Lifestyle & CultureUni Life

The hippest hippocampus on campus

Since last week, the Yak has been flooded with strange reports of mythical creatures roaming about our Callaghan campus. Sightings differ on the details, but all agree that the creatures are half horse, half fish. After much investigation, here is what I found.

These beings are actually art installations, part of the weird and wonderful Create festival that happens every year. They can be found across University of Newcastle campuses from NewSpace to Ourimbah, are about six feet tall, and have been popping up for the last four years.

Zackari Watt was commissioned by the university to sculpt the Hippocampi while working for Wiltech PA Systems. Watt worked on the project with fellow artist, Gerard Wilson, and the two made a series of blank Hippocampi.

According to Watt, “we made two or three batches of them. Prior to making these, the only similar thing we’d made was a life-sized ride-on unicorn that towed behind a bicycle for Harvest Festival. We made that as a one-off. But with these, because we were asked to make a few, we had to make a gigantic mould which is a very difficult process. We made them maybe three or four years ago, the first run of six, and kept the mould because we thought maybe they (the university) would like more. We kept making and making them, I think we made 12 in total.”

The construction process, said Watt, was a little experimental. “One of them has a timber core, it was the first one we made. So it’s a timber structure with a chicken wire frame around it and that frame is filled in with spray foam and then we cut that, we had to use a very particular kind of resin. It’s not fibreglass because fibreglass eats foam, so we had to use hollow resin microbeads. Most of them are cast foam with a solid shell, but one of them has timber in it because it was the first one.”

Each Hippocampus is repainted yearly for the Create festival, they are then given to different departments and faculties as a blank canvas to be brought to life. This year eight hippocampi have been made by Student Life, Yourimbah, UON Volunteers, the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, the Faculty of Science, the Auchmuty library, the Language Centre, and the residents of the East Tower.

The Language Centre Hippocampus was made by students Junhong Ye, Dan Wang, Jingjing Liu, Chen Zhao, Zhisheng Liang, Ami Higo, and Miku. Theirs is a wonderfully painted piece, designed to reflect the many mixing cultures of UoN. Greens and purples swirl into blues and pinks, forming a rainbow of creativity that ends in a blazing yellow and orange tail. 10/10

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The Language Centre’s Hippocampus being painted. Photo credit: Anne Burnett.

The science faculty opted for a simple yet well thought out design. ‘Cosmic latte’ is the colour of choice, a witty joke for those in the know. Made up from the average colour of all the stars in the observable universe, cosmic latte is a smooth sort of brown which is somehow quite calming. The rest of the body is covered with scientific equations and symbols, and words like ‘think’ and ‘investigate’ are spelled out with the periodic table. A QR code emblazoned on the chest links to the cosmic latte Wikipedia page, go science!

Mark Quinan, a Science Faculty staff member who helped created the piece, said of the project, “we tried to choose something that had hard science behind it but was relatable.”

“Every year we seem to do something a little bit different,” said Hollie Tose, also of the Science Faculty. “I think it gives us a bit of a break, and allows us to engage with students. The pre-schoolers go around and do a review, apparently ours looks like a turkey.”

Turkey or not, cosmic latte is a winner.

Auchmuty library staff collaborated on their hippocampus, which is an homage to both libraries and the world of rock ‘n’ roll. Armed with a desire to inspire, the librarians have made a collage of musicians over a snow white sculpture. A David Bowie stripe streaks across the face of the statue, and the KISS logo sits on its mouth. Adorned over the rest of the body are such artists as The Clash, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and The Pixies. On the neck are the words ‘Libraries Rock!’

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The Auchmuty Library’s rocking Hippocampus. Photo credit: Lisa Ogle.

Librarian Lisa Ogle said of the project, “libraries rock is the theme, we want to get away from the idea that libraries are stale places. This library has changed a lot over the years and now it’s a very happening place.”

For library staff, the creative outlet afforded by their hippocampus provided some much needed relaxation.

“It’s buoyed me a little bit and given me energy to get back into work this week,” said Ogle, “it’s also an opportunity to collaborate with other library staff, there were people from Huxley running across in their lunch break to help.”

According to fellow librarian, Alison Rigby, the four day collage process used a lot of images which came from library books about rock music.

“It just snowballed to the hippest hippocampus on campus… There’s a whole bunch we do here that’s not traditional,” said Rigby.

When Zackari Watt walks by the hippocampi, he admires his creations. “They’re always changing, it’d be impossible to tell which one was which. Whenever I see them I feel a bit proud… I’m a major advocate of creativity, my whole life is creative work and I think it’s a really important fundamental element of keeping a healthy psyche. Especially when it’s a group based project, it’s a different way of connecting with people. I think it’s more than superficial, creativity is a bit deeper.”

So keep your eyes peeled next time you’re walking around campus, a mythical creature may be right behind you…

Check out some of the Hippocampi you might see across campus in the gallery below.

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Images: Shea Evans, unless otherwise noted.


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