Terra Celestial: Watson + Hallinan

Terra: earth, land
Celestial: relating to the sky or physical universe as understood in astronomy

Megan Watson and Michelle Hallinan kept their feet on the ground and their eyes on the skies for their recent collaborative project as 2019 Craft ACT artists-in-residence. Examining the relationship of the earth to the sky and how we, as humans, interact with and interpret that relationship, the artists combined their skills to create a fresh and compelling interpretation of the Australian landscape.

During their three-week residency, Watson and Hallinan captured celestial bodies through works on paper, photography, film and sculpture, revealing the macro and micro worlds that exist within the natural environment and translating scientific knowledge into aesthetic forms.

Combining their talents (Megan is a photographer, interested in astronomy, and Michelle is an artist printmaker, interested in local landscapes) proved a fruitful partnership that extended both artists in their perception and thinking. Through their immersive residency they were able to explore new processes of combining nightscape photography with landscape drawing and print processes. The artists spent their days in the Namadgi National Park exploring the landscape and topography and their nights exploring the night sky and how the landscape changes in different light, observing, as they describe, ‘the patterns and textures within the spacescapes of the unpolluted night sky.

Patterns of threes emerged as an unexpected and enduring motif, with the three-week residency yielding three bodies of work, each with three objects. This pattern echoed the Apollo 11’s generation-defining journey into the celestial landscape, which took three astronauts three days to reach the moon, traced by three tracking stations.

Their collaboration, like the other artists in Terra Celestial, incites curiosity and reflects the intrinsic hunger we have, as humans, to better understand the worlds around us, and to locate ourselves amongst the earth, sky and universe. The artists write, ‘the earth is the very foundation from which we derive and thrive, from terra firma we stand and look to the sky for guidance, inspiration and information.’ As Dr Brad Tucker from the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (who led the research period for the artists) reflects, ‘the moon is an object in the sky that humans have observed for hundreds of thousands of years in wonder and awe, for inspiration, as a form of shared humanity.

In their photography, objects and thoughtful reflections, Watson and Hallinan provide a powerful reminder of our shared humanity, in a time when it has never been more essential.

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: Michelle Hallinan and Megan Watson, Reel book: near real time, 2020. Photo: Megan Watson.