After two Covid-related postponements, a major new gallery – where science and art collide – is finally opening in Melbourne on January 20.

Science Gallery is located within the University of Melbourne’s new purpose-built Melbourne Connect – and it’s the first Australian gallery to open as part of the Science Gallery Network, which includes eight locations worldwide, pioneered by Trinity College in Dublin.

Its ambitious mission is to engage young people (mostly aged between 15 and 25) through a range of immersive, experimental exhibitions that blend science, art, technology and design.

And while each experience is meant to be both educational and cultural, the Science Gallery team is also concerned with capturing the mood of the moment.

One of our key learnings of the past two years is that connection matters, relationships matter and, without them, our mental health suffers. That has formed the basis of inaugural exhibition Mental: Health Inside, by an inspiring group of young curators.

As the pandemic continues, they wanted to create an exhibition that not only informs and entertains young people, but also supports them. And it’s obvious their event has been developed with equal parts heart and mind, showing genuine compassion and concern.

You’re greeted by what the team calls a “world-first digital-brick entrance”: 226 phone-sized (and touch-enabled) screens are set behind glass bricks, making the gallery’s entranceway a constantly changing curation of digital data and interactive media.

Moving through the soaring, 3500-square-metre space, a variety of mediums and technologies form part of the first exhibition. There’s a very large self-inflating white balloon trapped in a pink cage (anxious anyone?) and, for Mirror Ritual, what appears to simply be a mirror goes on to read your emotions and then – through AI technology – generate a poem just for you.

You’ll also find a kaleidoscopic human-sized hamster wheel – by contemporary Japanese artist Hiromi Tango – that addresses the effect of colour, playful areas and exercise on mood, plus how positive social reward can impact our exercise commitment.

And, in Selfcare_4EVA, two performance artists will spend a week locked in a make-believe bedroom chasing the impossible dream of becoming the internet’s most famous wellness influencers. And answering some big questions: “does the wellness industry help or hinder our mental health?”, “can you really do that with a jade egg?”, and more.

“The exhibition acknowledges that not all mental-health journeys are the same,” says Tilly Boleyn, head of curatorial at Science Gallery Melbourne. “It’s not a show about cures or treatment, although there might be things in there that will help. This is an inclusive exhibition that explores many different ways of being, surviving and connecting.”

“Lived experience was central to the development of the exhibition,” she continues. “And people with lived experience were part of the advisory group, curatorial panel, the artists, collaborators and researchers in the show.”

It’s an important and timely exhibition. As the discussion around mental health becomes more public, we as community members need to be clear on the line between distress and disorder. We need to know when a massage and a face mask is enough and when we, or our loved ones, need more support through a visit to a mental-health professional.

This exhibition also helps us to feel. To feel what it might be like to live with daily bouts of crippling anxiety, to feel empathy for the suffering of others, to feel how it might be to live with the neurological disorder “visual snow”. Feelings elicit actions, and there’s a sense that the actions encouraged by this exhibition will range from more real conversations with family and friends about mental health, to more young people – especially young girls – curious about exploring STEM streams.

Science Gallery Melbourne opens on Thursday January 20.

Science Gallery Melbourne
114 Grattan Street, Parkville

Thu to Sun 11am–5pm

If this article has caused distress, or if you or someone you know needs support, you can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Liv Downing is a Melbourne-based psychologist, meditation teacher, podcaster and writer.