How to promote a holistic approach without falling into a new-agey, simplistic ethos seems to be one of the largest challenges for those who acknowledge the unsectarian nature of knowledge and the borderless fields of disciplines.
Such aspiration, easier said than done, was fulfilled in the informal conversation between artist Tomás Saraceno, art historian Molly Nesbit, sociologist and thinker Bruno Latour, and architecture and design researcher Joseph Grima, moderated by HangarBicocca curator Andrea Lissoni. Together, these experts shared their visions on Tomás Saraceno's work On Space Time Foam, currently on display at the institution.
Another challenge for the encounter lied on the inner nature of the artwork created by the Argentinian artist: the inflatable structure, made of three layers of thin plastic suspended high above the ground, into which visitors are invited to walk in — or better, crawl —, became so popular in its appeal to an straightforward physical experience, and in offering a real vision of an impossibility that it seemed to forgo any attempt of conceptualization or analysis.
Ultimately, the challenge was how the different speakers would address the upmost simplicity and blatancy that characterizes Saraceno's installation, through a pertinent examination that would not overcharge the work with unnecessary analytical weight.
The outcome of the encounter turned out to be similar to Saraceno's artwork, as the individual contributes produced distinct layers of thought and knowledge that affected and related to each other in real time, in the process of their enunciation.
The first to intervene was Molly Nesbit, who took the occasion to reflect about the (invisible) configuration of the creative act and about the intentions and wishes that never are expressed in an artwork. Drawing a parallel with that "continuous, chronicle thinker that was Marcel Duchamp", Nesbit sustained that, likewise, Saraceno struggles to produce works that go beyond the boundaries of what we know, and by doing so he enables the appearance of ideas in different states without there being an alteration of their inner properties.
If an artwork touches us — argued Nesbit — it is likely to be because it contains an idea that is touching us as well. In fact, artworks may change the states of ideas without altering their nature, and it is us — the audience — who can take them forward.
It was also a matter of an abstract arrangement and location, and the meaning of a creative space, that informed Bruno Latour's discourse. The sociologist applied, in a simplified way, some of his central concepts to the analysis of Saraceno's work, namely the actor-network theory — an overview of how people, ideas and technologies interact to form coherent elements —, by defining a habitat as a shapeless entity that possesses a potential inhabitable space in which nature and society are undistinguishable, and by offering an overall re-evaluation of man's relation with the past, in particular with modernism.
Latour's discourse often winked at the ideas of Peter Sloterdijk, in particular when reflecting about the uncertainty that characterizes the relation that individuals have with environments, and the condition of living within (but also due to) a certain enveloping space, for the better or worse.
For Latour, the experience of being inside Saraceno's work is not pleasant or reassuring. Even if it can be entertaining and alluring, it produces terrible, tragic feelings, more real and scary than the dramatic vision of Anselm Kiefer's Seven Heavenly Palaces, permanently installed in the main nave of the HangarBicocca.
For Latour, Kiefer's monumental towers are a paradigm of the 20th century art that tries to operate a critical revision of the past, dealing with the concepts of history, ruins and memory. Instead, Latour sustained that Saraceno's work naively points toward a future, but not necessarily one that we look forward to.
Joseph Grima's contribute weaved a double thread: on the one hand, he traced a brief genealogy of Saraceno's practice, connecting On Space Time Foam to some of the artist's previous pieces and set one's sights onto the incredible future possibilities of his work. On the other hand, Grima interlaced Nesbit and Latour's thoughts in an analysis that contemplated a critique of modern urbanism and architecture, while reflecting on the concrete achievements of the installation at HangarBicocca.
The Domus editor in chief started by describing On Space Time Foam as a landscape, yet a purely artificial one, which provided an accessible envisioning of the constitution of the Anthropocene.
Grima recalled Saraceno's roots on utopic architecture, arguing that On Space Time Foam functions like a real test site, not only because it encourages the experimentation of bodily, social and spatial relations, but also because it departs from a project that, despite sharing the problems and researches of different disciplinary fields, went beyond the illustration of an experiment, actually achieving its aims and taking us all to the clouds, in a cloud.
The encounter was followed by a Q&A session with the artist, mainly focused on practical details about the preparation and installation of the installation, followed by the announcement that On Space Time Foam will extend its run at HangarBicocca through 17 February 2013. Filipa Ramos