State Library asks artists to remix and reimagine old works

By AG Staff 5 December 2017
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The #createarthistory competition, started by the State Library of Victoria, asked artists to harness the library’s collections to create new works. And the winners are in.

THE #createarthistory competition, started by the State Library of Victoria and online marketplace Redbubble, was a way for artists to gain access to new sources of inspiration by unlocking the libraries vast collections. And the results, released last Friday, are remarkable.

Participants were asked to choose between three themes: Magic, Weird & Wonderful Creatures and Botanicals, of which the works of Ferdinand Bauer, often regarded as the greatest natural history artist of all time, and Joannes Jonstonus, known for his illustrations of mer-people, were among those to be remixed and reimagined.

First prize went to Natasha Sim for her work ‘Explore’ that featured in the Fantastical Beasts and Curious Creature’s category. Her work combined Louis Renard’s fish (1754), Isaac Commelin’s sea creatures (1646) and Joannes Jonstonus’s mer-people (1667).

“My parents are migrants from Malaysia, who moved to Melbourne to start a family. When I was a kid, my dad would frequently take me to the local library and encourage me to read, so that I would learn how to speak and write English well,” Natasha said.

“I was never allowed out much when I was small, but reading books allowed me to learn about the world and travel to different places. I was particularly interested in stories about peculiar creatures encountered by explorers.”

For Martin Hosking, the CEO of Redbubble and a judge of the competition, said that Natasha’s work inspired the judges because of its whimsy and artistic merit.

“Like other works it makes a connection between the world of books and the real world. In this case it really suggests the world of books as the starting place for exploring in the world.”

Old and new

“Redbubble is a fantastic Victorian success story and the Library is one of the state’s great icons. We wanted to bring these two dynamic organisations together to collaborate on creative ways to provide access to the Library’s stunning collection and reach new audiences,” Kate Torney, the CEO of the State Library, told Australian Geographic.

“It truly has been a project of great synchronicity where Redbubble’s ability to reach artist and online presence has fitted perfectly with the assets of the library and its presence in the real world,” added Martin.

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Second place went to Frank Moth for his artowkr ‘Victoria’.

Opening up the collections

Des Cowley, manager of the library’s rare books collection said that when he first came to the library in the 1980s, use of the archives was restricted to scholars, academics and serious researchers.

“In the past decades there has been a shift to a much more creative use of the collection, particularly by artists. After all, there is an entire world of pictorial images – many rarely seen – that are available to artists to re-use in their work,” he said.

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Third place went to Paul Summerville for his artwork ‘Fantastic Botanical’.

The digital revolution

According to Kate the #createarthistory competition was a creative way for artists to take advantage of the library’s active digitisation program, which they plan to expand over the next few years.

“I think libraries have been incredible in adapting to the digital revolution and they’ve been at the forefront of bringing these changes into the information sector,” she said.

“I am continually impressed by how libraries around the world are not only opening up their collections online to make them accessible to more people, but are rethinking their physical spaces and what they might mean too.”