Oliver Jeffers' Out-Of-This-World Art Installation Takes You Far From Earth

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NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, interview by Jeff Lunden. Listen to the full story.

Belfast-born Oliver Jeffers paints, writes and illustrates children's books. He recently premiered a new art installation on the High Line in New York City called "The Moon, The Earth and Us."

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Oliver Jeffers is an author of children's picture books and an artist. His latest installation is called "The Moon, The Earth And Us." It's in New York on the High Line - a park built on an old, elevated railroad. And since Jeffers' work appeals to kids and adults, reporter Jeff Lunden brought two children along to meet the Belfast-born artist.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: On a dank, windy, January afternoon, we met Oliver Jeffers to get a tour of his new installation, which consists of two scale-sized globes of the Earth and moon separated by a scale-length dotted line between them.

ELEANOR: My name's Eleanor. I'm 5 years old.

HENRY: My name is Henry, and I'm 9 years old.

OLIVER JEFFERS: Hello, Henry. I'm Oliver - 41 years old.

LUNDEN: Jeffers told Eleanor and Henry Ying and me that his work was inspired, in part, by Apollo 8, which flew around the moon about 50 years ago.

JEFFERS: And it was the very first time the planet had been photographed in its entirety. And it completely changed people's outlook on Earth.

LUNDEN: So Jeffers wanted to recreate that perspective for people visiting the park today. On one side of the installation is a globe representing the Earth - eight feet in diameter, made of foam, steel and acrylic - all hand-painted by Jeffers.

JEFFERS: This thing is actually spinning but very, very, very slowly.

LUNDEN: As you get closer, you see writing all over the globe.

JEFFERS: Every single country that exists is drawn in here with all of the borders. And inside every single one, it says, people live here.

ELEANOR: Except for the bottom.

JEFFERS: Well, there it says...

ELEANOR: People...

JEFFERS: People sort of live here...

ELEANOR: Yeah.

JEFFERS: ...Because that's the South Pole.

LUNDEN: We walked around the globe.

JEFFERS: All of South America, all of North America, all the Caribbean islands, it just says over and over and over again, people live here. You know, even this border right now that's been very contested in the news at the minute between the U.S.A and Mexico, you know who lives on either side of that border?

ELEANOR: Who?

JEFFERS: People.

LUNDEN: Then it was time to blast off - figuratively - into space. Jeffers pointed to a spot on the globe.

JEFFERS: Cape Canaveral, I think, the Apollo mission took off from. And imagine you're a little astronaut. You come flying out of the Earth's atmosphere.

LUNDEN: And the two little astronauts followed Jeffers along a dotted, yellow line with marks saying 10,000 miles, 25,000 miles, 60,000 miles. At each mark, we turned back to look at the Earth.

JEFFERS: It's getting smaller and smaller. You're probably feeling very alone right now in your spaceship. It's a long way.

ELEANOR: (Laughter).

JEFFERS: I hope you brought a book or, at least, some sandwiches. So here we are. This is about halfway. And we're 120,000 miles from Earth.

ELEANOR: I can see...

JEFFERS: So right now we're halfway between the moon and the Earth. Let's keep going.

LUNDEN: Finally, we reach the hand-painted moon - two feet in diameter. And in golden letters written across the surface, it says...

ELEANOR: No one lives here.

JEFFERS: No one lives here. And that's it.

LUNDEN: While there's a political component to Jeffers' vision, he also means for his work to be playful, which Eleanor and Henry totally got.

JEFFERS: I love that these guys right away got the idea to play, to pretend you're an astronaut, pretend you've got a spaceship and actually traverse this and what it feels like to have actually venture that far away from our planet and then do a loop around the moon and come back. And I'm hoping that people do that and enjoy that experience and consider what it is like to think of our home as just this tiny thing floating in the middle of nowhere and with a hopeful sense of unity that that might bring.

LUNDEN: Both Henry and Eleanor Ying certainly enjoyed experiencing Oliver Jeffers' "The Moon, The Earth And Us." As they got one of his picture books signed, Henry, age 9, looked back at the globe of the Earth and observed.

HENRY: Last time, it was ocean. Now I see Africa.

JEFFERS: Yep - slowly rotating.

LUNDEN: The installation will be displayed on the High Line in Manhattan until February 14. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.