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Investigating the entangled world we live in : Tomas Saraceno asks big questions, with the help of spiders

Nov 18,2019
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Tomas Saraceno visited Korea last month for the opening of his solo exhibition at Gallery Hyundai, central Seoul, left. The artist is known for his multidisciplinary work, especially using spider webs, such as for his work “Arachno Concert With Arachne (Nephila Senegalensis), Cosmic Dust (Porus Chondrite) and the Breathing Ensemble” (2016), right. [YOON SO-YEON, GALLERY HYUNDAI]
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“Cloud Cities” and “Cloud Constellation” (2019) begin the exhibition at the basement level of the gallery. [GALLERY HYUNDAI]
As a child, Argentinian artist Tomas Saraceno looked at the window in the attic one day and saw little particles of dust shine in the light. Rather than the usual reaction expected from a child ? which would have been to think that the house hasn’t been cleaned properly or not notice it at all - it was the first time for young Saraceno to “experience the universe” around him. It was also the beginning of a thought that would help him become one of the most recognized artists of our time.

For Saraceno, seeing the dust particles was evidence of the non-human existence in his house, and it led him to two ideas. One: What if one day human beings got to live in the sky? And two: Are we truly living in a way that ensures the coexistence between us, the other living things and ultimately the earth?

Even though his works are visually interesting to viewers even without this prior knowledge, deeper research into his ideals reveals a whole new dimension of thought when taking in the works on display at Saraceno’s solo exhibition on display at Gallery Hyundai in central Seoul, until Dec. 8. Understanding how architecture, environmentalism, astronomy, thermo-dynamism, life science and the other research went into his works gives depth to his art, and leaves visitors thinking about their ways of life.

“We live in an entangled world,” Saraceno told local press when he visited Korea for the opening of the exhibition in October.

“Things are connected in ways that we don’t really realize at first sight. So I like to have layers in my work. You think you don’t know, but it depends on the time that you allow yourself to take on something. It’s about how much you allow yourself to see the things you don’t see at first, to figure out the layering of things.”

What he means by layering - for instance with installations “Cloud Cities” and “Cloud Constellation” both created this year and displayed at the basement level of the gallery - is that, at first, viewers see three-dimensional structures hanging in the middle of the room by wires, while in the background, the walls are covered with images of a future city. The structures seem like magnified versions of the dust particles that Saraceno saw as a child, but they are also a model of future accommodations for humans, when technology will allow us to journey into a new realm.

“It started from the question, ‘What if one day we get to live in the sky?’” he said.

“Right now, we live on the ground using up our resources and ruining our environment with fossil fuels. But who knows? I dream of different forms of realities, and I’m proposing them to the people, presenting what it would be like being in the air. Right now, 1.3 million people are travelling in the sky at every moment, but that’s only allowed to privileged people. But if technology allows us, we could live in the sky, and this is my thought experiment and a model of that.”

His thoughts on ways of life similarly continues with his installation “Thermodynamic Imaginary” (2018) on the first floor, playing more with light and the idea of how the longer you look, the more you see. Then, his perspective widens to not only humans, but also to the small creatures that inhabit the earth - especially spiders.

In a dark room on the second floor of the gallery is a work titled “Arachno Concert With Arachne (Nephila Senegalensis), Cosmic Dust (Porus Chondrite) and the Breathing Ensemble” (2016) - the highlight of the exhibit. At first, when visitors step into the room, all they see is a spider web hanging and shining in the light. Be careful though, because there’s an actual spider living there.

What’s special about the web is the way Saraceno “collaborates” with the spiders to create the work ? or in his words, “the spiders collaborate with me.” After researching the different types of webs each species of spider creates for its home, Saraceno has one spider create a web, removes it, then puts another spider on it to continue the housing structure in its own way. Afterwards, he removes that spider and has another one come and finish it off. The different characteristic of each species is visible in the different parts of the web.

“For me, spiders are very beautiful […] They know how to live on this earth. Maybe they can teach us something,” Saraceno said.

When your eyes adjust to the darkness and the quiet of the room, two more layers of the exhibit open up. A camera senses the particles of dust that shine in front of the light, projects it onto the wall and also plays different musical notes by translating the movement of the particles. The goal is “to blind yourself like spiders to see the different modes of life, and talk to other species in a new language,” according to the artist.

“We live in a crisis of knowledge. There are so many things on the internet, and it’s time that we start being uncomfortable with our knowledge and form an alliance with other disciplines. We need to doubt our knowledge to reformulate our thoughts. I’m not saying we should feel guilty, but to notice the things around us,” he said.

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]