Laura Feinstein is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of art, technology, and global culture. Past bylines include The Guardian, T/The New York Times, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Salon, GOOD, Paper Magazine, and VICE where she was formerly the Editor In Chief of The Creators Project.
Oliver Jeffers’s new installation, The Moon, The Earth and Us pays tribute to the most famous photograph taken of earth and questions our place in the universe.
It’s an auspicious week for those looking to the heavens. Last Sunday, much of the world was treated to a rare, crimson-hued lunar eclipse, known as the Super Wolf Blood Moon, and starting today and lasting through February 14th, visitors to Manhattan’s High Line will be able to actually “meet” the moon itself—care of Oliver Jeffers’ installation, The Moon, The Earth and Us.
Conceptualized to spark dialogue on the significance—or lack of significance—of man-made borders, replicas of the earth, and moon made of steel, foam, and coated in acrylic, will transform the Chelsea Market Passage of the High Line between 15th and 16th street into a micro-solar system. The Earth, built to scale at eight feet in diameter, and The Moon at two, will both be mounted at a height of 10 feet, roughly a city block apart, with the earth positioned to rotate slowly, almost imperceptibly, on its axis. Inside each man-made border on this faux-earth will read the simple inscription “People Live Here,” while The Moon’s surface will state the obvious: “No One Lives Here.” Through this ambitious lens, Jeffers seeks to underline just how arbitrary man-made constructs like borders and walls truly are when juxtaposed with the magnificent vastness of space.
The installation is also an exploration of the shift in perspective that occurs when our planet is seen from a significant distance, the “Overview Effect” normally reserved for astronauts and space satellites. The most famous example is the "Earthrise" photo taken by astronaut Bill Anders from the Apollo 8 mission on Christmas Eve in 1968 which just had its 50th anniversary last December. The first photo to capture the earth in its entirety, it briefly lassoed the global imagination, enabling Americans to put aside the horrors of the Vietnam War to contemplate the cosmic power of the universe. “We'd seen our planet from above with the help of satellite imagery, but Apollo 8's crew were the first to witness the full globe of Earth rise up in the distance, providing a speck of dazzling color against the alien lunar landscape,” astronaut Jim Lovell said of the view during a live television broadcast. “The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth."
Jeffers, a prolific illustrator and children’s book author from Northern Ireland, has made the globe and planetary travel something of a motif in his work, which includes his illustrated books Here We Are: Notes for Living on the Planet Earth and How to Capture a Star, a children’s story about the transformative power of exploration in space and on earth. “I’ve always created maps and globes to make political comments,” said the artist, who has often found inspiration Buckminster Fuller’s seminal work Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth, a series of essays on the challenges and idealistic solutions of man, as well as his own upbringing in Northern Ireland.
“When I was researching what astronauts noticed about looking at earth from a distance of the moon, I recognized the same language I would often use when describing Northern Ireland from the perspective of New York,” he said, referencing his attempts to explain Britain's complex geopolitical troubles to American audiences. “But when you remove yourself, when you get enough distance, you see the earth entirely differently.” And, he found, it takes away daily life's power to inflict emotional distress. During the eclipse, Jeffers experienced the same feeling of repose. “That sense of perspective you get when the moon is blocking the sun, you feel infinitesimally small and are left with the realization of just how isolated we are.” The installation, coincidentally, went up just a day after one of the largest full moons of the year.
This installation will be Jeffers’s most structurally ambitious project to date, realized with the help of set designer Jason Ardizzone-West, who conceptualized the schematics and renderings, along with Showman Fabricators, and filmmaker Guy Reid, of the Planetary Collective.
Ultimately, Jeffers would like visitors to walk away from the installation with a sense of awe, placing in perspective our own petty concerns in the larger context of our solar system. “People who have gone up to see the earth in its entirety—every single one came back with a changed perspective. The realization that you cannot see borders in space, that we are just part of one single larger system, that the lines of countries are drawn arbitrarily, the result of battles or tensions that only really exist in the imagination of humans, is something astronauts first noticed." Today, he explains, "people are often caught up in the everydayness of their lives, which generally doesn’t involve an awareness of being part of a larger system.”
This installation is Jeffers’s second project to appear in New York this month. “For All We Know”, a series of paintings and illustrations with a cosmic-bent, opened at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery in Chelsea last Thursday. These two works are part of a larger project that soon may have a more immersive aspect but, for now, the artist’s lips are sealed.