Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno’s (b. 1973) sense for spiders has tingled ever since he uncovered arachnids in the attic of his 500-year-old home as a young boy living in Italy. He asked: “Were spiders living in his house, or was he living in the spider’s house?” Writer Graciela Speranza raised this question during her introduction for Towards an Ecosocial Energy Transition: A Conversation — a panel discussion that coincided with the exhibition opening on 1 June.
Saraceno has explored the universe’s interdisciplinary and interconnected ecosystems for over two decades through digital art, installation and sculpture. Taking inspiration from the natural world and science, Tomás Saraceno In Collaboration: Web(s) of Life (2023) marks the artist’s and his collaborators’ first major UK solo debut at the Serpentine Gallery, London. Extensive adjustments have been made throughout the grade-listed infrastructure; solar panels have been added to the rooftops, doors have been left wide open and air-conditioning units in the basement have been switched off.
Geometric birdhouses situate along the facade of the building — a new site-specific sculpture from the artist’s Cloud Cities: Species of Spaces and Other Pieces (2023) series towers over the park. Smaller versions are suspended within the gallery allowing the local wildlife species to become active participants as they enter the space. “We’ll see the cycle of life pretty much in action,” says the artist. The design of the structures, including equipment, height and doorways, encourage the movement of living organisms, the air and weather.
Often working with spiderwebs and different spider species, visitors will uncover a network of delicate silk threads left by these creatures in the installation World(ing)WideWeb(s).Life (2023). In the animal kingdom, spiders use webs to capture their prey before they are consumed. In Denis Villeneuve’s (b. 1967) film Enemy (2013), spider symbolism is a subtle metaphor. It highlights the main antagonist’s weakness towards women and his inability to control his insatiable desires.
Meanwhile, Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), known for her fascination with arachnids, uses spider imagery to reference the strained familial bonds stemming from her childhood trauma. In response to the climate crisis, the central cinematic piece Fly with Pacha, Into the Aerocene. (2020-2023) documents an aerosolar balloon, which successfully lifts a person into the air using only the Earth’s natural elements. This project was a collaborative effort between the Aerocene Foundation and the Indigenous communities of the Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc basin in Jujuy, Argentina. It lifts the veil on the harsh effects of Lithium mining by corporations, which is slowly ravaging the water supply and how those involved are actively fighting to make a difference.
Ahead of entering the auditorium, viewers are prompted to voluntarily leave their mobile devices powered by the very Lithium, in the Argentinian salt flats at the entrance prompting us to rethink our relationship with technology. The exhibition reflects a wider focus on the climate across exhibitions in London this summer, from Dear Earth: Art and Hope in a Time of Crisis at the Hayward Gallery and Saatchi Gallery’s Civilization. This experimental, multi-layered show illuminates the connections between everyday actions and ongoing environmental crises. By surrendering our phones and engaging with overlooked perspectives, we find new ways to understand how individual choices impact communities around the world who face the daily threat of the climate emergency.
Words: Albertina Campbell
1. On the 25th of January 2020, 32 world records, recognised by FAI were set by Aerocene with Leticia Noemi Marques, flying with the message “Water and Life are Worth More than Lithium” written with the communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc, Jujuy, Argentina. This marks the most sustainable flight in human history. Fly with Aerocene Pacha, a project by Tomás Saraceno for an Aerocene era, was produced by the Aerocene Foundation and Studio Tomás Saraceno. Supported by Connect, BTS, curated by DaeHyung Lee
2. Installation view of Spider/Web Pavilion 7: Oracle Readings, Weaving Arachnomancy, Synanthropic Futures: At-ten(t)sion to invertebrate rights!, 2019, at the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, titled May You Live In Interesting Times, curated by Ralph Rugoff. Courtesy the artist Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno
3. Members of the Indigenous Communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc defend their land against lithium extraction during the Fly with Aerocene Pacha project in January, 2020. The signs read: “Let’s take care of Pachamama…”; “We are against the destruction of one of Argentina’s 7 wonders. Salinas Grandes”; “No to lithium, yes to water and life” Courtesy of the Aerocene Foundation. Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno