Tomás Saraceno

Tomás Saraceno

Artist, Studio Tomás Saraceno

The subversive power of art is playing a precious role in providing architecture with risky, yet palpable visions of the future. No wonder the attention recently received by Tomás Saraceno, Argentinian artist and architect based in Frankfurt, whose installations, sculptures and photographic work have been exhibited world-wide, including the 53rd Venice Biennale, the Musée d’Art Moderne, Luxembourg, Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Saraceno develops utopian spaces inspired by evocative elements like soap bubbles, spider webs, chocolate milk foam, astronomical constellations, dust particles, clouds. He has established a practice of constructing habitable networks based upon complex geometries and interconnectivity that aim beyond the sensorial effect, inviting the viewer to consider alternative forms of knowledge, feelings and the interaction with others. In Berlin, Saraceno will demonstrate how his collaborations with scientists at NASA as well as with a range of engineers, chemists, botanists, astrophysicists, and biologists offer new social alternatives to the political, social, cultural, and military restrictions that are accepted today.

Breaking the Wall Between Earth and Sky. How Art Challenges Gravity and Light in Our Habitat


Well, thank you. I am very pleased to be here. I basically have a big kind of trouble. I brought like 400 slides. We have to manage somehow. I always thought: one funny experiment would be that all of you have some kind of these remote controls, and you can keep clicking and clicking. Somehow I might be able to start whatever it is and try to say something or try to connect something. But we will see how far we can get, and then maybe you can also interrupt or ask questions. Lets not be only one directional. But anyway, I think I have the images here: that is a small experiment that I was doing, and then basically what had happened—I thought also that it is also kind of in the same way of trying to combine these 400 images of how you can—I will ask you for a lot of imagination from your side to try to put the things together. But, in this way, there was this experiment that was run, I think, in the 60s. Usually a video is like 24-frame per second, and with this it kind of gives a motion that you don’t see somebody walking very, very slow. What I was doing was trying to put a camera together with a ventilator, and somehow every time that one of these blades goes through it takes a picture. This means that if there was a lot of wind, then you get kind of a very high speed camera. It means that... tack, tack, tack, tack... many, many pictures. Then a little bit, like this relationship—I think there is something today also with this machine we were trying to combine the things. I was trying to press at the full speed and how fast it can go. There is this kind of relationship between—I have always like some friends who are kind of very intelligent—or what intelligent is: it is kind of the relationship, the balance between how much memory you can store, and how fast you can process the storage that you have: the gigabyte versus the RAM. Somehow this is what it is about and how you might be able to see something. Anyway, I go pretty fast. This is in Bolivia, and this is a salty lake. It is one of the flattest surfaces on earth. It is pretty amazing. One of the things that I would like to tell about is what you don’t see in these images—what had happened during the night. During the night also, as you can imagine, all the stars get reflected on the water, and there are these moments that you step on these kind of immense lake— then all the stars kind of somehow wrinkle. It is a video that I will try do next time. Somehow, this kind of reverberation—I have been working for a couple of years on the idea of building a kind of flying city, as Buckminster Fuller might have put it: we are flying around the sun at very high speed; we are floating already on the planet earth.

Somehow, this is one of the latest installations that I did. This is in Italy now in the Hanger Bicocca. Somehow you can get this idea of, again, like being kind of immersed in a kind of a universe again. In this case, it is all these huge cubes pressurised with air. It means that every time somebody opened the door in the lower part, people start to fall very quickly. You can hear from above: “Close the door!” This means that there is this kind of huge ecosystem between the people who are up there and maybe unconsciously also when you are entering into the room—somehow it might happen. But also it doesn’t happen only on one layer; there are like three layers. When somebody is on the top layer and then it squeezes the person who is on the lower layer, and the middle layer squeezes the other person, and somehow it gets pretty much interconnected and very complicated to pass by all the lower legislation and the security and left or right; because there is a moment, if three or more people are all in the same place it kind of really goes deep, and then it is very difficult to move out from that. This means that the distribution of the people on the space... it is pretty challenging to get the approval of the rule... Anyway, well, there are some inspirations, on the left and right, some experiments. (We go a little bit quicker) Here are some models that we are doing. (You see now it is getting a little bit slower) That is also interesting (Laughter). That is at the beginning—nobody wanted to jump into thing. I said, “Well, lets try...” It went down and down... and even myself... I was afraid. Anyway, it works, and you can go there. The next idea is like, “Lets pick up”, when we build it, it was an intention to build it and then try to do something with it. Now, on Monday I am going to the MIT, and we are trying then to pick up this thing and go to the Maldives Islands, and then we might be able to desalinize the water and to drink—you know the Maldives, in the best scenario—in 15-20 years it might disappear.

