by Vladimir BelogolovskyMar 10, 2022
"Architecture is not the structure itself. It is the construction of poetry."
- Tomás Saraceno
For Argentinian artist and trained architect Tomás Saraceno, a definitive memory of his childhood was when he used to climb up to the attic room in his home for a special rendezvous. His house was a very old property which consisted of many rooms that were left out of use for years. Inside the attic, which was one such desolated corner of the home, he would open the windows only to illuminate the space and its fascinating spider web constructions. The idea of how spider webs proliferate in a room and when the sun comes inside and lets in floating dust particles, he always felt a strange presence that tried to tell him secrets of the universe.
Saraceno’s artistic practice finds a recurring theme in forms inspired from spider webs. His creations, which include immersive installations and floating sculptures, capture the glorious architecture of these webs – complex and entangled - through which the Berlin-based artist proposes new ways of inhabiting and sensing the environment. One of Saraceno's works titled Spider/Web, which was hosted at The Shed in New York, has previously been the subject of an intriguing conversation between our columnist Vladimir Belogolovsky and the artist himself. The dialogue traverses the role of phobias, the architectural limits within Saraceno's artistic practice, and a deliberation on why he thinks that spiders should be recognised as artists.
Now one of his works titled Cloud Cities Barcelona has taken over the top floor observatory of the 38-storey skyscraper Torre Glòries in the Spanish city. The installation features a web of six kilometres of tensioned cables connected by 5000 nodes. Adding a little clarity to the structure’s looming complexity is a series of 130 cloud spaces designed as habitation pods that are interspersed in the constellation. Suspended at a height of over 130 metres in the tower, the installation, according to Saraceno, challenges the verticality of the observatory’s distant gaze through alternative geometries of togetherness.
The 130 clouds are weaved along an array of convoluted paths that visitors traverse before taking their favourite spot in the air. Stationed at a height ranging between four to 10 metres, "the participants can open to a novel sensory experience that converts this observatory into a suspended realm from which to look inwards and outwards, to gather and dialogue, immersed in the multiplicity of worlds made manifest in the changing shapes of passing clouds," states the artist.
With Cloud Cities, Saraceno envisioned new ways of interaction with the environment and a solitary respite from the world we inhabit today. Visitors seated in a cloud can choose from a rotating selection of books or communicate with people in other clouds to create what Saraceno describes as an alternative constellation of the urban public sphere.
Speaking of the significance of the cloud-like form of the installation, the artist shares, "For millennia, humans have looked to the clouds and the behaviours of plants and animals to predict collective futures, finding messages hidden in their changing shapes and habits. Yet, in the context of the Capitalocene, the knowledge of entire ecosystems is being threatened and clouds are disappearing, replaced by toxic plumes of pollution and digital misinformation.” With Cloud Cities, Saraceno proposes a poignant inquiry: "Can an observatory in the 21st century, with its distant gaze, sense within and imagine something other than clouds in the shape of castles in the sky?”
Connecting back to his fascination for the meticulously fragile worlds spiders inhabit, Saraceno relates the porous cloudscapes to the droplets of water that condense along the strands of a spider’s web. A product of his long term research, Cloud Cities Barcelona and the conversation that it triggers presents new avenues to explore speculative architectures, the environmental crisis, and the entangled web of life.
Interestingly, the installation much like all other immersive works by the artist, is an exercise in the art of noticing things. To look at, say a spider web intently for a few minutes, its gentle movements and the consequent vibrations of the web, often the encounter becomes so personal especially about this control that you have on what you allow yourself to see and ignore. Experiencing any of Saraceno’s works ensues a similar experience. And with Cloud Cities Barcelona, he explores a world where there is no sense of up or down, inside or outside, and where everything is just floating. Would you want to live in this world or does the idea sounds too far-fetched?