Northwestern Qatar hosts world recognized Earth replica

August 20, 2023
Luke Jerram, the celebrated British installation artist, is bringing to Qatar one of his most famous touring artworks, Gaia, as part of The Media Majlis at Northwestern University in Qatar’s seventh exhibition, MetaWhat?, which presents an in-depth look at one of the most important topics today, the metaverse.
The inflatable sculpture, which is hanging in the Forum of the university, measures six meters in diameter and was created from 120dpi detailed NASA imagery of the Earth’s surface, taken from the agency’s Visible Earth series. It slowly revolves, making one rotation every four minutes, while a specially made surround-sound composition by award-winning composer Dan Jones plays on loop alongside it.
In Greek mythology, Gaia, one of the Greek primordial deities, is the personification of the Earth. At 2.1 million times smaller than the real Earth, Jerram’s artwork provides viewers the opportunity to see our planet floating in three dimensions. Each centimeter of the internally lit sculpture depicts 21km of the Earth’s surface, and if an onlooker stands 181m away from it, they will see it as it appears in space from the moon.
The inspiration behind the piece is The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in his influential 1987 book of the same name, which reflects on the human condition when viewing the Earth from afar. This experience is characterized for astronauts by feelings of awe, an understanding of the interconnectivity of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.
Jack Thomas Taylor, interim director at The Media Majlis and curator of the exhibition, says the juxtaposition of presenting a replica of planet Earth within an exhibition about the digital landscape is particularly poignant. “How can we start talking about virtual worlds when we can’t even see our own planet?” he asks. “While the metaverse is hyped with excitement and opportunities, one aspect that is not often discussed is the impact of this virtual world on our real-world environment. While advancements are still being made in the development of cryptocurrencies, the carbon footprint of the infrastructure of the metaverse is profound.”
Gaia has been traveling the world since 2018, including to Hong Kong, Australia, Europe, the USA, and the Natural History Museum in London, where it was one of their most popular exhibits ever. Wherever the artwork is presented, its interpretation is slightly different, and it draws in huge audiences.
Jerram is known globally for his innovative arts practice and large-scale public artworks, such as Museum of the Moon, which has been experienced by more than 20 million people worldwide, and his 2014 piece Park and Slide, the news of which reached an estimated one billion people. In his latest artworks, including Gaia, he is drawing attention to planetary health.
Gaia’s presentation in Qatar, one of the hottest places on Earth and among the 10 countries that would be most impacted by sea levels rising, is a stark reminder of global warming,” says Jerram. “Within the context of the university, I hope the artwork inspires both staff and students to find out about urgent environmental challenges we face as a planet.”
Taylor adds: “It’s ironic that the very people who are pouring millions of dollars into expanding our digital landscape here on Earth, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, are the same people who are in a race to capitalize on outer space. It’s monopolies such as these that we need to break down in order to ensure a decentralized metaverse, so we can enjoy a more unified planet—and that is exactly what MetaWhat? aims to highlight.”
The exhibition, which will run from Wednesday, August 23rd to Thursday, December 7th, 2023, takes the audience on a journey of our digital landscape through five thematic installations. This includes MetaWorld, which unpacks the seven distinct layers of the metaverse, and MetaCreation, where visitors are encouraged to participate, build and create in a dedicated space, from playing Fortnite to learning how to (low)code. Elsewhere, MetaExperience is a captivating data visualization that offers a glimpse of the growth and development of virtual land sales.
The Media Majlis will now be open from Sunday–Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The
exhibition will run until Thursday, December 7, 2023. This exhibition will all be complemented by a weekend of talks, panel discussions, showcases, walkthroughs, and experiences to commence in October. To learn more about the museum and its programs, visit