There is this idea all the time to try to make this kind of flying cities or to try to recognise some patterns which are up there. This is one of the first drawings and how we might be able to generate this kind of cluster; you might have seen some of these images before. In this case they are kind of singles; there will be more small experiments. But, I will try to get up... That is a solar balloon. There are very little of that; they can fly only with solar energy, basically they are produced with plastic bags: 550 micron thickness and basically on a weekend, two persons can build a machine that can put a man into the air. (Running through slides) Well, that would also be critical. Lets put it that way. This means that we have a high- qualified material that we might be able to do something with. We then start to collect these plastic bags; this is in Columbia and other places. This is a kind of a huge community of how we might be able to build the flying city. This we call the “Museo Solar”- then we tape all of that and then somehow fly up into the air—also just only with solar energy. There is no hydrogen, no helium; there is nothing. It is just like when you get in a car, which is dark, it kind of heats up the air a little bit more. This is another project, which was more about making mobile cleaning for preventing HIV in Africa, which somehow also is—my father was always working for the United Nations... I imagined the classic scene... him coming to a village and saying, “Well, today we will talk about HIV”. People don’t talk even about sex in some cultures. But imagine you come up with these huge balloons, which are flying condoms over the city! You say, “Everybody will come up there...” and then start to talk about something. Ideas might be spread, and there is a kind of sense of communication— how you can communicate something. At least you will ask, “What the hell is going on?” (Laughter) Then I keep these very strong ideas of how: there are some parts more technical; balloons, how you collect the solar energy, on the left and right: how we build it. Now, I want to reach a moment in the presentation... (running through slides)... that is a little bit crazy also, because (Laughter)... I am trying to go back. No, here is in Brazil. These are three levels. It is almost as scary as the one in Italy, because the guy is up there, really. When you open the door it all collapses—the structure is only built by air... it was pretty challenging. Here, the Queen of Holland also entered by herself (Laughter)...

Ok. I always enjoy talking with scientists, and there is some kind of fruitful collaboration of how things might happen. We are trying to bring it down from the Metropolitan (Museum) in New York. It is on the rooftop on the terrace, but due to the storms it is not coming down. Well, maybe this weekend it will come down. But anyway, I am from Argentina, and I love to eat barbecues. We are trying now to make a solar cooking, flying, cooking a chicken inside a balloon. The thing in the Metropolitan somehow also we thought, “Lets make a kind of big rally for people”, but... then I love the poster, or when I was in 2009 in a residence at NASA—the International Space University—I always loved Don Pettit, the astronaut. The other idea was also to see him... to see this light traveling, kind of outer space—to pay a reward, well to another culture who have been doing this. But, ok. This is a beautiful essay of Bruno Latour that he wrote, and I thought that for the last 4 minutes and 33 seconds, I will spend a little bit talking about this project, which somehow it kind of... I very much enjoyed today the presentation by Nicola (Pugno); he was talking a lot about spider webs, materials. What I was always kind of surprised by is that many astrophysicists or journalists, or reviews, they always try to explain the origin of the universe based on Volker Springel and the Max Planck Institute. When they did the millennium simulation, they tried to see how this cosmic web was generated. The analogy that they always tried to find is they always talk about this cosmic web, or drops of water caught in a three-dimensional spider web. Then, very simple... We did an interview with him, (and these are the images that they get through these millennium simulations) and I said, “Well, very simple” and when I got the invitation by Daniel Birnbaum to go to the Venice Biennale, we said, “Well, lets buy some black widows.” Which is not allowed to ship them, but you find somebody... not during the weekend. You have to order on Monday to arrive to your studio. The black widow came up, and together with Peter Jäger from Senckenberg Museum, now has become a very good friend; we decided to put this black widow inside this box to see which type of web it might be able to do. Another thing, from which we got a very interesting study, after the black widow, we took it out, we took an area to see—because the spiders are usually solitary; they do not like to spin a web on top of another web. We kind of forced them to work together somehow. Anyway, we tried many methods. The exhibition was coming up, I have to open... and this was at the Getty Institute, and we asked them if we can scan that. Anyways, you might know the thickness of a spider web is very thin—thousands of a millimetre. This means that there was no way, and there wasn’t anybody who has done it before. Then we contacted in Darmstadt—the Technical University in Darmstadt, the Institute of Photogrammetry. With them, I was one day thinking: how can we do it? The exhibition was coming, and we didn’t have a method. It seems like—also Samuel Zschokke, who is the person who is more expert in the University of Basel about interpretation or trying to understand the emerging properties of spider webs.

Humans always understand the bi-dimension. You can divide a spider web in bi- dimension or three-dimension. The bi-dimensional is more like the one with the concentric circles—I am talking with the brightest scientists here, but anyway—for the three-dimensional, there isn’t even a machine, or nobody has ever understood how they are done. This means that we kind of start to work together, and then what we did is like with just a laser—you illuminate the box of the spider, and you see exactly all the points, the interference between the sheet laser and points. Based on this, then we start to draw slide by slide. This is a two-year’s project. We start to draw all the things, and then we wanted to build it three-dimensionally. This means we got a lot of numbers... (Laughter)... oh, my God, it was a crazy thing. This is how the method is. It was two weeks, day-and-night, and day-and-night, because the show had to somehow be ready. This is during the exhibition. This is when you enter. People are still allowed to walk through. You start to recognise something. There is a kind of a very confusing area, then you get a valley; they you usually go to a retreat area. I still have 39 seconds...I was pretty happy about this collaboration with a lot of scientists. Then with Gilles Clement we presented a paper to send spider on space and see how the web might be building microgravity. There have been published, I think, four scientific papers: everybody in his own field; I was in the art field—but presented in the Arachnology Congress or in Poland with Peter Jäger, and everybody has his own interest on the work. I am happy, and thank you for the presentation!