5 mins read 27 Jul 2022

Stars of a New Library Exhibition

The Victoria State Library has opened an exhibition showcasing the interplay of art and STEM, capturing a different perspective of the Universe through the eyes of local artists, scientists, and Indigenous peoples.  

The two stars of Handmade Universe - Stargazing and Dharangalk Biik | Star Country. Credit: State Library Victoria.

A new exhibition at the Victoria State Library celebrates the combination of art and STEM with two artworks inspired by the night sky at its heart. The exhibition - Handmade Universe: From craft to code and the spaces between - covers a multitude of both artistic mediums and scientific disciplines. Handmade Universe is exhibiting both newly commissioned artworks from ten artists as well as 68 collection items that are rarely seen.  

Co-Curator Linda Short and Acting CEO Sarah Slade. Credit: State Library Victoria.

“While most people know about the Library's extensive book collections, they might be surprised to encounter other collections about the arts and sciences at the Library,” said Linda Short, co-curator of the exhibition.

“Art and science are often seen on opposite sides of the spectrum, but in this exhibition, art plays an equal role in teaching us about the world, from botanical discoveries to reading the night sky.”

Stargazing inspired the idea for the exhibition. In turn, we hope the exhibition will inspire visitors to delve into the Library’s collection and get curious and creative.”    

Stargazing by Sarah Spencer. Credit: State Library Victoria.

Two artworks inspired by the night sky are at the heart of Handmade Universe. One is a knitted star map measuring three by five metres titled Stargazing. The Melbourne-based artist and software engineer Sarah Spencer, hacked a 1980s knitting machine to create the Knitting Network Printer. Stargazing represents the 88 constellations used in Western astronomy. It was created from 15 kilograms of Australian wool and took over 100 hours. A new interactive element was added to the map specifically for Handmade Universe - 842 LED lights that visitors can light up. Visitors are also able to learn more about each of the constellations depicted. This new addition to the Library’s map collection is the first to incorporate live coding.  

Dharangalk Biik | Star Country by Mandy Nicholson. Credit: State Library Victoria.

Also starring in Handmade Universe is Dharangalk Biik | Star Country by Mandy Nicholson, a Wurundjeri artist and State Library Victoria fellow. The specially commissioned mural wraps the gallery walls, enveloping the entire exhibition in a Wurundjeri Universe. The artwork carries enduring knowledge about the interconnection between the sky, water, and layers of the Earth in Wurundjeri culture and relates to the artist's fellowship research.

“The State Library is quite a colonial institution so it’s great to be able to bring First Nation’s culture into the space. I think Star Country modernises the space in terms of new knowledges - learning something new about something you've always been able to see, but in an ancient way, to make people think differently about what they see,” said Mandy Nicholson, creator of Dharangalk Biik | Star Country.  

Artist Mandy Nicholson with her artwork Dharangalk Biik | Star Country. Credit: State Library Victoria.

“The piece is a map of the Star Country, or Dharrangalk Biik 'Darrang'' means tree, galk' means stick and 'Biik' means Country, so it is Bush Country in the cosmos and is reflected down here where we live. Dharrangalk Biik forms to top layer of the 6 layers of Wurundejeri Country. It is wrapping the gallery walls and the other exhibition pieces,” said Mandy Nicholson.

“I think it creates a really welcoming atmosphere and takes you on a journey.  The theme of the exhibition, Handmade Universe really relates to my practice because being an artist and coming from an artistic family and culture, hands are so important, they hold your children, they hold other hands, but the most important thing they do is create.”  

These two artworks - Stargazing and Dharangalk Biik | Star Country - showcase two different knowledge systems of the stars, our place within the cosmos and how our relationship to the stars can inform our understanding of self and place.

Artist Sarah Spencer with her artwork Stargazing. Credit: State Library Victoria.

Artist and software engineer Sarah Spencer said she is fascinated by combining old and new technologies and hopes her artwork can spark people’s interest in science, the Universe, and their place in it. 

“My work in the sciences is influenced by my experience in art, in similar but very different ways my work in art is influenced by science. Principles like artistic integrity, modes of enquiry, even the rule of thirds or the golden ratio have come in useful in my work in technology. On the flip side, while working on art, I’ve used scientific inquiry, testing strategies and breaking ideas down into smaller, achievable pieces. Stargazing in particular, while a piece of art, has benefited from all these scientific processes.” said Sarah Spencer, creator of Stargazing.

“I’ve heard so many people in the sciences tell me they can’t do art or artists say they can’t do technology. I want to turn that thinking around. I find the two worlds are not so far apart and there’s a lot of valuable insights from both. These are all tools in the creative process.”  

Replica of the SpaceAusScope. Credit: State Library Victoria.

The exhibition also features’s DIY backyard radio telescope, the SpaceAusScope. 

“I was extremely honoured to be invited to have a replica of our SpaceAusScope on exhibition as part of this larger collection,” said Rami Mandow, founder of and leader of the SpaceAusScope project. 

“It’s a little bit different from the other works, but the sense of community and connection to the sky is absolutely the same,” he said. 

The exhibition opened on 24 June, welcoming over 10,000 visitors in its first two weeks, and will run until 26 February 2023.