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Planet Earth Inside the Museum Walls


UK visual artist Luke Jerram has brought the whole world to the Canadian Museum of Nature.

More precisely, he’s created a seven-metre-diametre artwork of planet Earth called Gaia. The internally-lit, mesmerizing sphere is suspended in the Museum’s Atrium, seemingly floating before a handsome backdrop of grand architecture and heritage stone.  

Gaia features 120dpi detailed NASA imagery. Each centimetre describes 18 kilometres of the Earth’s surface. While it will appear larger than life to onlookers, the sculpture is 1.8 million times smaller than the actual Earth.

Jerram’s inspiration for Gaia (named after the Greek goddess personifying Earth) was drawn from the U.S. space missions and specifically the Overview Effect. This is the reaction that astronauts experience when they first see the Earth from outer space and are struck by its beauty and fragility. The artist hopes to incite that same awe and appreciation when people look at Gaia.

“For our entire human existence we have been gazing up at the moon and projecting all our hopes, dreams and wishes up there,” says Jerram. “Whereas it was only in 1968 that we were able to see our planet floating in space for the first time.”

With all his art projects Jerram aims to have multiple “points of entry” so the piece can be appreciated in different ways on different levels. He sees the same for Gaia, whether you’re a four-year-old child, an environmental campaigner, a meteorologist or “someone who’s just interested in looking at our planet in new way”.

“It acts as a certain mirror to whatever people bring to it,” says Jerram. “I’ve had meteorologists who got very excited being able to see all the cloud formations in the Pacific and how they interact with mountain range of the Andes.”

He adds: “What I like about this Earth artwork is that, when it turns around, you realize how big the Pacific is. There is a certain point where you’re standing that you can’t see any landmass at all. You don’t get that sense that half of our hemisphere is just water when you look at maps.”

Jerram hopes that Gaia will remind everyone that Earth is a precious place—our only home—and that we need to take care of the environment. With scientists’ reports of Earth’s sixth mass extinction being well underway, we urgently need to change our behaviors.

“Art can be used as a tool to help communicate the sense of fragility of our planet,” says Jerram. “It’s a useful method I suppose to help communicate science as well, so I think art has a great value to help do its part towards combatting climate change.” 

Gaia is the second Luke Jerram art installation to be presented in the Museum. In 2019, the 50th anniversary year of the first manned lunar landing, Jerram’s “Museum of Moon” sculpture was hung in the glass tower known as the Queens’ Lantern.  From a few vantage points on the upper floors, one can view both the beautiful globe gracing the Atrium and the Museum of the Moon in the distance.

Both Gaia and the Museum of the Moon are made from woven nylon fabric by a hot-air balloon company in Jerram’s home city of Bristol.

The first in Canada, the Museum’s Gaia sculpture is one of five In the world. Unlike the others that are touring to different venues, this Gaia will be exhibited at the Museum for an indefinite period.

Arriving at time when the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic is omnipresent, the artwork “may provide the viewer with a new perspective of our place on the planet; a sense that societies of the Earth are all interconnected and that we have a responsibility toward one another”.