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Exhibition review: Neighbourhood Earth

Tripping the light fantastic, an Interactive journey through the galaxy.

For an exhibition that promises to take us Earthlings on a journey beyond our blue planet, Neighbourhood Earth at Emporium Melbourne proved initially difficult to find. Forget going halfway across the milky way, we first had to navigate multiple floor levels before traipsing across a food hall in a shopping centre in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD. You couldn’t find a display area that’s less conducive to enchantment.

Luckily, once you actually manage to find the right site, the exhibition itself proved a beguiling distraction to while away a drizzly morning. This reconstruction of our solar system comes via a partnership with NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Centre and the US Space and Rocket Centre. Lending their name and credentials to Neighbourhood Earth means that the survey is equipped with the latest news and infotainment to intrigue and delight space nerds. A time line at the beginning takes us right back to the early observations of the starry skies by ancient civilizations, and concludes with the first orbital human spaceflight by a private company in 2021.

Designed to appeal to both children and adults, there is enough techno-wizardry and feats of incalculable engineering and space paraphernalia here to satisfy most, including models of vehicles, a full size replica of a space station, and an astronaut’s spacesuit worn on the Apollo missions. In the Learning Zones set especially aside for kids, there’s a chance to find out, should you ever wished to, about the force of gravity and what 4.5kg would feel like on other planets.

There are slickly impressive modules with holograms that offer interactive touchscreens of all the planets so you can find out more about their individual terrain, atmosphere, and temperature as well as be able to zoom in and out and revolve them at different angles for closer inspection.

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It’s easy to be mind-boggled at all the exhibits and information on show but sometimes the simplest display can be the most interesting. Did you know for instance, that the following were invented for space but ended up being used on Earth? Scratch resistant lenses, dustbuster, water filter, solar cells.

The most impressive inclusion is the multi-screen cinema show that surrounds an enormous projection-mapped dome. With a mere half an hour duration, viewers are taken through the results of 60-odd years of space exploration, zipping past all the planets and their relational distance to our own. It’s a heady experience gazing at the celestial bodies close up, in all their strangeness and beauty with their pockmarked craters, gaseous atmosphere and multiple rings.

If there’s just one message to take way from Neighbourhood Earth it’s how truly small, insignificant and yet life-giving precious planet Earth is in the cosmos compared to our closest and furthest neighbours.

Neighbourhood Earth presented by Fever and Toto Creative
Emporium Melbourne

Tickets: from $17

Neighbourhood Earth will be on display until 28 August 2022.

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She's the outgoing books editor of The Big issue. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press (UWAP). Her next collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Twitter: @thuy_on