Professor Stephen Smartt joined the artist and author Oliver Jeffers on stage at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Saturday 8 October in the Garden Theatre. The pair have collaborated on a joint art and science project called Our Place in Space, a walking sculpture trail that is an accurate scale model of the solar system – and also the inspiration behind Oliver’s new picture book, ‘Meanwhile Back on Earth’.
The scale model has an 8.5km walk from the Sun to Pluto, with the Earth a 2.2 centimetre hand-painted sphere en route. Oliver's colourful arches and lighting bring the epic trail to life and give a sense of perspective of the Earth's diminutive size in comparison to cosmic scales. The trail has been placed in Derry, Belfast and Cambridge and has attracted close to 200,000 visitors to the trail itself as well as to associated events. It will be installed in Liverpool from 14 October to 6 November.
The Cheltenham Literature Festival was an opportunity for Professor Smartt and Oliver Jeffers to promote the project and Oliver’s related book to a diverse audience. Professor Smartt comments: ‘Oliver's idea was to frame humanity’s problems of division and conflict by presenting people with a view of Earth from the edge of our Solar System. We are both from Northern Ireland, and appreciate that community division is still a serious societal issue. Science and art can help give a broader perspective on our lives and encourage us to ask questions of our own prejudices and disconnections. I am interested in working with Oliver again on future outreach and engagement programmes to maximise the impact of science in society. It has been an interesting and rewarding experience to work with an arts focused organisation like The Nerve Centre, from Derry, to bring this alive.’