Wandering Stars at Birrarung Marr
Taking up residence on the Yarra (Birrarung) River throughout Rising will be a 200-metre-long eel, made of steel, canvas and lanterns, but also something rather more cosmic.
Wandering Stars is the work of the Liverpool-based firm The Lantern Company, which worked closely with numerous Melburnians to create a work that touches on the ideas of connectivity, the night sky, and Indigenous history and lore. (The waterway was once a plentiful source of eels.)
“I spent many late evenings sitting by the river and walking its length between [the Princes and Swan Street bridges],” says Jo Pocock, the artistic director of the Lantern Company, “soaking in the feel of the place, the river and its banks and imagining an enormous and ancient eel, tail disappearing into the distance and disintegrating into stars.
“For a while I was going, I don't know how to bring these themes together. You know, the eel and the night sky and the community – how is this going to work?"
Then a visit to the Natural History Museum in London provided her with the lightbulb moment she needed. There, she discovered that an eel’s vertebrae structures “are actually very stellar forms” – literally star-shaped. This tapped into a greater idea of connection, of how, on a cosmic level, everything is essentially created from the same materials.
The result is a creature made up of separate, star-like vertebrae, connected by lanterns created by different Australian communities.
“Every element of it is a lantern as well as a sculpture,” Pocock says. “They’re the smallest scale atoms, inspired by the cosmos. So there’ll be stars and shooting stars and planets and moons and maybe a black hole or two.”
Accompanying the main sculpture is a second work, also 200 metres long, showing a series of moons rising from the water, intermingled with smaller eels, representing the animal’s full lifecycle. Conceptually, the sculpture represents the connection between life and the cosmos. But more literally, the creation of the sculpture and its soundscape has connected people over vast distances to make something new that contains a part of all of them.
Wandering Stars will be installed along the north side of the river, but is designed to also be viewed from the south side and from the Princes Bridge, each giving a different perspective.
“I hope it will be a really uplifting feeling,” Pocock says. “We’re all made of the same stuff. And I really hope the installation brings people together.”