Luke Jerram's Gaia: Doha dazzled by Earth's awe and wonder

Luke Jerram with Gaia at Dresden Cathedral, Germany, 2023. Photo (c) Oliver Killig.JPG
5 min read
16 November, 2023
Luke Jerram's artwork Gaia attempts to replicate the Overview Effect - the overwhelming feeling felt by astronauts when first looking down at our planet. Exhibited at Doha's Northwestern University, Qatar can now experience this sensation in person.

Art can touch people in various ways, whether it is through the beauty of the artwork, the skill of the artist, or the imagination of the viewer. It can leave the observer feeling happy, inspired, or sometimes even confused.

However, Gaia, a creation by British artist Luke Jerram, has the power to leave you breathless, humbled, and feeling insignificant. 

The Overview Effect, a phenomenon that describes the change in perception experienced by astronauts when they see Earth as a whole floating in space, is also experienced by viewers of Gaia.

This effect is not negative, but it is incredibly impactful. After seeing Gaia, one can't help but think about our planet, its fragility, and how small we are in comparison. It highlights the enormous impact we have on our world despite our tiny size.

"Gaia was made to communicate a sense of the fragility of our planet. We need to wake up and change our behaviour. Society needs to make the changes necessary to combat climate change"

The artist, Luke Jerram, had a specific effect in mind when he created his artwork.

He used NASA images taken from space and reproduced the Earth on a much smaller scale, about 1.8 million times smaller than the real thing. This allows people who have never been astronauts to feel some of the awe that astronauts experience.

Jerram aimed to make Gaia, the name of his artwork, as authentic and realistic as possible to show people how our planet looks from space. Gaia is a 7-meter (23ft) in diameter model of the earth, named after the personification of the Earth in Greek mythology.

The artwork has been on tour around the world, having already been displayed in numerous cities such as London, Paris, Hong Kong, and Melbourne. Gaia has currently reached Doha in Qatar.

Artist Luke Jerram wanted viewers of Gaia to experience the overview effect experienced by astronauts looking at the earth from space
Luke Jerram's Gaia attempts to replicate the 'Overview Effect' experienced by astronauts looking at the Earth from space [photo credit: Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey]

Gaia is a part of the MetaWhat? exhibition, which is being held at the Media Majlis at Northwestern University. The exhibition aims to explore the digital world and its influence on the current generation that has always taken technology for granted.

Although the exhibition is focused on an immersive virtual world, Gaia is a sculpture that hangs in the stairwell near the cafeteria, bringing visitors back to earth, quite literally.

Jerram's Gaia was first showcased in 2018 at the Bluedot Festival in Cheshire, UK, which celebrates the amalgamation of music, science, and culture. Since then, it has been replicated several times and has been displayed in different parts of the world, often accompanied by music. A few replicas have also been sold to private collectors.

Apart from the earth, there is also a replica of the moon titled Museum of the Moon, which is currently on display in various locations around the world.

Live Story

What is it about Gaia that makes this piece of art, a simple inflatable replica of our planet, so powerful? Is it the size, the fact that it is lit up and spinning, the music, or the astronautical Overview Effect? It's all of the above and then some.

Most of us have spun a globe, marvelled at the various countries and continents, and made travel plans. However, seeing this gigantic globe suspended in a large space, so that you have to crane your neck to see it all, or like in Doha, conveniently ascend the stairs to get a view from various angles, is breathtaking.

Although we know how large the Pacific Ocean is, until you see the vast expanse of sea, covering nearly half of the entire planet, and realize how huge Africa is, how straight Chile's border is, and how tiny Europe is, you cannot understand how minuscule we humans are. And yet, we are successfully destroying this planet.

Gaia at Bluedot, 2018
Luke Jerram's Gaia is 1.8 million times smaller than our planet [photo credit: Bluedot Festival]

Speaking to The New Arab, Jerram tried to bring these thoughts to mind. "Gaia was made to communicate a sense of the fragility of our planet. We need to wake up and change our behaviour. Society needs to make the changes necessary to combat climate change."

"The artwork also acts as a mirror to major societal events. In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the artwork may provide the viewer with a new perspective of our place on the planet; a sense that society is all interconnected and that we have a responsibility toward one another. After the lockdown, there was a renewed respect for nature."

Live Story

In Doha, we witness two opposing worlds: the breathtaking view of the blue planet, reminding us of our responsibility to look after it, and the metaverse exhibition just around the corner.

Although different, both are highly relevant to our lives today and that of future generations. However, there are also two different ways of escaping reality. The metaverse allows you to enter virtuality while gazing at Gaia and invites you to be an astronaut for a little while. I wonder, is there a bigger escape from reality than these two?

Gaia is part of the MetaWhat exhibition at Northwest University, open until 7 December, 2023. Admission is free.

Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey is a freelance journalist, author and translator. Ulrike specialises in travel and lifestyle, with a leaning toward the Middle East. Her bylines have appeared in international publications such as  BBC TravelPositive NewsGood HousekeepingLonely PlanetTravel + LeisureNat GeoThe Independent,  Fodor’sTIMEMarriott Bonvoy Traveler, and many more

Follow her on Twitter: @ULemminWoolfrey