4State Library Victoria will tomorrow (24 June) open a new exhibition that offers a fresh perspective on the interplay of art and science through a combination of newly commissioned artworks and rarely seen collection items.Handmade Universe: From craft to code and the spaces between celebrates the rewards of making and the limitless scope it offers for invention and enquiry. Ranging across disciplines – from craft to coding and from astronomy to botany – the works in the exhibition show how quiet and intimate self-led discovery can be a powerful way to connect with the universal themes of place, culture and identity.

In a new approach for the Library, contemporary art and design takes centre-stage, with the work of ten artists, designers and makers presented (including seven new commissions) alongside 68 remarkable items from State Library Victoria and other collections.

At its heart are two artworks that are inspired by the night sky. One is a giant knitted star map, created by Melbourne-based artist and software engineer Sarah Spencer, who hacked a 1980s domestic knitting-machine to invent the Knitting Network Printer. Measuring three by five metres, Stargazing represents the 88 constellations used in Western astronomy.

Knitted from 15 kilograms of Australian wool in over 100 hours, the map features a new interactive element added especially for Handmade Universe in the form of 842 LED lights. Visitors can light up the stars with the swipe of a finger and learn more about each constellation. It is a new addition to the Library’s map collection and the first to incorporate live coding.

Also starring in the exhibition is Dharangalk Biik | Star Country, a striking mural by Wurundjeri artist and State Library Victoria fellow, Mandy Nicholson. This special commission wraps the gallery walls, holding the exhibition in a Wurundjeri Universe. It carries enduring knowledge about the interconnection of the skies, waters and layers of the earth in Wurundjeri culture and relates to the artist’s fellowship research.

These two artworks present different knowledge systems about the stars and how our relationship to them can inform understandings of self and place.

State Library Victoria Senior Curator Linda Short said these works are an example of how the exhibition will surprise and inspire.

“This is the first time the Library has commissioned so many artworks to be presented alongside collection items in an exhibition. Some of them share ideas and perspectives not well represented in the Library’s collection; others respond to existing items and offer new interpretations,” she said.

Stargazing for instance is a significant and surprising addition to the Library’s huge collection of maps. We are so excited to share it with our visitors and present it alongside other maps and astronomy-inspired objects such as John Flamsteed’s Atlas coelestis dating back to 1729 and the first world map that showed the sun as the centre of the universe.

“We are always looking for new ways to bring the collection to life and to spark new dialogues around it – just as the Library has been doing for the last 166 years.”

Artist and software engineer Sarah Spencer said she is fascinated by the potential of combining old and new technologies and hopes her giant star map piques people’s interest in science, the universe and their place in it.

“I always believed my twin worlds of knitting and technology [art and science] are not mutually exclusive and are two parts of the whole,” she said.

Stargazing has a macro and micro element to it. When you see the knitted work in one full view you appreciate the scale of the artwork from a distance, and the Milky Way jumps out as this nebulous cloud running through the work. Then up close, there is so much detail. Every star has a different size according to its magnification and every star has its own naming label.

“I am beyond thrilled that through this work, I can share my passion for STEM with the world.”

Handmade Universe is the second exhibition to be held in the Library’s new Victoria Gallery, endowed by the John and Myriam Wylie Foundation.

It is a bold, contemporary response to the gallery’s core purpose of exploring Victoria’s stories through fresh perspectives and showcasing the treasures in the State Collection that contribute to the Victoria we know today.

The exhibition runs from 10am 24 June until 26 February 2023. For more information go to https://www.slv.vic.gov.au/handmade.