Celestia emerged as a response to Wallal’s landscape and Jean Chant’s 1922 article ‘The Shadow Bands at the Australian Eclipse’. In 1922, a group of international scientists and astronomers travelled to Wallal, in the north-east of Western Australia, to photograph a total solar eclipse and verify Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Reflecting on the solar eclipse Chant wrote, 

“The darkness was rapidly coming on, and the landscape assumed a peculiar greenish hue, as if a storm approaching. The second went by and I felt rather nervous as this was my first experience of the kind. 

Suddenly, and before I had expected it, the shimmering, elusive wave-like shadows began to sweep over me… I was awed and filled with wonder at the beautiful sight in the sky.” 

Drawing inspiration from the stark beauty of Wallal and Chant’s vivid descriptions, this work seeks to unravel the layers of history and perception embedded within this remote corner of Western Australia. 

Reflecting upon the colonial narrative intertwined with notions of isolation and desolation, Celestia is a contemplative exploration of the land that met astronomers a century ago. Amidst archival images fixated on science and sky, my focus gravitated towards the terrestrial realm, prompting a consideration while our gaze may ascend to the heavens in search of answer, perhaps they lie at our feet. 

Rejecting conventional approaches to botanical documentation and archiving, I sought fallen plant material in the area surrounding Wallal Downs Homestead. This material was then scanned using an analogue film scanner, paying reverence to photography’s origin of light writing. The plant material was then returned to its place of origin. 

In homage to the guiding star, Β Virginis, that illuminated the astronomers’ path in 1922, each image bears the name of a star from the Virgo constellation. The work began with a desire to honour the overlooked contributions of women within this historic expedition, so it is poignant that Virgo means Maiden. Celestia invites viewers to traverse the intersecting realms of past and present, sky and earth, in pursuit of awe and wonder. 

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