Digital Guide • Gaia at St Paul’s Cathedral

Explore Gaia
by Luke Jerram
at St Paul’s Cathedral

Digital Guide

Listen as Artist Luke Jerram introduces Gaia.
Please put in your headphones while listening to this in the Cathedral

What is the scale of the artwork

The artwork is 1.8 million times smaller than the real Earth with each centimetre of the internally lit sculpture describing 18km of the Earth’s surface.

The Earth here is 7m in diameter. If the Sun were made to the same scale it would be 2820m in diameter!  The sun would be 300km (186miles) away from where the Earth sculpture is now!

planet earth

Where did the imagery come from?

The satellite imagery for the artwork has been compiled from Visible Earth series, NASA.

It was then created by a company that makes Hot Air Balloons.

Who is the Artist?

Luke Jerram’s multidisciplinary practice involves the creation of sculptures, installations and live arts projects. Living in the UK but working internationally since 1997, Jerram has created a number of extraordinary art projects which have excited and inspired people around the globe. He is known worldwide for his large scale public artworks including Museum of the Moon, Glass Microbiology and Play Me, I’m Yours.

Who composed the soundtrack?

A specially commissioned sound composition was created by BAFTA and Ivor Novello award winning Composer Dan Jones.

Jones is a multi award-winning composer and sound designer working in film, television and theatre. He has won a BAFTA and three Ivor Novello awards. Luke (the Artist) and Dan have worked on projects together since 2003.

The Gaia composition begins with interviews with astronauts involved with the famous ‘Earthrise’ photograph taken in 1968. The earth is seen as a fragile and beautiful floating blue planet.

The composition also contains excerpts from NASA interview recordings with astronauts about how they felt when they first saw the earth from space. Described as the ‘Overview Effect’, the experience for astronauts is a feeling of awe for the planet; a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

The Gaia soundtrack helps to create a sense that we are floating like astronauts in space, above the earth and watching it turn beneath us.  We can hear the sounds of the ocean far below, where whales are calling to one another. We hear the sounds of the rainforests and woodlands.

What is the overview effect?

The overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface. It refers to the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, “hanging in the void”, shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative. The term and concept were coined in 1987 by Frank White, who explored the theme in his book The Overview Effect — Space Exploration and Human Evolution (Houghton-Mifflin, 1987), (AIAA, 1998).

What is Earthrise?

Earthrise is a photograph of Earth and parts of the Moon’s surface that was taken from lunar orbit by astronaut Bill Anders in 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. Nature photographer Galen Rowell declared it “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”.

It’s never easy to identify the moment a hinge turns in history. When it comes to humanity’s first true grasp of the beauty, fragility and loneliness of our world, however, we know the precise instant. It was on December 24, 1968, exactly 75 hours, 48 minutes and 41 seconds after the Apollo 8 spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral en route to becoming the first manned mission to orbit the moon. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve of what had been a bloody, war-torn year for America.

At the beginning of the fourth of 10 orbits, their spacecraft was emerging from the far side of the moon when a view of the blue-white planet filled one of the hatch windows. “Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!” Anders exclaimed. He snapped a picture—in black and white. Lovell scrambled to find a color canister. “Well, I think we missed it,” Anders said. Lovell looked through windows three and four. “Hey, I got it right here!” he exclaimed. A weightless Anders shot to where Lovell was floating and fired his Hasselblad. “You got it?” Lovell asked. “Yep,” Anders answered. The image—our first full-color view of our planet from off of it—helped to launch the environmental movement. And, just as important, it helped human beings recognise that in a cold and punishing cosmos, we’ve got it pretty good.

What is the Blue Marble?

The Blue Marble is an image of planet Earth taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft at a distance of about 29,000 kilometers (18,000 miles) from the surface. It is one of the most reproduced images in human history. Earth is revealed as both a vast planet home to billions of creatures and a beautiful orb capable of fitting into the pocket of the universe.

