ku-ring-gai pH Art and Science Project will extend my research of our intertwined relationships to, and impacts on Nature, the case study this beautifully preserved, natural environment.

Field of research / interest

I am currently based at the Electron Microscope Unit at the University of New South Wales, where my daily work focuses on electron microscopy and microanalysis of a range of materials. My interest in archaeological and cultural heritage-related work has led me to collaborate with colleagues around the world, investigating early glassmaking in Anatolia and the Near East, Pottery manufacturing techniques in early colonial Peru, and subsistence strategies in Bronze Age Bulgaria. Prior to working in electron microscopy, my work centred around reconstructing palaeodietary patterns for ancient human groups (UK early Anglo-Saxon period; Russia & Ukraine Bronze-Iron Age) and extracting information about the palaeoecology and contemporary environmental conditions surrounding now-extinct Australian megafauna (e.g., Diprotodon).

About your art practice

Since the 1970s Bonita Ely’s practice has addressed the urgency of environmental issues, and their socio-political contexts. Early interdisciplinary artworks foreshadow creative developments of Ely’s concept based art practice to now. For example, the concerns of an installation first exhibited in 1975, C20th Mythological Beasts: at Home with the Locust People, inferring we are as destructive as plagues of locusts, co-relates to the pubic artwork, Thunderbolt, commissioned by the Sydney Olympic Park Authority to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the ‘green’ Sydney Olympic Games, used solar powered lighting to signal to the local community to conserve energy. The Murray’s Edge (2009) continued her concern for vulnerable natural environments. Her recent installation, Interior Decoration, funded by an Australia Council Grant, explores the inter generational transfer of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as an outcome of war, and includes the ameliorating affects of nature. Bonita Ely lectures in Sculpture, Performance and Installation at the University of New South Wales, Faculty of Art and Design, where she is a founding member of the Environmental Research Institute for Art, funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.


I have always been a ‘jack-of-all-trades.’ While I suppose that makes me a ‘master of none’, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have been able to combine my love of sciences like chemistry, geology and biology with my interests in languages, cultural heritage, archaeology, travel, and natural history. I am a very visual person, including in the presentation of scientific research outcomes. One of the things I love about electron microscopy is that a picture, graph, or elemental map can be so effectively used to convey important information; but on top of this I find that so often these visual tools contain an inherent aesthetic beauty that stands alone, independent of their scientific relevance.


Dr Bonita Ely is a pioneer of Australian environmental art and has been exhibiting sculpture, photography, installations, performance, painting, video and drawing since 1972. Ely’s socio-political artwork is in national and international collections and has been selected for prestigious national and international events. Her creative methodology is based on the premise that a particular idea requires the deployment of particular mediums, disciplines, often sites, resulting in an experimental, inter disciplinary, contemporary art practice. She is Associate Professor in Sculpture, Performance and Installation studies at the Faculty of Art and Design (UNSWAD), UNSW, Sydney. Her PhD thesis identifies in contemporary art practices the inflections that have either direct, or indirect origins in Taoism, the conceptual source of China’s principle indigenous, cultural practices.  She is a founding member and chief investigator of the Environmental Research Initiative for Art [ERIA] at UNSWAD, researching the incorporation of robust sustainable energy systems to power environmental artworks.