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Tomás Saraceno: at height

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In Orbit is a large-scale project by the artist Tomás Saraceno, part of the permanent exhibition of the K21 Düsseldorf Museum of Modern Art. Anyone who is not suffering from acrophobia, fear of heights, can visit the installation.
Tomás Saraceno (in the video below) is a research artist working in the science art genre. He was born in 1973 in Argentina, studied art and architecture in Buenos Aires, Frankfurt am Main and Venice, and in 2005, he founded a studio in Germany, which has grown into an interdisciplinary laboratory. Saraceno invited designers, architects, anthropologists, biologists, engineers, astrophysicists, art historians and musicians to cooperate in order to realize a global project with their help, the work of his whole life — creation of cities of the future hovering above the Earth.

Urban Planning of the Future

The artist believes that our planet is on the verge of an ecological catastrophe caused by the irresponsible attitude of man to natural resources. The Earth needs rest to recover, and its inhabitants should leave their usual environment for a while and move to a new one. Saraceno’s task is to create this new environment, which he decided to place inside transparent spheres that are not subject to the laws of gravity. Thomas Saraceno literally has his head in the clouds and builds castles in the air; all told, he does not consider his ideas something of science fiction.
«Utopia is what makes humanity move forward, expand its capabilities,» he said and quoted Jules Verne, «everything that seems impossible now will become a reality one day.» Utopia is the key concept for Saraceno’s work: his beautiful new world is «nowhere», it has no topos, it is suspended between heaven and earth.
Saraceno’s cities, like clusters of bubbles or clouds, are to drift freely in space: devoid of borders or national differences, they drastically change the image of the world. Modern technologies and science help to embody his dream of urban future, but models of the cities can only be seen in museums so far: curators call them interactive installations or floating sculptures.
Tomás Saraceno. Flying Garden/ Air-Port-City installation, 2005. Center for Contemporary Art Villa Manin, Codroipo, Italy. Photo source: www.studiotomassaraceno.org
One of the first projects was the Flying Garden/Air-Port-City, 2005, at the Center for Contemporary Art in the Italian city of Codroipo; and in 2012, Saraceno built Cloud City on the roof of the New York Metropolitan. Several other Cloud Cities appeared in Milan museums, San Francisco, Hamburg. Sources of inspiration for Saraceno are geodesic domes of the American inventor Richard Fuller (1895−1983), as well as balloons, which, according to the artist, appeared much earlier than we believe — in the pre-Columbian era.
Tomás Saraceno. Installation on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, USA. Photo: Camilo Brau. Photo source: www.studiotomassaraceno.org

Aesthetics of Interaction

In the futuristic city by Tomás Saraceno, new ways of people’s relationships would arise, and communication would be of no less interest to it than architecture and engineering. As a true utopian, he is confident that cooperation and collective action will prevail over individualism.
Staying in a transparent sphere is a different bodily experience, different from the earthly one: it is impossible to remain separate there.
Tomás Saraceno. Stillness In Motion installation, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Francisco, USA. Photo source: www.studiotomassaraceno.org
Any movement on an unstable surface physically affects the other — each step must be taken into account and calculated. Interest in the emerging interpersonal relationships and the indispensable interactivity of his installations brings Saraceno closer to contemporary artists, whose works the French art critic Nicolas Burriot called the «aesthetics of interaction»: human relationships are the starting point of their practices.
Saraceno pays special attention to non-verbal communication between people. One day, he watched a spider instantly reacting to the fly on the other end of the web, and wondered: can people in one motion transmit information at a distance? The search for an answer entailed serious scientific research: the Arachnid Research Laboratory, a laboratory for the study×A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? read more
of arachnids, appeared in his studio. He placed spiders in transparent glass cubes, scanned the web, used nylon threads to reproduce it — and came to a paradoxical conclusion: the universe is arranged as a three-dimensional web, and the «architecture» of the web can become the basis for new cities. Thus, the idea of the In Orbit project arose.
Terrarium at the exhibition, demonstrating the stages of work on the In Orbit installation, K21 Museum of Contemporary Art, Düsseldorf, Germany. Photo: Anna Pashina

In Orbit

Under the glass dome of the K21 Düsseldorf Museum of Contemporary Art, Tomás Saraceno «wove» a web of steel cables of 2500 sq.m. The installation has three levels and five huge spheres filled with air, it is similar to a giant web, and to the surface of another planet, and to a space orbit. Museum visitors can climb inside: walk between the spheres, lie down on the net and watch people below, who seem to be absolutely tiny from 25-meter height.

According to safety rules, no more than 10 people older than 12 years can be there at the same time.
Photo: Anna Pashina
At first, visitor get instructions, put on special sneakers and overalls (issued by the staff) and leave their things in a safe. When there are several people on the web, a vibration occurs — and each participant must plan his movements so that the other does not fall.
Photo source here and below: www.kunstsammlung.de
On the creation of In Orbit, Saraceno worked for three years, in collaboration with engineers, architects and biologists. One of the halls of the museum is occupied by the exposition, which demonstrates the stages of project preparation. There you can also see transparent terrariums with spiders of the Anelosimus genus — these are the so-called social spiders living in colonies and weaving a common web.

Author: Anna Pashina
Cover photo: www.kunstsammlung.de
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