3Q: Luke Jerram
Multi-media artist and researcher Luke Jerram experiments with sound, movement and materials in a dazzling array of installations. He has created monumental blown-glass sculptures of bacteria and viruses (Glass Microbiology), the acoustic wind pavilion Aeolus, and Retinal Memory Volume, an interactive sculpture using the mechanisms of eyesight. Here Jerram talks about his new Museum of the Moon, a vast globe that will premier at the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta in August.
How did you make Museum of the Moon and what will it involve?
It is a balloon 7 metres across, made of urethane-coated ripstop material, lit from the inside. The surface is printed with an image of the Moon’s surface taken by a NASA satellite carrying the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter Camera, and created by the US Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center. Each centimetre on the balloon represents 5 kilometres on the lunar surface. During the Bristol balloon festival it will be presented as part of their ‘night glow’, allowing the public to bathe in moonlight and listen to a Moon-inspired surround-sound composition by award-winning composer Dan Jones. The artwork will tour for several days; it will float through darkened streets and also be suspended a metre and a half above a local swimming pool, allowing people to swim out to view it close up. As it tours, astrophysicists from the University of Bristol will offer lectures. The balloon will then travel for up to 10 years around the world, collecting people’s ways of thinking about the Moon — from mythology to science — via questionnaires, online, on paper and on video. It’s likely to be interpreted differently in every country we go to; for example, in the United States people may think about the Apollo mission, while in China the Moon is very much celebrated during their Mid-Autumn Festival.
Why focus on the Moon?
Over millennia, the Moon has acted as a sort of cultural mirror, used as the basis for a calendar or for night-time navigation, and has been worshipped as a deity. Once it was the only night-time source of light. Now, many people see it surrounded by skyscrapers. Through this project I hope to restore a sense of wonder, to help people to ask questions and hopefully to reconnect with the night sky. I’m also fascinated in the latest lunar science. Recent space missions have detected water ice at the Moon’s poles, and the Moon is being considered as a staging post for a future mission to Mars. It was only in 1959 that the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 probe photographed the far side of the Moon, which looks completely different from the side we see: there are no dark patches, for instance. So the Museum of the Moon will be the first time most members of the public will see the far side. Here in Bristol we have the second highest tidal range in Europe: there is a 13-metre gap between high and low tide. So I think about the Moon’s influence every time I cycle to work over the River Severn each day.
Are there personal reasons for your choosing this project?
My colour-blindness has given me an interest in perception. There are a number of optical oddities linked to the Moon — for instance, the illusion that it seems larger when closer to the horizon. And when you see a close-up of the lunar surface, you realise it is very dark and grey, yet it can appear incredibly bright in the night sky due to the Gelb effect. I am fascinated by how things work. I nearly studied engineering, and still use maths and engineering as a part of my arts practice, to solve problems and design artworks. Both scientists and artists can ask similar questions, and interrogate, question and explore phenomena in different ways, which lead to very different sets of answers. I’m also fascinated by the communication of science, and am often asked by scientists to help them disseminate their research through art, and achieve that balance between accuracy, accessibility and inspiration.
Interview by Elena Bozhkova, a freelance journalist in London. She tweets at @elena_bozhkova.
The Bristol International Balloon Fiesta runs from 11 to 14 August at Ashton Court Estate, Bristol, UK. Museum of the Moon is scheduled to tour UK festivals Lakes Alive (Kendal), the Norwich & Norfolk Festival, Brighton Festival and Greenwich+Docklands Festival, as well as Lieux Publics, Marseilles, France, and OORtredens Festival, Belgium.
For Nature’s full coverage of science in culture, visit www.nature.com/news/booksandarts.