Each week in What’s the Meaning of This?, we explain what those weird public-art installations you walk by every day are supposed to represent. This week: the story behind what the coolest—and most expensive—vacation photos ever.
Name of installation: Gaia
Artist: Guy Laliberté
Location: Thompson Landry Gallery (32 Distillery Lane); outdoor pieces are also displayed along Gristmill Lane*.
Date of display: Until Sept. 3.
What’s it supposed to be?: Turns out that, when you’re worth $2.6 billion, the sky really is the limit. At least it was for Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, who paid a reported $24 million back in Sept. 2009 to become a space tourist aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. While spending 11 days circling the Earth, Laliberté documented his extreme bird’s-eye view with a Nikon D3S camera, taking 7,500 photos of our planet from above.
Capturing Algerian deserts, Kazakh rivers, Russian peninsulas, and Tibetan lakes, Laliberté was able to create images—through the use of zoom lenses and framing—that are simple and textured, yet have an abstract quality about them. The result of his voyage is a series of 150 photos published in a book entitled Gaia (which means “Mother Earth” in ancient Greek). Now, until the end of the Labour Day weekend, 60 of the photos are on display in 5 x 8 ft. prints in and around the Distillery District’s Thompson Landry Gallery.
“Before he went into space, Guy had some training on the camera and had a few lenses with him—everything from a 200 to 800 mm—but he really didn’t know what he’d be able to capture, if anything,” says Joanne Thompson*, co-owner of the gallery. “Of course, he was able to photograph these beautiful land masses and textures, and he started to realize how fragile the Earth is, from this perspective that none of us really get.”
Having been previously displayed in Montreal and Quebec City, Laliberte’s public installation is meant to raise awareness for his ONE DROP foundation (which looks to provide developing nations access to fresh water). The touring exhibition will soon be heading to New York before it continues on to Europe, ensuring that as many people as possible are able to see what the Earth looks like from 200-plus miles away.
CORRECTION, AUG. 28, 2012: The original version of this article contained incomplete information about where GAIA was being displayed, and misidentified the gallery’s co-owner. The text has been updated.