The Argentinian-born, Berlin-based Tomás Saraceno is one of few contemporary artists to have NASA studies, collaborations with the MIT and a co-published scientific paper alongside exhibitions at MoMA, Hamburger Bahnhof and Palais de Tokyo in his portfolio.
Says French philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist Bruno Latour, 'Rare are the artists who have published papers with scientists because the science they had to feed on was too limited! To extend the frontier of art, Tomás first had to push the frontier of [...] science.' Indeed, Saraceno was the first person to have ever digitally scanned a spider's web. 'When a scientist says that the universe is like a three dimensional spider web, at least we now have the possibility to compare these two models in a more informed way,' he explains.
These two dimensions – the minuscule and the cosmic – fascinate Saraceno. He plays with them at a new show, 'Aerocene', at Esther Schipper gallery in Berlin, running until 28 May. The main works involve spiders, spider webs and non-fossil fueled flying objects. Wallpaper* met Saraceno to discuss cosmic dust, floating cities and the differing requirements of collaborating with scientists and spiders...
W*: One of your installations involves a live spider, its web and cosmic dust (that is, dust from space containing oxygen, sodium and carbon). Tell us about it.
TS: It's a spider who is playing its own web with cosmic dust – the spider, called Nephila senegalensis, is like a musician and the web is a harp. When the web moves, the dust starts to move as well. We have very sensitive sensors that pick up these vibrations and amplify them on a speaker. I'm playing with the threshold of what you can see and cannot hear.
Each animal builds reality through their own sensory perception. We can only see the spectrum of colours from here to here. In this case, the spider has built its web but she is blind and deaf from our perspective. But she sees through the web. Spiders are one of the most sensitive animals in the world who can pick up vibration.
After seeing my exhibition, Bruno Latour said he would stop sweeping the spiders. I hope that very simple art can bring things from the background in the foreground and then you can become more sensitive to other species and maybe you can live together, even in the same house. We are part of this huge ecosystem and we can't survive alone on this planet.
Do you have them in the house?
Yes, we have many, always.
And you never kill them?
No. Why? (laughs) I think that for many people where nature starts and where it ends is problematic; they want to go into nature but they can't accept nature in their homes.
Could you tell me more about how you collaborate with scientists?
I'm in a dialogue with MIT and other scientists to think how art can push the boundaries of science. I've been the first person in the world to scan a spider web, which was not done before. We, artists, can be cutting edge in many experiments. I'm tired of this idea that art is not as relevant as science. - artists can contribute to science science can contribute to art.
We worked together on the spider projects and on the flying city – building cities in the sky. Together with the diverse institutions and disciplines, we are researching alternative ways of travelling around the world without using fossil fuels. The Aerocene D-O AEC air-fuelled sculpture already successfully carried passengers without any use of propane for nearly three hours. This recent experiment at the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico achieved the world record for the first and the longest purely solar-powered certified [flight].
Is it not much slower?
The average speed inside a jet stream is 200 km per hour. It's like a free highway. All these winds, energies, potentialities are already around the world. Let’s open a new airline, with zero emissions.
Finally, how do you think about your Flying City projects?
It is a utopia but if we understand how planet Earth is lifted in the air and we explore other kinds of energy another form of life may be possible here – like the Flying City.