In September 2009, Guy Laliberté dropped a reported $35 million to hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and spend 11 days orbiting Earth on the International Space Station. Laliberté, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil and one of the richest men in Canada, called the zero-gravity jaunt a “poetic social mission,” though “outrageously expensive, Richard Branson–esque publicity stunt” might be a more apt description. The flamboyant former busker did lend the trip some charitable gravitas by using it to promote his One Drop foundation, which focuses on water conservation in developing countries. Like any tourist, he also took thousands of photographs—from 354 kilometres above. This month, 60 of Laliberté’s vacation shots are part of an exhibition called Gaia, on display in the Distillery District. The Earth appears through his lens as a series of bizarre and haunting abstracts. Deserts in Turkmenistan and Arizona seem like details from a paint-spackled canvas. Other landscapes conjure visions of alien matter viewed through a microscope—only NASA geeks and Hubble-heads would recognize these scenes as terrestrial. Laliberté’s favourite shot is a view of the sun as it rises over the Pacific Ocean near Chile, creating a poignant sliver of blue against the blackness of space. The collection is a reminder that this planet is even bigger and stranger than an eccentric billionaire’s ego.
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