Hidden within many of Tomás Saraceno’s grand visions of cloud cities, climbable structures, and solar balloons, a single thread runs through his fascinating worlds: spiderwebs. “When cosmologists or astro-physicians were trying to explain how the universe formed, the way they were trying to describe it was through this type of cosmic webs and the geometrical analogy was a tridimensional spiderweb,” he explained when we visited his Berlin studio last year. At the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York, Saraceno showcases the culmination of years of research and collaboration with biologists, arachnologists, engineers, and astrophysicists.
To commemorate the new exhibit, Hybrid Solitary … Semi-Social Quintet … on Cosmic Webs …, which features a galaxy of spiderweb sound installations and geometric hanging sculptures, last week the artist discussed his work with Leila W. Kinney, executive director at the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) and Vassar professor Molly Nesbit.
Saraceno explained that the webs take form in his laboratory in the rainforests of Ecuador, where they can find several social spider species, ones that live together in large groups. First he and his team put a solitary spider into a transparent cube where it will spin a web. Then, they replace that spider with a colony of social spiders. As individuals build on top of the original spider’s creation, Saraceno and his team rotate the boxes, inducing disoriented new patterns.
“If you were to touch a spider’s web, it doesn’t all fall apart,” Kinney explained during their conversation. “They can be repaired. They can be built over [like] self-assembling systems which is a very important idea in material science and engineering right now.” She references the work of Marcus Buehler, a civics engineering professor and collaborator of Saraceno’s, who’s currently mapping silk proteins to music. Previously, Buehler created a computer simulation to map the beginnings and endings of the strands of the physical web as well as how they behaved. In Buehler’s lab, Saraceno scanned a black widow spiderweb with lasers, then blew up the 3D model to 16 times its original size for an installation of 8,000 strings and 23,000 individually tied knots called 14 Billions (Working Title), 2010.
At the current show, Saraceno presents Cosmic Jive, a sound installation which renders spiderwebs into musical instruments through the use of ultra low frequencies in order to probe “ideas of collectivity and evolution—on micro and macro levels—in order to examine as-yet untapped potential within our society,” according to the press release. In addition, Space Elevator, an installation currently being created by a live spider, is evolving over the course of the exhibition. Other works, including the transparent foil structures that make up Foam 48B/15p, accompany elaborate models and architectural proposals for longterm projects like Cloud City.
In addition to continuing his large-scale experiments, Saraceno told visitors that he wants to dive deeper into the world of spiders. He’s particularly interested in exploring the phenomenon of ballooning, or “kiting,” a trait which allows spiders to use their silk to “fly” distances, referring to an instance wherein multiple spiders took off at the same time, trailing behind gossamer from their spinnerets that intertwined to form what he called a “magic carpet.”
Among other things, the audience was most curious to know: How do you feed the spider in the show? “We buy live flies in pet shops,” said Saraceno, who’s become something of a spider expert after years of work with them. “They have to be alive, vibrating in a tangle of web, in order for the deaf, blind arachnid to find them,” reminded Nesbit. “If I throw a fly on the web, it would break the artwork, explains Saraceno with a smile. “I bring them really close to [the spider’s] mouth.”
Tomás Saraceno's Hybrid Solitary … Semi-Social Quintet … on Cosmic Webs … is ongoing at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery through May 2, 2015. Click here for more information.