Thursday, June 08, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 18, 1444 H
clear sky
36°C / 36°C

Tomás Saraceno: Following the Airborne Lives of Spiders

No Image

The Shed has gone all out for the multitasking Tomás Saraceno — a visionary Argentine artist and environmentalist celebrity who ranks among the world’s greatest spider-whisperers — by giving him the run of three of its four public spaces, or about 28,000 square feet. And Saraceno seems to have returned the favor, mounting a revelatory if high-minded survey of his work in makeshift galleries, as well as two inspiring installations elsewhere in the building. The totality is titled “Tomás Saraceno: Particular Matter(s).”

The most ambitious of these is a Shed commission that may leave you feeling, literally, weak in the knees. “Free the Air: How to Hear the Universe in a Spider/Web” is, in essence, the piece de resistance of this entire undertaking. More later.

The smaller installation, “Museo Aero Solar,” on view in a third large space, centers on an enormous sphere that resembles a tent and is, in fact, a grounded balloon made of plastic grocery bags — it looks fantastic, like a colorful, translucent crazy quilt, and visitors can enter it and walk around. It is one of the projects of the Aerocene Foundation, a crowdsourced global group led by Saraceno and dedicated to developing fuel-free flying — powered only by the movements of the wind and sun.

The exhibition and installations together form something like the full Saraceno: part education; part collaboration; part out-of-body experience, with various kinds of beauty threaded throughout. “Particular Matter(s)” is tagged the largest presentation of the artist’s work in the United States. The entirety has been organized by Emma Enderby, The Shed’s curator-at-large, with Alessandra Gómez and Adeze Wilford, its assistant curators. The Shed's display is supplemented in useful ways by Saraceno’s show at his longtime representative, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in Chelsea.

Saraceno is not so much an artist as a polymath on a mission, and his efforts often seem more like science than art. The Shed’s various displays reflect, to varying degrees, his activities as arachnophile, artist, architect, activist, teacher, musician, environmentalist and social justice warrior for clean air. His overarching goal might be summed up simply as getting humans to live right. This means getting them to understand that they are not the top of a pyramid of power in what is called the Anthropocene era, but exist on a horizontal plane with all nonhumans, to which they should be sensitized and from which they have plenty to learn. And they exist in what Saraceno prefers to call the Aerocene era in which interspecies-cooperation and clean air are required.

That said, one might ask how someone with the acute environmental consciousness of Saraceno allows his work to be shown at The Shed. Granted, the building, or at least its exterior, may be the best part of the civic catastrophe and failure of will that is Hudson Yards, perhaps the worst of this city’s many recent self-inflicted architectural wounds.

Saraceno’s quest has been inspired by spiders and the ingenious basis of their airborne lifestyle — the multifunctional webs that provide shelter, protection, food and, when vibrated, a means of communication. Spider webs also served as models for levitating sculptures. Consisting of translucent webs and orbs these have become Saraceno’s best-known work, of which “Free the Air” is the latest example.

The exhibition portion of “Particular Matter(s)” begins with the quiet spectacle of his collaborations with spiders: in a darkened gallery, seven plexiglass boxes each holding several different connected webs, all shimmering white. Each web has been built by a different species of spider on a sturdy wire frame in Saraceno’s studio, where he monitors their progress, switching out one species and introducing another as he sees fit. Especially in the dark, these pale, ghostly crystalline structures make you appreciate how much we already owe spiders, since their webs provided early humans with precedents for architecture and textiles.

To the amateur eye, the webs of the different species here generally divide into grids, often in fanlike expanses, pillowy canopies and crazed masses of strands that can resemble tossed pickup sticks suspended in air. The combinations are stunning, suggestive of modern architecture and — because of the abrupt shifts in pattern and rhythm — brushstrokes or music. Information about the spiders that worked in each vitrine (how many members of which species for how long) is found, unfortunately, only on a label outside the gallery; it should be available on a handout.

From here, the theme shifts to air pollution, which endangers spiders and humans alike, especially the infinitesimal, breathable grains of carbon called particulate matter. In one nook, you’ll see “Arachnomancy,” a deck of tarot cards printed with ink made from particulate matter that pays tribute to the spider diviners of Cameroon.--NYT

arrow up
home icon