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The web we weave

Time:2017-09-07   Source:China Daily Asia

Eclipse of the Aerocene Explorer, a performance in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia in 2016 [Photo provided to China Daily]

A large space in a three-storey red-brick building, located in southeast Berlin near the river Spree, is home to nearly 100 spiders. Each of them comfortably rests in its own tiny framed cube – including some that live underwater in small tanks. They work hard as they weave their webs in various shapes and forms. But they're not intended to catch bugs for food; rather, they're to produce artworks that question the way humans live.

Welcome to the "spider lab" inside the studio of Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno, who's renowned for taking inspiration from spiders and their habitat in creating unique artworks. His works allow audiences to reflect on the environment and the possibility of finding a sustainable way of living in and beyond our planet, where scientists have recently warned that humans only have another 30 years to take effective action in saving ourselves from the "sixth mass extinction".

"We [humans] are small in relation to other species living on Planet Earth, but we are part of this cosmic web – something that is bigger than our planet," says Saraceno during our meeting in his Berlin studio. "The idea of these complex spiderwebs helps us understand that we are part of this cosmic web." That philosophy is at the heart of Saraceno's art practices, which involve ongoing research that draws from the natural sciences, astrophysics and engineering. He describes himself as an artist who "lives and works in and beyond Planet Earth" in his biography – and he's not exaggerating.

Our Interplanetary Bodies at the Asia Culture Center, 2017 [Photo provided to China Daily]

Born in Argentina in 1973, Saraceno was trained in architecture before he became an artist. His knowledge in that area, compounded by his passion for the origins of the cosmos and the structure of space-time, has given birth to artworks that are one of a kind, in collaboration with some of the world's most famous scientific institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Since 2008, Saraceno has been researching spiders and their behaviour in weaving their habitats in his "spider lab". He was the first in the world to scan, reconstruct and reimagine spiderwebs, and owns a collection of the only three-dimensional renditions of these unique woven spatial habitats.

This year, Saraceno has taken his work on spiderwebs further with a new large-scale work titled Cosmic Dust Installation, featured in his first solo exhibition in South Korea, Our Interplanetary Bodies, which is now showing at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju until March 25, 2018.

Rooftop with Water, Berlin, 2015 [Photo provided to China Daily]

The artist says the work is a choreography of spiders' dances on their webs, the movement of the dust and their interaction with humans. "It's a music concert between the dust, the spiders and our breath," he says, with audible excitement.

The installation contains a large installation of spiderwebs produced by the Nephila genus, more commonly known as golden silk orb-weavers. According to Saraceno, these are "social spiders" – meaning they build new structures on top of existing webs, rather than destroying them. "It's like me going to your house," he explains. "This is built by different spiders with different degrees of social ability. They collaborate to build these webs."

Saraceno says that during the exhibition, the spider in her habitat and the sound of her movement is amplified through a microphone, which generates vibration of the dust. Audiences can listen to the sounds of the spider and admire the movement of the dust projected on a large wall. "You can hear a cosmic concert," he says. 

Tomás Saraceno introduces his Aerocene project at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju, South Korea [Photo provided to China Daily]

Can humans actually learn how to live like spiders? Saraceno tried to answer this question with his Cloud Cities series, which is a concept of a modular city floating above the clouds. One of the works, On the Roof: Cloud City, was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; currently, the large-scale interactive installation In Orbit, a net structure containing five air-filled spheres suspended some 25 metres above the ground, allowing people to climb on them like spiders, is on long-term display at the K21 in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Along the lines of Cloud Cities are his famous floating sculptures of the Aerocene project. Saraceno says that these sculptures are propelled by sunlight, which are prototypes for the way humans can travel in the future – without burning fossil fuels or any other forms of energy that damage the earth. Nine gigantic spherical sculptures have been brought to Asia for Our Interplanetary Bodies.

"What I like about Aerocene is that it's a choreography of movement," explains the artist. "We get the heat from the sun and I speculate about the idea of being able to travel around the world with this heat. In future, it's not about burning anymore."