Discussing the Art of Tomás Saraceno with Fritjof Capra

Tomás Saraceno, New York/Cloud Cities, 2012; laser print on adhesive paper; © Tomás Saraceno; photo: courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York Tomás

Tomás Saraceno, New York/Cloud Cities, 2012; laser print on adhesive paper; © Tomás Saraceno; photo: courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York Tomás

It has been another amazing twelve weeks for me as I have joined Fritjof Capra together with people from over thirty countries discussing the web of life, systems thinking and multiple perspectives on systemic solutions on Capra Course, Fritjof’s new on-line course. This brings together people from diverse backgrounds including entrepreneurs, consultants, teachers, academics, scientists, artists and those in the not-for-profit and public sectors to discuss the systems view of life, which by its very nature is multi-disciplinary.

With the course of lectures coming to an end this week, I was able to catch up with Fritjof on Friday, reflecting on all the conversations we have had, and looking forward to the new year. This edition of Capra Course took place during both the US presidential elections and also in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. The systemic nature of our global problems mean that now more than ever we need to search for multi-disciplinary systemic solutions, and this also includes the need to continually search for new perspectives.

In a previous article I have looked at the role artistic consciousness has to play in changing our perceptions of systemic problems. It was therefore really interesting to hear from Fritjof about the new exhibition from Tomás Saraceno which has just launched in San Francisco at the Museum of Modern Art.

Saraceno, Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider’s Web, 2009 (installation view, from 53rd Biennale di Venezia “Fare Mondi”); courtesy the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, Andersen's Contemporary, Copenhagen, Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa, Esther Schipper, Berlin; photo: © Alessandro Coco

Saraceno, Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider’s Web, 2009 (installation view, from 53rd Biennale di Venezia “Fare Mondi”); courtesy the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, Andersen’s Contemporary, Copenhagen, Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa, Esther Schipper, Berlin; photo: © Alessandro Coco

Born in Argentina and trained as an architect and visual artist in Buenos Aires and Frankfurt, Tomás Saraceno is a research-based artist whose work envisions and tests hypothetical solutions that employ aeronautic and structural strategies, drawing from scientific investigations and collaborations in physics, biology, cosmology and engineering. His work has deep sociological motives, with undercurrents of human connection and the pursuit and provocation of speculative futures. For some years Saraceno has been a regular correspondent with Fritjof Capra, whose book The Web of Life: A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter has been a great influence on his thinking.

Tomás Saraceno, Semi social musical instrument SXDF-NB1006-2: built by four Cyrtophora citricola -eight weeks, 2015 (detail), from the series Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions; courtesy the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, Andersen’s Contemporary, Copenhagen, Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa, Esther Schipper, Berlin; photo: © CCA

Tomás Saraceno, Semi social musical instrument SXDF-NB1006-2: built by four Cyrtophora citricola -eight weeks, 2015 (detail), from the series Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions; courtesy the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, Andersen’s Contemporary, Copenhagen, Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa, Esther Schipper, Berlin; photo: © CCA

On December 27th The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) launched the exhibition Tomás Saraceno: Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities, on view at the museum through to May 21, 2017. Organized by the SFMOMA Architecture and Design department, the exhibition includes an immersive site-specific cloudscape installation of suspended tension structures and floating sculptures, as well as explorations of the intricate constructions of spider webs.

Tomás Saraceno, Cloud Cities Thermodynamics of Self-Assembly/005, 2015; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Tomás Saraceno; photo: courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

Tomás Saraceno, Cloud Cities Thermodynamics of Self-Assembly/005, 2015; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Tomás Saraceno; photo: courtesy the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities is part of Saraceno’s larger, long-term project titled Aerocene, the artist’s vision for a future era in which humanity minimizes the impact on the planet’s fossil-fuel resources, and instead resides in collective airborne cities. Describing the exhibition Saraceno said:

Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities is about becoming airborne, not to fly but to float in the air at the speed of solar aerostatics, from cumulonimbus cities to the cosmic web. Aerocene is an invitation to shape a post fossil-fuel epoch, in a cloudscape of interconnected spheres of practices that include open, participatory platforms of knowledge production and distribution; models; data; and sensitivity to the more-than-human world. These airborne cities floating among the clouds (just as Earth floats in the cosmic plane) call for scalable mental, social and environmental ecologies.

