Who: Tomas Saraceno
Where: Japan, USA, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, England, Brazil
When: 1998 – Present (2008)
Why: Tomás Saraceno looks to the sky and sees possibilities for rethinking how we live in relation to one another—for reshaping notions about nationality and property, and revising our ideas about the fixity of the built environment and the organization of cities. Air-Port-City, Saraceno’s ongoing project, envisions networks of habitable platforms that float in the air. The freedom of their airborne location allows for sections of living space to join together like clouds, creating aerial cities in constant physical transformation. As he explains, “Like continental drift at the beginning of the world, the new cities will search for their positions in the air in order to find their place in the universe . . . [this structure is] capable of imagining more elastic and dynamic border rules (political, geographical, etc.) for a new space/cyberspace.”
Saraceno’s suspended environments give physical form to this conceptual framework, and anticipate at small scale the reality of his large-scale vision. Other works such as the photographic series Cumulus use the natural environment to poetically suggest this skyscape of the future. Solar de Uyuni in the Bolivian Andes, where these images were shot, is the largest salt lake in the world, and its glassy surface reflects the sky, producing the illusion of a plane of existence suspended among the clouds. But Saraceno’s work transcends quixotic ambition by applying practical principles from engineering, physics, chemistry, aeronautics, and architecture to experiment and model logistical solutions for airborne habitation. In periodic collaboration with the Buckminster Fuller Virtual Institute he has realized the largest solar-powered geodesic balloon ever built. He has also worked with a new material called Aerogel, a sponge-like insulating substance developed for use in the aerospace industry. Its incredibly light weight (only three times that of air itself), coupled with its strong structural properties, affords a host of possibilities for future construction and engineering of airborne vehicles.
Like visionary architects of the past (Buckminster Fuller and Archigram, among others), Saraceno intends to reshape social space and human behavior as much as physical space through his futuristic speculation. Traveling on passive energy collected from the wind and sun, his mile-long geodesic balloon foregrounds ecological sustainability, and does not rely on impositions upon or obliterations of the natural landscape to exist. His Flying Garden works imagine parallel agricultural modules, at present housing species of Spanish moss that receive necessary nutrition from the atmosphere—they are “air-sufficient,” an apt metaphor for the human self-sufficiency that his project hopes to engender. The operative concept at the heart of Air-Port-City is one of dynamic balance, with an idea of “cities and civilizations encouraging a continuous mobility” that supercedes traditional notions of earthbound national, racial, and social boundaries between people. In their permanent nomadism, these modules for living generate alternate structures of social organization, with implications for shifts in economic and political structures as well. “Utopia exists until it is created . . . the idea of utopia is in constant mutation and changes according to the era,” and Saraceno’s material, formal, and conceptual investigations advance his proposition for a possible untethered future in the sky.
Saraceno’s MATRIX exhibition, his first solo museum exhibition in the United States, will extend outside the MATRIX Gallery, making use of the Berkeley Art Museum’s unique architecture with a new suspended sculpture for the museum’s entrance atrium.
Saraceno’s work has been featured in solo presentations at Towada Art Center, Japan; Centre d’Art Santa Monica, Barcelona; Barbican Art Gallery, London; and Portikus, Frankfurt. He has participated in exhibitions at venues such as the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Lyon Biennial; Sharjah Biennial 8, United Arab Emirates; Büro Friedrich, Berlin; de Appel, Amsterdam; São Paulo Bienal; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Museum Boijmans van Bueningen; Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art; 50th Biennale di Venezia; and Kunstverein, Frankfurt. Saraceno studied architecture at the Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires, then continued postgraduate studies in art and architecture at Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes Ernesto de la Carcova, Buenos Aires, and Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Kunst, Frankfurt.