2 minute read

The art of air

Can creativity help us understand the complexity of the tiny bubble we inhabit? Ashley Hay talks to artist Tomás Saraceno about visualising our atmosphere, spiders’ cosmic connections, the art of science –and the science of art.

Hanging at the heart of Tomás Saraceno’s “Oceans of Air” exhibition in Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) are eight large glass vivaria, suspended and spotlit in one room’s darkened space. Their individual pools of golden light reveal collaborative networks of spiders’ webs in each – one created by a solo Nephila senegalensis, an ensemble of Cyrtophora citricola and two Araneus diadematus; another by a combination of two N. senegalensis, one Eratigena atrica, one Parasteatoda tepidariorium and a single Uloborus walckenaerius. Spiders and webs – or spider/webs, as Saraceno calls them, to underline the unity of creature and creation involved here – are central not only to the Argentinian artist’s work, but also to his worldview, both artistic and scientific.

In Oceans of Air, these silken sculptures are presented as just some of the work the museum’s visitors can gaze at, think into, and admire. But this artistic evocation sits alongside Saraceno’s involvement as a contributing author for the 2021 PNAS paper – “In situ three-dimensional spider web construction and mechanics” – as part of a research team led by the Laboratory for Atomic and Molecular Mechanics at MIT.

Science and art; art and science. Saraceno is less interested in divisions between these two spaces. For him, “with the world in crisis as it is, science is as much the cause – the problem – as it is also the possibility of the solution.” What he hopes is that science can be rearticulated through “a great tradition called ‘TEK’ – traditional ecological knowledge – which might imply other forms of knowledge that have been neglected, rejected, refused as indigenous knowledge.”

These phrases underpin Saraceno’s body of work – the projects he’s been involved with for more than two decades around the world, and which are in Australia both at MONA, and in a new work, “Drift: A cosmic web of thermodynamic rhythms”, commissioned by the QAGOMA show Air, in Brisbane.

For the full story on how Tomás Saraceno’s art seeks to rearrange our relationship with air, head below to Cosmos 98 | Beyond the Palaeo