In 2009, the founder and CEO of the Cirque du Soleil empire, Guy Laliberté, became the seventh private citizen to travel into space (yawn, I know). But he was the first to write and publish a book about the two-week orbit: a massive 300-page tome titled GAIA, which came out last year. The project has since been turned into a traveling exhibit, making its first New York stop next week at Marlborough Gallery.
GAIA, as the Greek title vaguely suggests, is dedicated to water issues on earth, and how climate change is affecting humans. Over the course of 10,000 images—that’s after editing—the 53-year-old Laliberté walks us through what he saw onboard the ISS. "It became a game to me," he told Bazaar’s Mr. Blasberg last year, "like when I was a kid lying in the grass creating stories with what I would imagine from the clouds. Except, this time, it was the other way around: The images popped up below me." GAIA documents dried-up Algerian riverbeds, melting Tibetan glaciers, and the Euphrates River, which has transformed rapidly since damming began in the 1960s.
The idea behind the show is to raise funds for Laliberté’s five-year-old nonprofit, One Drop (motto: water for all, all for water). "At the source of every single humanitarian crisis in the world (health, education, situation of women, pollution, biodiversity, etc.), water is the common element and at the source of these issues," the 53-year-old says. "We need to address this situation rapidly." While he was in orbit, he orchestrated a 120-minute-long podcast of performances happening simultaneously in 14 different locations on Earth (and one on the ISS)—the idea, he explained, was to raise awareness of Earth’s fragility in the best way he knew how.
With the number of images ISS photographers produce on a weekly basis, it would be easy to get desensitized to these types of photographs. But there’s something endearingly earnest about Laliberté’s perspective (which he defines as "space clown"). Chalk it up to being in the business of making people feel things.
Check out GAIA at Marlborough beginning on December 11.