TOMAS SARACENO @ANDERSENS'S
Tomas Saraceno is a star never to be fixed at the firmament. In a way he is all around us. To metaphorize this widespread artistic practice by the often-used image of a spider’s web doesn’t seem entirely beside the point – especially not when given the knowledge that the Black Window, known to most people only due to its deadly capacity, exclusively produces 3-dimensional webs. During COP15 Saraceno’s Biospheres were experienced with some hope by thousands, and now he is about to send a spider into space, trying to determine how this near-absence of gravity might affect its creative momentum. Far beyond the framework of everyday conceptualism, the art of Tomas Saraceno fulfill the dream of many a futurist artist, elegantly providing possible reconciliations of art and life.
What’s the connection between aesthetic and scientific field research?
With both, not only the end product, but the actual process of doing something can itself be aesthetic. In my work I care a great deal about the beauty of any given process. It makes sense, but I could also put it in other terms: the aesthetic of passion, the aesthetic of curiosity, of enthusiasm…
That’s probably what you share with scientists?
Exactly, and it’s one of the reasons why we feel this connection. Passion, curiosity and enthusiasm cross disciplines. I’m genuinely interested in collaborating with others, and so I don’t like to divide by the categories of “art”, “science”, and so on. I want to find out for myself what is characteristic about the people I work with, and with whom I share this expanded notion of the aesthetic.
Is the spider web – applied in much of your research, but also figuring heavily in your final works – an image, a diagram, or an actual model for something?
All of them.
Obviously, but what do you believe to be the main differences between these three sorts of application?
It’s the time you spent extending the perception of something that allows you to add all these layers, one after the other. In the beginning it is pure curiosity. You discover a spider web in the corner of a room, and you simply look at it. I found quite a lot of them, initially because I discovered a studio, which hadn’t been used for 20 years. I deeply admired the webs, the beauty of the geometry, but also the beauty of trying to understand them. I started taking pictures, and subsequently I tried to scan the webs. I then discovered that some scientists have used these 3-dimensional structures as an analogy for the creation of the universe. And even though I end up presenting a relatively simple drawing I believe you’ll still somehow be able to perceive some of all this. I love what John Lennon once said: ”Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.” These procedural, kind of personal moments, or at least a fair share of them, one might be able to delay, to somehow conserve. This makes you capable of sharing them with others.
For a hundred years to this day, avant-garde artist have tried to overcome the distinction between art and life, an honourable ambition perhaps, but in most cases not a very realistic one. Do your feel like you have succeeded where others might have failed, and, whether “yes”, or “no”, why do you think that is?
I do feel that practicing art allows me to live the life I want, but apart from this I‘ve never given any distinction between art and life much thought. I guess it relates to what I previously replied concerning curiosity and enthusiasm. I don’t really care whether you’re an artist, a scientist, an anthropologist, or whatever. It’s all about your attitude, it’s the way that you do things that matters. Though it might not be particularly evident in the way most artists exhibit their work, there is always this kind of hidden process. Sometimes it can be translated and put to work in other fields. That’s also the reason why I need to meet others, to personally discover the aesthetics of how they’re working. For instance, this goes for the people who did the very first scans of 3-dimensional webs.
The Black Widow being a most poisonous spider and all, what are the moral issues at stake in your installation?
Moral issues, how do you mean?
Your work Biospheres was a most significant contribution to the exhibition RETHINK Relations, which took place right during the COP15. So, in addition to your aesthetic/scientific engagement, I guess that makes it plausible to discuss your work regarding the ways we presently live our lives.
Yes, maybe. But there’s always a balance between intuition and something…well not so intuitive. Many of the decisions that I make, and possibly my final artworks, allow for an adequate experimentation with the intuition of something. Nevertheless, the results may be re-interpreted by other disciplines, and put in another context. “Man cannot escape from himself”. I don’t remember who said this, but any given socio-cultural background does subject you to certain constraints considering your ability to ask questions. But working specifically in a more intuitive way you might somehow be able escape towards these bigger moral questions. Often I’ve had another topic in mind, following different paths, but in the end I sort of realize that unconsciously I’ve also been dealing with some moral issue all along. In a book called ‘The Three Ecologies’, Felix Guattari describes a distinctive connection between social ecology, mental ecology, and environmental ecology. I find this most interesting. Whenever talking about the global climate changes of today we might want to consider this somewhat broadened sense of ecology.
What does Utopia mean to you?
I don’t know…this probably sounds a bit strange. I love to think that every night everybody dreams, and that sometimes we even dream when awake. We all construct dreams, which might be turned into reality at some point. By ourselves, or by someone else. It’s a human necessity to sleep, to imagine, and maybe others can help you translate these dreams into something else. When I talk about a flying city, people just think: “A flying city, well of course”. But you know what, actual aviation – the invention of the aeroplane – is not more than 100 years old. We need to keep actualizing our dreams.
Constant’s famous project, concerning a most ludic, perhaps even somewhat erotic, recreation of the human body and spirit, eloquently went by name of New Babylon. Is there any room left for desire in your playful yet seemingly quite hygienic fantasies?
What do you mean by desire?
