One small step for a man, one more small step for humankind

September 2, 2011

Main text of post

Last Thursday, the Promenade des Artistes in Montreal's Quartier des spectacles was visited by an extraterrestrial exhibition from Guy Laliberté, founder of the Cirque du Soleil and Quebec's first space tourist. Make way for Gaia.

By Joëlle Robillard
In 2009, when Guy Laliberté announced that he was boarding a Russian Soyuz rocket for a 12-day space journey, it made some people a little more than just envious. What "normal" human being gets to make dreams like that come true (and can pay 35 million dollars for the chance)? It's all well and good to talk about great men with great means, but this former street clown gave his trip a global mission: perserving water resources. Using art to boost the profile of the ONE DROP awareness organization (which he founded), Guy Laliberté has put together a coffee-table book of the photographs he took during his space voyage, shot from over 350 kilometres above the globe. Sixty of the large-format photographs from the book are currently on display along the Promenade des Artistes, transforming it into a path of discovery for the Earth.

So is it a work of art, scientific achievement or social-engagement project? Some skeptical observers might raise an eyebrow at the idea that this adventure had a real purpose, but after seeing the response of a visibly moved public or hearing the enthusiasm of Guy Laliberté himself, doubt gives way to admiration.

Early visitors are unanimous in their fascinated reaction to the images, which are often cryptic in exactly what feature of the Earth they're portraying -- is that a crater, a weasel or a water hole? "I could stare at it for hours trying to catch all the detail, the movement" says one man, enraptured by an image of the Gulf of California swept by fluid clouds. "It looks like it was painted with a brush, the contours and lines are just amazing" exclams a woman, looking at a second photograph. Whether recalling the bold canvases of André Masson or Jackson Pollock (Kazakhstan, the shores of Lake Tengiz, the Sahara Desert in Sudan) or the organic, geometric paintings of Jean Arp (the Qaidan Basin in China), the Earth has never seemed so much like a work of art.

It was only when he saw his friends' reaction to his photographs that Guy Laliberté started thinking about turning them into a project. "Their emotional response gave me a little more courage to share the images" he said, visibly nervous about the result of such a long effort, one that he hopes will shape a collective project to preserve planetary resources. "We have to realize that there are 7 billion people on the Earth, and we don't all have the same privileges" he added, maintaining that businesses and individuals alike have to take action on environmental issues.

He has had the extraordinary chance to sing among the stars, and he has the smarts to put it to good use for a good cause. What's more, the exhibit -- in its world premiere showing in Montreal -- will bring striking colours and an educational experience to the Quartier des spectacles. Each image is also accompanied by a text that explains its historical, social and environmental features. It's a casual walk that will ignite your human and poetic consciousness, on display until October 10, 2011.