As much a visionary as he is an artist, Tomas Saraceno, a visionary artist, clearly follows in the footsteps of such innovators as Buckminster Fuller, Paolo Soleri, and others whose aesthetic brilliance parallels their deep desire to sustain humanity on this planet. The influence of his friend, the great Olafur Eliasson, for whom he briefly worked as a studio assistant, is obvious. But Saraceno goes beyond flexing the muscles of his considerable technical flair to invent designs that are or can be implemented as part of his Aerocene project, started in 2015, the stated goal of which “proposes a new epoch, one of atmospherical [sic] and ecological consciousness, where we together earn how to float and live in the air, and to achieve an ethical collaboration with the environment.”
Saraceno’s other-worldly green designs are not just scientifically elegant, they are visually beautiful, marvels of luminosity, air, and equilibrium, ranging from hanging gyroscopic sculptures to Calder-influenced mobiles to flying sculptures that can carry people. Entering the ground floor of the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery is akin to entering a minimalist planetarium. A pair of giant semi-silver mylar orbs sits/levitates on the floor. These globes, (Aerocene Constellation, 3/2, 2018) were designed to be launched into the air as monitoring instruments to collect the earth’s ambient low-frequency sound (infrasound.) They are also stunning objects.
The duo of orbs is surrounded by about half-a-dozen mobiles, including Calder Upside down (2018), comprised of hand-blown glass spheres, and Zonal Harmonic + RAY, (2017) made of metal polyester rope, glue and fishing line, which references both gyroscopes and the solar system. There is also a distilled spin-off piece which combines the gyroscopic carbon fiber with a crystal sphere, Ray 8.3 (2017). The mobiles are lit to accentuate their mesmerizing shadows.
In the backroom of the gallery is a mini-miracle, Sounding the Air, (2017). Saraceno wisely takes his cues directly from nature, and here he was inspired by the “ballooning” act performed by one species of spiders, which releases threads of web silk into the air like parachute strings, to create an astonishing form of wind-driven transport that can carry the spiders vast distances. This feat is enabled by their extremely sensitive reading of the ambient air’s thermal currents. Saraceno, who has employed actual cobwebs to great effect in other works, documents this phenomenon by shining a light on the sea-like motion of the spider silk strung between carbon rods, which is monitored by video and audio equipment, in essence making the air currents both visible and aural, so that we, like the spiders, can track them.
In the upstairs gallery, there is another version of Calder Upside Down, (2017) and a more elaborate gyroscopic hanging sculpture, Zonal Harmonic 2N 150/12. There is also a 2018 series of ethereal glass bubbles entitled Aeolus—several hanging, others stationary—resembling models of atoms. But the showstopper of the second-floor space is in the Project Room, where two videos of Saraceno’s futuristic works-in-action run in a continuous loop.
The first, Diving into the Ocean of Air, documents the flight of eight Aerocene Explorers over a notorious lithium site in Salinas Grandes Salt Lake in Juyjuy, Argentina. The flock of black rectangular balloons, (each designed to fit in a backpack), serenely floats in slow motion over the arid white landscape, empty but for the tiny figures of the flight team. Their languid migration looks like a surreal synthesis of Warhol’s mylar pillows and images from Hitchcock’s film The Birds, creating an indelible and portentous vision.
In the second video, Aerocene, launches at White Sands, NM, shot on November 8, 2015, a translucent balloon, flying solely on wind and solar power, was released above White Sands, New Mexico, the site of the first atomic bomb test. Seven people were individually harnessed Icarus-like, to the balloon, (fortunately powered, but not melted, by the sun.) One balloonist flew for two and a quarter hours, breaking the world record for a fully-certified solar flight. Both black-and-white videos have a lilting lyricism.
Although the Argentinian-born artist’s designs powerfully address the dire conditions caused by climate change, Saraceno’s vision, as innovative as it is exquisite, projects an emphatically optimistic aura. His work is, quite literally, uplifting.
Phoebe Hoban has written about culture and the arts for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, ARTnews, and The New York Observer, among others. She is the author of three artist biographies: Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art, (1998), published as an e-book in May, 2016; Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty, (2010) and Lucian Freud: Eyes Wide Open, (2014).