Engage with Nature-Based Solutions

Colton Hash: Urban Watersheds

Colton Hash is a digital artist whose work is inspired by the wild and anthropogenic landscapes that surround him in Southern BC. Exploring generative simulation and environmental data as digital material, Colton strives to create accessible works for viewers to consider their cultural relationships with nature

Through a unique coding process, Colton creates impactful digital installations to foster nuanced thinking about ecological relationships. Programming his own creative tools, Colton produces interactive simulations that visualize complex realities and depict imaginative futures.

Colton Hash during the Hydrosheds artist talk, 2023.

The Artwork

Hydrosheds is an interactive simulation that depicts landscape relationships between an urban community and the surrounding watershed. Within different landscapes, a city is created with a stormwater management system that conveys water away from roads and buildings. With interactive controls, viewers can alter the urban landscape and explore how changes in surface conditions can affect stormwater runoff, pollution and permeability.

Viewers can also change climate variables such as precipitation and temperature to witness how urban conditions can mitigate or exacerbate extreme weather. Different perspectives can be selected to view surface, ground water and temperature dynamics between urban infrastructure and adjacent ecosystems. Hydrosheds is an exploratory artwork that fosters understanding of how cities are shaped by water and how urban infrastructure affects regional watersheds.

Watch a demonstration of Hydrosheds, narrated by Colton Hash.

With an artistic approach to engage viewers with nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change, Hydrosheds presents approximations of ecological relationships for the general public. Rather than operate as a scientific simulation, Hydrosheds is created as an interactive artwork, where viewers can experiment and explore how different variables affect dynamic relationships. Hydrosheds fosters viewers to develop an imaginative mental model of complex ecological systems that exist within urban settings.

When making Hydrosheds, Colton was interested particularly in the work of The Friends of Bowker Creek, an urban stream restoration group who are working to restore and support the health of Bowker Creek, in Victoria, BC. They have since expressed interest in becoming a future collaborator.

The Workshop

Colton exhibited his work in a solo show, Urban Watersheds, at Saanich’s Cedar Hill Recreation Centre Gallery in September 2023. Here are Colton’s reflections on the exhibition and workshop:

“Urban Watersheds also included a public engagement event. I presented a short artist talk that preceded presentations from leaders of local initiatives that advocate for watershed restoration. These presentations were followed by a period of open questions from the audience, with conversations ranging from particulars of climate science, to specific urban developments, to more general reflections on opportunities for collaboration between art, science, education and advocacy.”

“The event wrapped up with a short walking tour around the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, where I pointed out specific landscape features that demonstrate a range of sustainable relationships between infrastructure and water management systems. Urban Watersheds successfully engaged participants with theory, creative understanding and practical examples of nature-based solutions for watershed restoration and mitigation of extreme weather events. From participant feedback and personal observations during my Urban Watersheds exhibition, I am confident that Hydrosheds provided viewers with a creative understanding of critical landscape relationships that are otherwise difficult to perceive in reality.”

The Reach

Colton’s commission has led to exciting collaboration possibilities with watershed groups around the region.

“Following this exhibition, I have received numerous requests from community groups and consulting organizations who are interested in creative visualization of local water systems for outreach and education. Many are specifically interested in creating interactive visualizations similar to Hydrosheds, to depict watsheds dynamics on more specific scales or simulate extreme weather within a particular region. Interactive simulation is an emerging digital medium that is rarely explored beyond the context of video games. This commission to create Hydrosheds allowed me to follow my interests and intuition to explore the potential of this technology and contribute to the fields of new media art, science communication and education technology. With support from Engage with Nature-Based Solutions, I was able to deepen my artistic practice, gain professional experience, form new community relationships and foster creative understanding of complex ecological issues relating to sustainable development and climate change.”

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