Linda Short co-curated the Handmade Universe exhibition, which features Spencer’s work with nine other contemporary artists, designers and makers alongside 68 items from State Library Victoria and other collections. She says the show grew from Spencer’s donation of the star map back in 2019.
“There was something about her story, the kind of intimate and infinite possibilities of the work she was making,” Short says. “That really inspired the theme of this exhibition, that discoveries and explorations are not always things you find in books: they can actually take place at home, in lunchrooms and studios and backyards. And that creativity can be a really powerful way of discovering things.”
Other items in the exhibition reflect this theme: old books from the library collection show the changing maps of the Earth as our conception of the universe reoriented to center on the sun, and a video work from artists Sans facon tracks sunrise and sunset across the globe . The room is wrapped in a tapestry mural from Mandy Nicholson called Star Countryrepresenting the dreaming tracks of the Wurundjeri.
“Star Country is something that people forget to look up at when they live in an urban environment,” says Nicholson. “What’s out there, and what we can’t see, and us being such a tiny little speck of sand in the scheme of things, always really inspired me.”
She loves the links between Western and Australian Indigenous cosmology. Altair was first named the “eagle star” by the ancient Babylonians and Sumerians; her mob know Altair as Bunjil, the wedge-tailed eagle, flanked by his two wives, the black swans.
“All the dreaming and songlines and dreaming trails have been around since time immemorial and link all those different layers of Country together.”
When she’s out on Country watching meteors blaze across the sky, or seeing an eclipse darken it, Nicholson wonders what her old mob would have thought of that, and remembers the stories of the stars that have been lost, as well as the ones saved to be retold for new generations.