Saraceno's research has a very precise goal, the creation of flying systems like platforms floating in the sky, formed by habitable cells suspended in the air, that can change shape and join together like clouds. This project, called Air-Port-City, is not a mere experimentation of technological possibilities but seeks to re-examine the freedom of travel between countries, in relation to geopolitical dynamics, making use only of international law and overcoming the political, social, cultural and military restrictions of contemporary society.
Over the years, this utopian vision of a life suspended in the sky has led Saraceno to create a series of experimental structures such as inflatable balloons or modular structures that can interact with natural energies. His research investigates the possibility of colonizing the sky, looking for possible devices for life among the clouds—in a transparent bubble, migrating among the clouds, according to winds and weather, utilizing solar energy.
This project, designed by the artist for Enel's large space MACRO is another step toward the colonization of the sky, developed through an imaginary dialogue with the utopian visions of Yona Friedman and the theories of Richard Buckminster Fuller. Completely dark, the room is invaded by about 600 dodecahedra made with 18 km of the white plastic tubing normally used in electrical systems. The dodecahedron is composed of circles instead of the regular pentagons. This is a first link with the work of Friedman who, as early as the late 1950s, used this geometric system, "Space-Chains," for the structure of his Spatial City.
As a primary element, the circle allows the different cells to be assembled freely, without any hierarchy, like an organic Merzbau, where a cluster of seemingly random elements forms a whole. But while for Friedman the sum of these dodecahedra, and its infinite possibilities, becomes a Proteinic Chain superimposed on the existing landscape, for Saraceno these structures are a set of habitable systems, like clouds of sand moved by the wind: a flying architecture like a new layer within our cities. The electrical tubing refers to the design of a global energy network, based on studies by Buckminster Fuller, that can exploit the energy flow at all times regardless of alternations of day and night or the seasons. For Saraceno, Fuller's network is "a catalyst for new ways to live, travel and communicate." The flying structures of the installation then become active energy systems like nodes in a continuous infrastructure network.
Giving life to this floating universe are five black and white videos projected onto the white filaments of the suspended structures. The images show the extraordinary natural landscapes of the Lencois Maranhenses Park in northern Brazil where sand dunes, like white sheets laying in the sun, change shape and form depending on the wind and where rainwater creates freshwater ponds among the sand dunes. To make these videos in the absence of electricity, the artist used energy created by wind turbines which, when moved by the wind, drive an optical sensor that is used to take pictures. The videos are the results of assembling these shots whose frequency is directly related to the intensity of the wind that provided energy for the system.
In Saraceno's work, different elements from different disciplines and thinking constantly blend; architecture, chemistry, art, biology and the study of new materials. In a meeting with Friedman in his famous house in Paris, Saraceno described his utopia in Domus (No. 936, May 2010): "I like to think of a house or a space that is so light that it can fly and move with the increase in internal temperature, which varies depending on the sun's heat. The temperature defines the relationship that we create with the environment; those who live in it establish the altitude and the ability to move." All aspects of his installations tell us about these cities: from structures to air balloons, from habitable cells to plants and habitable cobwebs. We are faced with the flying cities of science fiction. To describe these worlds, the Argentinean artist speaks of clouds that evaporate into the sky, of gaseous masses that change their state in relation to environmental conditions, habitable systems in a permanent state of transformation.
Assuming that today it is necessary to imagine an alternative way of living on the planet that will not alter environmental balance and imagining that buildings are not the complete antithesis of nature, Saraceno's work attempts to reveal that alternative through the creation of objects, images and installations in anticipation of these possibilities. His installations tell us many things simultaneously and suggest new ways of imaging our life style and conceiving space. They show us the power of our planet's energy, warning us of the fragility of natural balances and of change. In some way, through his work we can measure the chemical behavior of substances in which we are immersed and which we often fail to perceive. "One day we'll have aggregations of habitable clouds servings as the inspiration for an organic architecture that changes according to the wishes of the people and climate change," he writes in Domus (No. 936, May 2010)
This idea of an aerial life becomes in a certain way a metaphor for understanding the fragility of our ecosystem. "The importance lies not in the object itself but in the capacity of art to imagine something about how we live." (Domus No 936) Saraceno invites us to lift our gaze, to observe the immensity of the space around us, to look to the infinite possibilities that heaven can offer. And, like director Andrei Tarkovsky, the rest is up to the fantasy and the imagination of the observer. Matteo Costanzo
[2A + P / A]
25 June — 9 October 2011
Tomás Saraceno: Cloudy Dunes. When Friedman meets Bucky on Air-Port-City