Bringing the ‘moon’ to Earth: British artist Luke Jerram set up his touring magnum opus in Thiruvananthapuram 

TNIE catches up with renowned British artist Luke Jerram, who recently set up his touring magnum opus – ‘Museum of the Moon’ – in Thiruvananthapuram  
‘Museum of the Moon’ installation in Thiruvananthapuram PICS: VINCENT PULICKAL
‘Museum of the Moon’ installation in Thiruvananthapuram PICS: VINCENT PULICKAL

One Tuesday night, the ‘moon’ came down to Earth at Kanakakunnu Palace in Thiruvananthapuram, giving a once-in-a-lifetime experience to the visitors. Adding to the surreal experience, the lilting background music by BAFTA and Ivor Novello Award-winning composer Dan Jones made the audience melt away into a world of cosmic ecstasy.  

Titled ‘Museum of the Moon’, this touring installation artwork has awed over two crore people worldwide. And, it made its Kerala debut in Thiruvananthapuram as a prelude to the maiden Global Science Festival of Kerala, set to begin on January 15.

TNIE catches up with the man who brought the ‘moon’ to Kerala, renowned British artist Luke Jerram, who has held exhibitions at over 800 venues across 50 countries over the past 26 years. Excerpts:

How did the idea of creating a moon evolve? Why the moon?

I live in Bristol, which is in the southwest of England. There is a river that flows through the city, and drains into the sea. Usually, there is a 13-meter variation between high tide and low tide. That’s a huge variation. The moon makes that happen. Once, while cycling across the river, I noticed how the water level suddenly dipped during low tide. That got me interested in the moon. About 20 years ago, I had this idea to create a replica of the moon, but sufficient data wasn’t available. So, I had to wait about 15 years for NASA to provide the data.

Music seems to have a vital role in enhancing the overall experience of the artwork…

For me, the music helps connect the landscape or the architecture around the moon. It creates an atmosphere and an environment. That’s why I use music. The artwork comprises the installation artwork and the venue. There’s often lots of events that take place underneath the roof. We have had choirs perform… we have had yoga events under the moon, and lectures on science and astronomy. I quite like making artwork that leaves space for people to be creative. This artwork does that.

The ‘Museum of the Moon’ is presented in various ways based on the venue. How do the experience and interpretation vary as it travels from place to place?

Well, if we present the moon at a science festival, people will perhaps think about it in relation to astronomy and the universe. Whereas if we put it in a cathedral, people will view it perhaps more in relation to the creation of the universe and religion. And again, if the moon goes to America, the people in America often think about the moon in relation to the Apollo mission and people landing on the moon. The moon in China is celebrated as part of the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is in September. Every culture around the world has different stories and mythologies that relate to the moon. I think, here, the moon has significance in Hinduism. In French, people would say la lune because the moon is female. Whereas in Germany, the moon is male. It’s a very interesting topic.

Scores of people gathered at the Kanakakunnu Palace to watch the famous 'Museum of the Moon', the celebrated installation work by British artist Luke Jerram.
Scores of people gathered at the Kanakakunnu Palace to watch the famous 'Museum of the Moon', the celebrated installation work by British artist Luke Jerram.

Can you share about the scientific updates or discoveries related to the moon that have been incorporated into this installation?

This moon is made out of high-resolution NASA imagery. It’s completely accurate, and about half a million times smaller than the real thing. Every centimetre on the installation is 5km on the moon. The public gets the opportunity to see all the craters, mountains, and details. And the moon that we see in the sky only faces one direction. From the Earth, you can only see the front of the moon. This artwork allows the public to walk around the moon, and see the other side as well. Humanity has been gazing at the moon for over 2,00,000 years. It’s always been a destination for mankind. It’s nice to bring the moon closer to people.

You seem to prefer large-scale artworks… 

I like making large-scale artworks because they make people feel a bit small, create a sense of awe and wonder. That’s really nice. Also, it’s interesting that the moon we have made is half a million times smaller than the real thing. When you stand next to it, do you feel ‘big’ because you are standing next to something that’s been made smaller? Or, do you feel really ‘small’ because you are standing next to something really big? I’m interested in the experience of scale.

Generally, what happens is that people see the moon, and then they go up close to it to take a photograph. But once, there was a little girl who came to me in a museum and asked: ‘Will you put the moon back afterwards?’ She thought it was the real moon. So, everyone enjoys it in unique ways, depending on what they bring to it. Because the moon acts as a cultural mirror. The moon reflects what you bring to it.

How has the Kerala experience been? 

I was invited here by the Global Science Festival Kerala to present the artwork. It’s really nice to be in Kerala; I have not been here before. It’s a cool place, and the food is amazing. It’s really tropical. This is the first time this festival is going to happen in the city. I am looking forward to it, and I hope this will be the first of many.

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