The exhibition encourages visitors to wind their way through and below a geometrically complex array of cords and reflective panels, forming a cloud of 10,000 nodes suspended in the air by tension and connected to the gallery walls, floor and ceiling. This site-specific work is inspired by multiple phenomena and structures, including the social construction of spider webs, stellar and atmospheric clouds, bubble and foam geometry and social and neural communication networks.

Tomás Saraceno, 14 billions (working title), 2010 (installation view, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm); commissioned by Bonniers Konsthall; courtesy the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, Andersen’s Contemporary, Copenhagen, Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa, Esther Schipper, Berlin; ©Tomás Saraceno

Tomás Saraceno, 14 billions (working title), 2010 (installation view, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm); commissioned by Bonniers Konsthall; courtesy the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, Andersen’s Contemporary, Copenhagen, Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa, Esther Schipper, Berlin; ©Tomás Saraceno

Intended as a collective sensorial experience, Saraceno’s immersive installation works are captivating spaces that challenge viewers’ relationships to the world. His work resonates with several other great experimental thinkers whose radical work exploded the boundaries of art and architecture in the mid-20th century— from the structural explorations of artists like Gyula Kosice, to the utopian impulses of Buckminster Fuller; from Italo Calvino’s fictional universes to the futuristic urban visions of Archigram in London and the countercultural movement embodied by the multidisciplinary work of Ant Farm in the Bay Area.

Photo: Fritjof Capra

Photo: Fritjof Capra

Having corresponded for many years but never having managed to meet in person, the launch of the exhibition allowed Fritjof to meet Tomás for the first time. The structures are designed to be fully explored by visitors, and Fritjof described how this allows people to contemplate different perspectives on the web of life:

Twentieth century science has seen a dramatic change of paradigms from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network; or rather, as networks within networks. Tomás Saraceno makes these network structures visible in symbolic form in his beautiful, complex, and dynamically balanced installations. Walking around in them, you see floating structures of many scales and densities, all linked together in network fashion, with angles and reflections constantly changing as you move through the installation.

Every work of art allows for multiple interpretations. For me, Saraceno’s installations give us an opportunity to experience, be it ever so briefly, how we are all embedded in the subtle and infinitely complex web of life.

A couple of week’s ago I took part in the Planetary Transformation webinar with Fritjof, and which was hosted by Benjamin Butler from the Emerging Future Institute. In this webinar Fritjof spoke about the way in which he is still optimistic that we can emerge from our current state of crisis:

I think we are in a state of planetary crisis, which I identified as, essentially, a crisis of perception thirty years ago. Since then the crisis has become more acute — just think of global climate change and economic inequality. At the same time there is much greater awareness of the crisis, and there are actually effective solutions to all the major problems of our time, which have been developed and tested all over the world. This is why I am hopeful.

As Fritjof explained, the new understanding of the systems view of life can be seen as a change of paradigms from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it not just as networks but as “networks within networks — biological, ecological and social networks”. Fritjof describes a network as “a particular pattern of links, of relationships”. This means that to understand networks, “we need to learn how to think in terms of relationships, in terms of patterns, in terms of context”.

It is therefore so fantastic to see artists such as Saraceno creating works which can inspire us to change our perceptions and understand at a more intuitive level just how interconnected we all are in relation to our world problems, and life itself.

You can listen to our Planetary Transformation webinar here.

The Spring 2017 edition of Capra Course starts on March 1st with registrations opening on 1st January. To find out more and to watch a short film about it please see the course website: capracourse.net.

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