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Interstellar explorations of space and time: a Canberra perspective

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Since the beginning of civilisation different cultures around the globe have looked to the sky for answers.

Last year saw the 50-year anniversary of arguably one of the biggest achievements in human history.

When Neil Armstrong and team landed on the moon it represented a breakthrough in human achievement and perseverance, a culmination of efforts from scientists, engineers, mathematicians and many others.

To mark this momentous occasion, a team of artists from Canberra and the surrounding region came together with Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre for an artist residency that was out of this world.

Over three weeks, artists Michelle Hallinan and Megan Watson, Sean Booth, Sabine Pagan and Rohan Nicol spent their time between Namadgi National Park and the Mount Stromlo Observatory.

Orbit. Gugenauts Dog Tag, 2019, Sabine Pagan and Rohan Nicol, annodised aluminium; cord. 70mm. Photo: Grant Hancock (2020)

Working in three independent groups, their observations are now presented as an online exhibition. This comprehensive collection of works pieces together different interpretations of the moon landing through a variety of mediums.

Michelle Hallinan (paper) and Megan Watson (mixed media) explored the connectivity between Terra (earth) and Celestial (sky) during their residency. At the Ready-Cut Cottage in the Gudgenby Valley of Namadgi National Park or ‘Gudge’, as they affectionately called it, the artists examined and collected patterns and textures during their walks through the rugged landscape.

They investigated the topography of the moon; its highlands and mountains as seen through a telescope. Elements of land and sky are encompassed in the works they produced including three paper sculptures crafted into concave shapes representative of the dishes used to analyse the sky. In their concertina map book, Earthspace, the artists reference more earthly elements such as moss, tree stumps and barbed wire.

Orbit. Gugenauts Dog Tag (detail), 2019, Sabine Pagan and Rohan Nicol, annodised aluminium; cord. 70mm. Photo: Grant Hancock.

Sean Booth (metals) draws from the physiological relationship between the moon and the earth through his work.

Inspired by the moon’s influence on our environment and how it translates in myth and storytelling, Booth has drawn on observations from his time at the Mount Stromlo Observatory to produce new works in the exhibition including an anodised aluminium box Tranquillity (2020) and fibreglass ribbon sculpture, Tale of the Tape (2020).

Inspired by the anniversary of Apollo 11, Rohan Nicol and Sabine Pagan (metals) orchestrated a re-enactment of the epic journey and created a collection of captivating images. Nicol and Pagan imaginatively recreate the sequence of events that were undertaken on launch day more than 50 years ago.

Assuming the identity of ‘Gudgenauts’ called Jack and Jill, the artists present photographs which imitate iconic moments including Closing the Hatch, The Moonwalk and eventually The Return. This performance-based series is supported by creative props including moon suits, as seen in the beautiful double portrait by Canberra photographer Lee Grant (2020).

2019 Gudgenby Mission official portrait of Gudgenauts Jack and Jill. Photo: Lee Grant.

New objects have also been created for the residency including pendants and a bento box. Like a time-warp for modern audiences, the photographs and work blur the lines between past and present in commemoration of this historic event.

The moon landing theme of the 2019 Craft ACT Artist-In-Residence program has inspired artists to create a diverse body of interstellar works. Through a culmination of varied mediums and new, local perspectives, artists have illustrated the physical relationship between earth and the moon to transcend both space and time.

Terra Celestial is now showing online at craftact.org.au as part of the Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre annual Artist-in-Residence Program, presented in association with ACT Parks and Conservation.

Although visitors cannot physically visit the gallery due to COVID-19 social distancing measures, the exhibition can be enjoyed online on the Craft ACT website and social media platforms.

A beautiful online catalogue features essays, artist reflections and biographies, photographs and a complete list of works. Most of the works in the exhibition are available for purchase, and artist interviews and video tours simulate the gallery experience.

Emma Giessmann is a student of Art History and International Relations at the ANU who enjoys engaging with the arts and culture both in Canberra and further afield.

Feature image: 2019 Gudgenby Mission official portrait of Gudgenauts Jack and Jill. Photo: Lee Grant.

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