Terra Celestial: Pagan + Nicol

Photo: 2019 Gugenby Mission. Official portrait of Gudgenauts Jack and Jill. Photo: Lee Grant

In honour of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the theme of the annual Craft ACT artist-in-residence program was ‘Space Craft’. Taking this theme to heart, Queanbeyan-based artists, Sabine Pagan and Rohan Nicol engaged in one of the most dedicated and immersive residency experiences ever seen, reimagining the historic Ready-Cut Cottage in the Gudgenby Valley as their spacecraft.

Pagan and Nicol re-enacted the Apollo 11 moon landing. As two ‘Gudgenauts’ (the artists' alter egos, Jack and Jill), they remained in the ‘vessel’ for the duration of the residency, with the exception of a two-hour ‘moon walk’ where they collected artefacts to bring back to earth.

The residency is presented by Craft ACT in partnership with ACT Parks and Conservation Service and research partners Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Pagan and Nicol produced new work, now featured with other artists in an exhibition Terra Celestial, which celebrates, questions and parodies the pursuit of human space exploration, then and now. The artists, who typically work with metals to make jewellery and objects, explain:

‘The Apollo 11 moon landing was a remarkable achievement, shaping global politics and popular culture. In 2019, the 50th anniversary celebrations of the mission attracted fevered attention and unquestioned endorsement of NASA’s 1969 accomplishment.

'As moon mania swept across our media and through public events, the anniversary was used as an opportunity to push for new investment in space exploration; interestingly, few seemed to question the deeper ethical questions surrounding space travel. Considering the relentless drought, fires, and freak storms that the world is experiencing, humanity might benefit from focusing attention and public funds on issues closer to home, that burn less fuel and address our expanding footprint.’

Artefacts, together with carefully selected mission paraphernalia, can now be experienced in an online exhibition via the Craft ACT website. With no internet reception in space (or the Gudgenby Valley), mission logs in the exhibition describe the daily routines and activities the Gudgenauts maintained during their journey to provide structure and pass the time, such as dining from custom-designed bento trays and watching downloads from Netflix.

The return from the solace of space is difficult,’ write Nicol and Pagan, ‘the Gudgenauts got used to the routine of the mission and the serenity that comes with being offline’.

In an eerie life-imitating-art way, we can all identify with the Gudgenauts as we navigate the new reality bought about by the COVID-19 crisis.


The acclaimed Craft ACT artist-in-residence program is presented annually in partnership with ACT Parks and Conservation Service. The 2019 research partner was the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Although visitors cannot physically visit the gallery, 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.

Terra Celestial is now showing online at craftact.org.au

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