The image with the official NASA designation AS17-148-22727 reproduces the view of the Earth as seen by the Apollo crew traveling toward the Moon. The translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea to Antarctica. This was the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap, despite the Southern Hemisphere being heavily covered in clouds. In addition to the Arabian Peninsula and Madagascar, almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Asian mainland is on the horizon. The 1972 Tamil Nadu cyclone can be seen in the top right of the image. This storm had brought flooding and high winds to the Indian state of Tamil Nadu on December 5, two days before the photograph was taken.

Apollo 17 was the last manned lunar mission. No human since has been far enough from Earth to photograph a whole-Earth image such as The Blue Marble, but whole-Earth images have been taken by many unmanned spacecraft missions. The name has also been applied by NASA to a 2012 series of image data sets covering the entire globe at relatively high resolution, created by carefully sifting through satellite-captured sequences taken over time, to eliminate as much cloud cover as possible from the collated set of images.

“I hope visitors to Gaia get to see the Earth as if from space; an incredibly beautiful and precious place. An ecosystem we urgently need to look after – our only home.

Halfway through the Earth’s six mass extinction, we urgently need to wake up, and change our behavior. We need to quickly make urgent changes to society, to prevent run away Climate Change.

As an artist exhibiting in museums and festivals all around the world I realize I need to change my behaviour and alter the way I work

Luke Jerram, Artist

Is there a message for Christians?

Christians believe that the earth is God’s creation. We ought to have a reverence for it. We are intricately connected with it. Made from the dust of the earth, each of us will one day return to it. Indeed, at the fulness of time, God took on the dust of the earth himself, when the eternal word became flesh and was born as Mary’s child, Jesus. At Calvary, Jesus gave himself so that all might share the life that is forever. On the cross he redeemed all creation and renewed this broken world.

There is a strong tradition in Eastern Orthodoxy that sees the church as a manifestation of the new creation that has been forever claimed by Christ out of a fallen world. During the coming three months the physical world is being represented in St Paul’s, as an ikon, not an idol. As a powerful sign of the old creation being enveloped by the new creation that Christ has forever proclaimed, and which is re-enacted daily in our worship in Word and Sacrament.

Christians believe that God sent his Son Jesus into the world to save the world, setting it free from sin and death. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus promised: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’ (Matthew
. The inheritance promised to those who live humbly is not a distant heavenly home, but the very planet we live on. For Jesus, there is no Planet B. This urges us to positive climate action.

What is Gaia, what is the Earth?

In Greek mythology, Gaia also spelled Gaea, was regarded as a personification of the earth—mother earth. In Christian tradition, earth is believed to have been called into being by God at the beginning of all things, ‘when God made heaven and earth’ (Genesis 1.1). The Psalms also know the earth as a personification: earth is all living things that rejoice or tremble before God—‘the Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice — his lightings light up the world; the Earth sees and trembles!’ (Psalm 97.1, 4).

The Scriptures speak of the earth as ‘the round world’ (Psalm 93.2), and reference ‘the circle of the earth’ (Isaiah 40.22) and ‘the compass of the earth’ (Proverbs 8.17). Again and again, Scripture charge humankind with its welfare: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ (Genesis 9.1). In response to this call to cherish the planet given to us, Christian writers such as St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) also speak of the earth as ‘Mother Earth’ (Canticle of the Sun). For him, earth represents all things that grow and sustain human living, and that joins with the entire cosmos in praising God.

The mythological name Gaia was revived in 1979 by James Lovelock, in Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. The Gaia hypothesis proposes that living organisms and inorganic material are part of a dynamical system that shapes the earth’s biosphere, and maintains the earth as a fit environment for life. However the hypothesis is scientifically flawed. The vast majority of scientists believe the hypothesis is not consistent with modern scientific evidence and understanding and should therefore be rejected.

Gaia is offered to the public free of charge. Please consider making a donation in lieu of an entry fee.

The donations of our visitors are vital to support the Cathedral’s mission and ministry and to continue to enable important projects and exhibitions like Gaia.

Gaia is created in partnership with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Bluedot and the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres. With supporting partners Culture Liverpool and Liverpool Cathedral.

The artwork has been brought to Australia by the Cathedral, as part of its commitment to advocate for greater action to help mitigate a climate emergency.