the artist illuminating new york's skyline with a live projection of earth
Sebastian Errazuriz's 'blue Marble' is a live stream from outer space, and a fitting reminder to look at the big picture.
Blu Marble by Sebastian Errazuriz. Photo by Charles Sykes/AP Images.
Walking down Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side, one thing stands out among the rest—a large, circular video stream of planet earth. This public art project is by New York artist Sebastian Errazuriz. Called blu Marble, the 20-foot LED screen commemorates the 50 year anniversary of the first person on the moon.
It runs all day and night at 159 Ludlow Street, and its quite amazing to think that it was astronaut Neil Armstrong who first stepped on the moon in 1969 with Apollo 11 (a commemorative stamp is coming out this year, too). The footage Errazuriz is using here is a mashup of NASA satellite photos, which is used to compose a live video of the planet from outer space, and the same piece was shared for a night on the side of the New Museum, adding an unexpected image to the Manhattan skyline.
Errazuriz is known for his public art; you might have seen his video art at Times Square or a series of gravestones to commemorate the weekly death toll in New York City, but hasn’t embarked on a project like this before. As this is going on during April's Earth Month, he spoke to us over the phone about the collective consciousness, environmental threats and making a potential comment on the world’s biggest selfie.
What did you think when you found out that 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the first person walking on the moon?
This is one of those projects you do for a long while and you hope you’re going to find the right sponsor to develop it on time. I was fortunate enough that happened and I was able to create it. Otherwise, I was going to do it in 2020, which is the anniversary of the blue marble photograph, which was first done in 1972, so it would have been 50 years and the appropriate time again.
What was the intention that lead to this project?
During the initial space race, we were in a Cold War, there was an enormous amount of tension worldwide. Being able to see the earth from space, the overview effect, we were able to show the world that we’re all interconnected. It’s a visual representation of how no matter who we are, we are all part of the same little rock speeding around the sun. In a way, there’s minor psychological and socioecological repercussions that might have been able to slightly ease the tensions of the time. If we consider that today, we’re going through an enormous amount of tension once again both politically and economically, it seems like a fitting reminder to once again, look at the macro picture and try to figure out from there, what kind of measures can be taken together, to try and sort these problems all together.
How does the footage work with NASA?
NASA has a series of weather satellites, that are stationary and there’s one of which we’re hooked up to. They provide layers of data, from gases to cloud formations, used by meteorologists and its open source. We used that data for this actual video feed that is 10 minutes behind what is currently being seen outside. It’ll be live for another two weeks, but I’d love to have it travel to other cities. During the launch at Richard Taittinger Gallery out front, we invited Michael Massimino, a former astronaut.
Looking up at this live-stream of the earth can mean a lot of different things to a scientist, a meteorologist, an artist and someone just walking by it in the Lower East Side. What does it mean to you?
One of the first things you see, its wedged between two buildings in an empty lot. You don’t expect to see it. Walking by it, busy, on your day to day, you don’t expect it. Being interrupted by this giant screen is quite striking. Most people pop out their phone and take a selfie. But there’s also a plaque beside the piece that explains what they’re looking at. When people spend a moment with it, or share it with their friends, there’s a little moment of realization, where there’s a pause and maybe they’re seeing themselves. They feel there’s something very strong here.
How does it tie into the state of the world today?
I’m constantly getting images from people saying: “The images on Instagram don’t do this piece justice, I’m really touched.” That pause is valuable and its an aspect every artist must provide. We’re in a new era and every artist has a certain responsibility to society. Their work shouldn’t just be about ego and their personal obsessions but about trying to contribute. On a humankind level, in the next 10 or 20 years, enormous amounts of changes are going to happen; most aren’t going to be happy at the beginning. There will be technological disruption, people losing their jobs, mass migration, a collapse of social services, all sorts of problems. In this battle, we have a constant reminder that we’re in this thing together. Its part of what we all need to do with our resources and with what we know.
Why project an image of the earth to New York City? The biggest meta selfie ever in the most navel-gazing city?
There are aspects of environmental components, which are important, which are meant to match earth month this month. We’re in a more macro crisis right now that goes beyond the environment, the idea of the self or selfie, even if it is a symptom of our individualism right now. We need new things to believe. Were in an era of fake news. Everything you do as a journalist is constantly being questioned. Everything I do as an artist, as well, is being questioned. What is important and what are the stones and pillars of what we want to construct?
What does it mean that you’re showing this during Earth Month?
It requires going back to basics. Its about feeling. Artists have a role to play. It might be about making people feel and see things they normally don’t. I understand my project is very simple in a macro scale, but at least I’m doing my part. If we’re all contributing our part today, we can perhaps see bigger elements that go beyond our personal neurosis as artists, and if so, we’ll all be contributing more.