Tomàs Saraceno at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York

by Sam Jablon

August 2012

Tomàs Saraceno, whose work spans a cross-disciplinary practice that includes sculpture, installation, architecture, biology and astrophysics is showing Cloud City on the Metropolitan Museum’s rooftop, and concurrently at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York City, an exhibition titled Air-Port-City/Cloud Cities. Based on the artist’s interdisciplinary practice, these two exhibits propose models for a floating city that offers mobility, a constant redefining and blurring of boundaries and a structure that seeks to challenge physical and cultural restrictions.

The work questions gravity to build cities that adapt and fly. An aspect understanding of the installations Saraceno created is contingent on viewer participation. The viewer has to navigate the exhibition as the gallery has been transformed into a web of ropes and suspended structures that must be traversed.  The installations call for active and engaged viewer participation, requiring that the viewer interact with the work by walking or climbing through cords that create the installation; it is almost impossible not to bump into or trip over some element of the exhibition. The crisscrossing cords create webs based on a specific understanding of the structure of the universe. The viewer’s encounter with the space causes a chain reaction of reverberations that fundamentally alters the dynamics of the work.

The web is accompanied by a biosphere with a fourteen-sided exterior created from laminated solar panels. The panels absorb energy during the day to power a small interior light at night. In the back of the gallery there is a sculpture created from Plexiglas sheets, clamps and an air pump that creates a latticework of bubbles that fills the space of the Plexiglas. The bubbles morph and travel upwards through the sculpture creating a transitional movement. According to the gallery’s press release the installation neighboring this sculpture, “80SW Iridescent/Flying Garden/Air-Port-City, both formally and thematically references the simulated bubbles through its eighty transparent pillows that cluster to form a single inflated globe enveloped by black netting.” The two pieces were conceived individually but are best understood in relationship to each other as a network of interconnectivity.

Cloud City on the Metropolitan Museum’s rooftop is a stable structure that invites people to climb through it. The exhibition almost lurches off the museum; the viewer walks over clear Plexiglas and looks down on the people looking up, or is slightly disoriented by walls made of reflective steel that mirror the structure of the building, the sky, as well as the individuals passing through the space. Saraceno creates a structure that is serious and playful. While it looks towards the possibilities of the future, it also recalls a playground from childhood. The act of climbing through Cloud City is a discombobulating experience; it feels similar to a hall of mirrors, and the viewer is momentarily displaced. The polished steel reflects the ground and sky, allowing one to imagine for a moment that they are floating in a cloud.

Throughout all of Saraceno’s work there seems to be the recurring theme of humankind transcending and annulling the force of gravity. There exists here a belief that art and technology in harmony—and with the right amount of innovation—can create a network of sustainable cities, unlike any that have been seen before.

Tomás Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City
15 May–4 November, 2012
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York