Designed with support from leading astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt, Our Place in Space is a continuation of Jeffer's The Moon, The Earth and Us installation sculptures on the New York High Line, and a TED Talk he delivered in April 2020. Free for anyone to experience, it launched in Derry–Londonderry in March, and is currently in Belfast with the trail heading to Ulster Transport Museum and North Down Coastal Path in Northern Ireland. It will then move to Cambridge later this summer.
"We understand academically the numbers that signify the scale of the solar system but in reality, it's so much bigger than we could possibly imagine," Oliver Jeffers tells Creative Boom. "It's long been a dream of mine to recreate it at scale."
Jeffers admits he got the idea after reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything when the author points out the inaccuracy of classroom diagrams of the solar system. "There were issues like Saturn casting its shadow on Jupiter, for example. But to get the scale right, you'd need too much room. That's when I asked myself, could it work as a physical model?"
But Jeffers didn't just want to show the planets in isolation; he was keen to house them in huge archway structures with giant arrows pointing to them, all in his signature style. "I wanted to make it more engaging and interactive but also give people a sense of perspective. I was in Tennessee in 2017 when there was a total eclipse of the sun and in those 10 miles of totality, as they call it, it's only in that space where you see the full eclipse. It's only then that you're looking at two objects with a massive amount of distance between them. You don't need to know the numbers, you sense it. There's spacial awareness. With this artwork, the idea was to repeat that sentiment. The recreated planets are so small, you wouldn't be able to see between them without the archways or arrows to help guide you."
Alongside the 10km walk is an interactive AR app, available on Apple and Android devices, that allows anyone across the world to take a walk through our solar system, experiencing the planets in augmented reality and considering 10,000 years of human history on Earth. Users can also collect space souvenirs, including characters from the world of Oliver Jeffers, as well as launching a personalised star into space.
"For centuries, we've defined ourselves by who we are and who we're not," Jeffers continues. "Which side we choose, on what ground we stand, who and what we fight for. A human story, that lives merely in human minds. But with distance comes perspective – and what happens to our perspective on everything when we look back at Earth from space? Our Place in Space is a playful experiment that asks: What is the difference between 'us' and 'them'? Which side are we on, and if we look back at ourselves from the vastness of outer space – alone on our tiny planet, the only one that can harbour life – should there be any 'sides' at all?"
Our Place in Space is part of a nationwide celebration of creativity called Unboxed: Creativity in the UK, which is a unique collaboration across art, science and technology. Produced by the Nerve Centre Collective and featuring music by award-winning sound artist Die Hexen, the trail will travel from Belfast and to the Ulster Transport Museum and North Down Coastal Path in Northern Ireland until 10 July, before moving to a riverside location in Cambridge from the 30 July. Discover more at ourplaceinspace.earth