The humans inhabiting Constant’s Babylon were to constantly move around according to their immediate desires. That’s quite the opposite of a nuclear family centred in an apartment or a house somewhere. And, in a way, your exhibition struck me as a rather cold place.
Yes, but later there’ll be music, food and drinks.
That’s only at the reception, I guess?
But still, that’s part of it.
Well, what about Tuesday afternoon? Who are to inhabit your utopian cityscapes, really?
Everybody, I’m not the one to decide. But I’ll try and answer your question with a story: “Some people go and build a telescope to see if there’s life on any other planet. The look around, but they don’t find anything. Next year they build a bigger telescope, look again, but still they don’t see anything new. They decide to make an even bigger one, and so it goes year after year. That is until the moment where the telescope is so big that someone discovers it from outer space. Suddenly we are ‘the others’.” Sometimes you loose some to win some. Quite unaware you produce something, which allows for others to see you, before you allow yourself to see the them. This takes your question to another dimensions, posing it on scale a bit outside the boundaries of planet earth. So when I say “everybody”, I also mean the kinds of people we don’t know of as yet.
What do the main differences and repetitions appear to be when your artistic project is compared to major architectural dreams of the past, let’s say Superstudio, or for instance Archigram’s Walking City?
I like this idea about living up in the air, to have real flying cities. For his Instant City concept Peter Cook used a Zeppelin to provide a construction activating spaces on earth, but as far as I know he never really thought about having a city float around like the clouds.
So, the other projects are actually earthbound?
All the radical purposes of the sixties should be subjected to further experiment; it’s a moment in history that should be tried out in many different ways. Anyway, I’m also connected to the earth, but I’m interested in something you could call “Futures”, with an “s” in the end. Possible futures, not a single future. I think the meaning of this plural sense is something by which we, today, need to navigate. By diversity, not only concerning our approach, but also determining our goals, we might be able find some alternatives, some ways that we can all live together.
To every Dane with even the slightest concern for modern architecture, it’s trivia knowledge that The Opera House in Sydney is somehow a series of abstract seashells. Whether it be Robert Smithson’s crystals, Peter Sloterdijk’s bubbles, or the Deleuzian rhizome of grassroots, nature’s actual structures seem long since turned into cultural imagery. Is nature still quite the magic place of inspiration?
I think it’s Bruno Latour who has been talking explicitly about the danger of trying to understand nature as something detached from the human. Personally, when I refer to nature I also mean humans, not something out there, far away from myself. But it’s difficult, so as kind of an exercise I try to experience the very place that I live as nature. To regard nature as a different kind of place, a differentiation of humanity, causes an alienation of sorts. This is most counter-productive. In the same way, I feel very strange when people say that I’m from Argentina. There will probably be a moment in human history where the idea of belonging to a certain country ceases to make sense. Obviously this isn’t in near future, but then again, it all depends on the time frame by which you look at it. At that moment I’ll still be from planet earth though.
Designing his 1600-square-foot Dymaxion House weighing only 3 tons, Buckminster Fuller rhetorically confronted all his critics with the same question: ”How much does you house weigh?” Is gravity also something of a mental, perhaps even an emotional metaphor in architecture and city planning?
I’ve been working for many years with certain types of structures improving what ‘Bucky’ was doing, particularly this project of his called Cloud Nine, which is a floating sphere of 1.2 miles in diameter. I’ve even submitted patent applications suggesting something much lighter. So obviously weight is a general consideration most important. In my research I weigh all the materials that I’m to use, gram by gram. There is a straightforward relationship between a material and the energy spent maintaining any structure produced from it. The spider web, for instance, is something pretty amazing. It consists of one of the relatively strongest and lightest materials known today. This is easily comprehended when you look at a picture of a huge water drop caught between two threads. Could we only produce something with the properties of the spider’s silk, the idea of a space elevator might be brought back to life.
What’s a space elevator?
A platform, which can help us reach other planets more easily. But you know what, today I talked to a famous printer here in Denmark, challenging him do help me do the lightest newspaper ever. We’ll copy the Danish newspaper with the smallest format, and this guy knows about a type of paper so thin that it almost keeps floating when you lift it up in the air.
You have suggested sending a spider well into space, to see how this radical change of setting might affect its creative momentum – an idea that’s about to come true, one might add. Would art be obsolete if we in fact did have no gravity?
Next question…no actually you answer it.
All right, I’ll try. If we do imagine that gravity is a somewhat psychological metaphor, and furthermore consider this most creative reconciliation of art and life to be the avant-garde dream above all, wouldn’t art, as we know it, cease to exist, if everybody were floating around in the air? Anyway, a lot of the troubles that art presently is forced to deal with would be gone. I guess this has been the desire of many a futuristic artist, Constant included.
Problems are actually opportunities. If we really stopped having problems we would have very few options left. Or, put otherwise: “50 percent of an answer is a question.” Of course, I’m not interested in stating the obvious: “Art-is-a-good-place-to-ask-questions”, but in general I’m just as interested in the potential questions implied by any given answer.
So, “zero-gravity” is definitely not the answer?
Gravity is a type of psychosocial relationship.
In terms of your own artistic endeavour, what do you expect from the future?