Tomás Saraceno: Cloud Cities

A giant installation that occupies the main space of the Hamburger Bahnhof is as experiential as it is spectacular.

The era of the blockbuster exhibition was inaugurated in 1972 with The Treasures of Tutankhamun, first shown in London at the British Museum, later at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show drew in huge crowds and created a trend, ranging from the good old Impressionist exhibition—like the record breaking Gauguin show at Tate, or Claude Monet at the Royal academy—to the feel-good installations of Olafur Eliasson, Wolfgang Laib or Anish Kapoor, among other artists whose careers are the product of this particular ecology. In Berlin, The Hamburger Bahnhof has also been trying its hand at the crowd pleaser, namely with Carsten Höller's Soma; The Rape of the Sabine Women by Eve Sussman & The Rufus Corporation; or Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller's The Murder of Crows. Which brings us to the current show, Cloud Cities by Tomás Saraceno.

Cloud Cities —a giant installation, which occupies the main exhibition hall—is built for effect. A filigree of flying spheres caught in a maze of cobwebs, the show is reminiscent of both Buckminster Fuller's domes and Alex Raymond's hanging gardens. Some spheres harbor plants, some are grouped together into Weaire–Phelan structures, and others stand alone, big enough for the visitor to enter.
Tomás Saraceno, <i>Cloud Cities,</i> 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Tomás Saraceno.
Tomás Saraceno, Cloud Cities, 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Tomás Saraceno.
Drawing its visual strength from the polarity between the airborne bubbles and the dark, dystopian, net that ensnares them, the installation blurs the distinction between the geometrical and the organic. The same pattern is reproduced in all levels of the structure, from its micro to its macro components, forming what one can call a neo-platonic cosmic schema. Saraceno often works with self-similarity, inasmuch as with recursive or iterative systems, as one can see from projects such as Galaxies forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spider's web (2009) exhibited at the Venice Biennale, or 14 Billion (2010), displayed at Stockholm's Bonniers Konsthall gallery, which exponentially augments a common black widow's web into a monstrous mesh. Cloud Cities lacks the pathos of the former though. The logic that underpins spectacular constructs is the logic of spectacle nonetheless, and the exhibitions aesthetics dovetails with a desire for attendance.
Tomás Saraceno, <i>Cloud Cities,</i> 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Jens Ziehe.
Tomás Saraceno, Cloud Cities, 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Jens Ziehe.
Saraceno, however, stresses that his work must be experienced rather than just looked at. Upon entering the upper layer of these wobbly domes, the visitors—gripped by awe—suddenly realize how precarious the construction is, and become aware of the impact their every movement has upon the structure and, in consequence, upon every other visitor. Evoking Humberto Maturana's autopoiesis, Saraceno tells us how he sees the individual and the environment as a dialectical pair, and his own work as a cautionary tale, aimed at raising awareness about the inescapable reflexivity of living systems. The artist also sees his most recent installation against the background of his former work, in which concerns with mobility; the life cycles of different materials; and discovering new use values, are recurring themes.
The same pattern is reproduced in all levels of the structure, from its micro to its macro components, forming what one can call a neo-platonic cosmic schema. Saraceno often works with self-similarity...
Tomás Saraceno, <i>Cloud Cities,</i> 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Tomás Saraceno.
Tomás Saraceno, Cloud Cities, 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Tomás Saraceno.
For Museum Aero Solar (2007), for instance, Saraceno had participants gluing supermarket plastic bags together into a huge solar-heated balloon. The artist rejoices in recounting the story of how the Lidl supermarket logo recalled a Columbian man of a beloved record label: Saraceno sees a creative potential in the destabilization of meaning. When inquired about whether he finds political implications in his work Saraceno comments on the stifling nature of comfort, and explains that he found it mightily difficult to commission the spheres, since no company was willing to take on the risky endeavor for such meager pay. Yet the artist embraces every project's up-hill struggle as part of his artistic advancement, and tells us that 'life is a long process to unlearn what we have learnt'. Or, as the exhibition's curator put it, Tomás Saraceno 'realizes a feasible utopia', the premise of which is experimentation.
Ana Teixeira Pinto
Tomás Saraceno, <i>Cloud Cities,</i> 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Jens Ziehe.
Tomás Saraceno, Cloud Cities, 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Jens Ziehe.
Tomás Saraceno, <i>Cloud Cities,</i> 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Jens Ziehe.
Tomás Saraceno, Cloud Cities, 2011. View of the installation at Hamburger Bahnhof. Photo Jens Ziehe.
Tomás Saraceno, <i>Cloud Cities,</i> 2011. Design sketch for installation at the Hamburger Bahnhof. Courtesy Tomás Saraceno.
Tomás Saraceno, Cloud Cities, 2011. Design sketch for installation at the Hamburger Bahnhof. Courtesy Tomás Saraceno.
Tomás Saraceno, <i>Cloud Cities,</i> 2011. Design sketch. Courtesy Tomás Saraceno.
Tomás Saraceno, Cloud Cities, 2011. Design sketch. Courtesy Tomás Saraceno.

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