Out of this world:  

New Craft ACT exhibition explores new support for artists in uncertain times
 

Craft ACT’s new exhibition is out of this world in more ways than you might think. Acclaimed artists, designers and craftspeople from the Canberra region have examined the famous Apollo moon landing in a unique residency embedded in Namadgi National Park. 

Artists have explored ideas of space, time, memory and place through jewellery, objects and photography, drawing and sculpture. Since access to galleries has been prohibited to help slow the rate of infections of COVID-19, the exhibition has moved entirely online, an opportunity for Craft ACT to expand digital engagement to diverse audiences and connect Australia's high-quality studio practice to the world. 

“In many ways, our contemporary craft community, which is built on a culture of collaboration, mentoring and exchange, knows better than most that we have greater advantage when we work together. These are very uncertain and difficult times for our close-knit community, but we have already developed new strategies and changed the way we work to ensure we can continue to meaningfully support our members. Craft ACT is working in collaboration with our exhibiting artists, members and community to manage these challenges and respond to new opportunities in the current climate,” said Rachael Coghlan, CEO and Artistic Director of Craft ACT. 

Terra Celestial by Sean Booth (Metals), Michelle Hallinan (Paper), Rohan Nicol (Metals), Sabine Pagan (Metals) and Megan Watson (Mixed Media) is an exhibition of new work in response to their artist residency at Gudgenby Ready-Cut Cottage in Namadgi National ParkIn 2019, the residency celebrated the anniversary of the 1969 Apollo moon landing, inspiring ‘out of this world’ responses by the artists. 

The residency, a treasured partnership between Craft ACT and ACT Parks since 2006, is an opportunity for artists to reflect on their own practice and the extraordinary environment of Namadgi National Park. Long-term residency partner and ranger Brett McNamara describes the five artists’ work in Namadgi National Park, near the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station which supplied a vital Apollo communication link as creative responses [which] form a contemporary narrative underscoring a human achievement of epic proportions,” said Brett. 

In 2019, the residency program’s research partner was the ANU’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The artists spent time exploring the iconic natural beauty and built heritage of Mount Stromlo Observatory – exploring the impact of the 2003 bushfires, the recovery from the fires and the array of telescopes and lenses many months prior to the bushfires that devastated Namadgi National Park earlier this year. Astrophysicist/Cosmologist Brad Tucker supported the artists in the research period at Mount Stromlo: ‘The moon is an object in the sky that humans have observed for hundreds and thousands of years in wonder and awe, for inspiration, as a form of shared humanity. The work of the 2019 artists-in-residence capture these emotions and insights,” said Dr Tucker. 

Every year, Craft ACT receives more applications for the residency than can be accommodated. Artists selected for the residency reflect that the solitude and space provided can energise and inform their creative practice in new and unexpected ways: 

“With the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing as a focal point and the sheer variety of ways space can be explored for artistic opportunities it was wonderful to be able to trip deep into our bush setting to reflect. Not needing to steal away moments around family, work and social commitments to consider the research material and how to interpret the input. The welcoming isolation found so close to Canberra in the Namadgi National Park gave the space, time and distance to reflect” said artist Sean Booth, whose work in the Terra Celestial exhibition includes lighting and objects. 

Writing an essay to reflect on the exhibition, artist and academic Jan Hogan observes: “The investigations by these artists makes us pause and wonder again at the earth we live on, our relationship to the stars and moon, to the objects we touch and in return touch us.  This time to pause and think, reveals to us again the beauty of our world and the universe that we are spinning through.  As we gaze at the moon, we ‘bathe’ in its glow, yearn for its return, our emotions ebb and flow with the tides. There is a constant emotional pull that we often forget in our urban dwellings, but which opportunities of wayfaring and celestial gazing remind us of; the world thinking itself through us”.  

Although visitors cannot physically visit the gallery, the exhibition can be enjoyed online on the Craft ACT website and social media platformsA 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 will simulate the gallery experience. 

The acclaimed and annual Craft ACT Artist-in-Residence program is a 5-week long journey comprised of a 2-week research period and 3-week residency at Ready Cut Cottage, Namadgi National Park. This residency is the result of a long-term partnership between ACT Parks and Conservation and Craft ACT, an almost 50-year-old visual arts membership association.  

“The artist-in-residence program has achieved so much, for so many people. Whether you are one of the thousands of people who have attended exhibitions, open days and artist demonstrations since 2006, or one of the 27 artists who have stayed in cottage to reflect on their practice and create new work. Eight research partners have supported the residency over the years, building understanding of significant collections from living specimens to archives. This residency, made possible by a $5000 contribution by ACT Parks, nurtures a deeper connection to our surrounding environment, Indigenous culture and knowledge, and sustains a vibrant contemporary craft and independent studio practice in Canberra,” said Rachael Coghlan.