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Tomás Saraceno: Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore

The gallery hums with screechy sounds resembling acoustic feedback, punctuated by random bursts of bass and cartoonish sound effects. The soundscape is queasily amorphous and disorienting, built on dissonance and the chaotic rhythms resonating from a handful of arachnids that have woven fine, thick webs around delicate wire frames. Featuring a plethora of spiderweb sound installations, Tomás Saraceno’s latest show Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions is an experimental drive to amplify and record the vibrations created when spiders communicate, and using special sensory devices, like transducers and laser Dopplers, that map their movements. When made perceivable to human ears, these vibrations—spontaneously produced in a freewheeling environment—enable jam sessions to become integral part of the show, where musicians have been invited to respond to the arachnids’ vibrational signals in a bid for interspecies mingling.

Tomás Saraceno, Omega Centauri 1 Nephila Kenianensis 4 Cyrtophora citricola, 2014; Spidersilk, carbon fibre, light, Tripod. Courtesy of the artist and Esther Schipper Gallery, Berlin.

Tomás Saraceno. Omega Centauri 1 Nephila Kenianensis 4 Cyrtophora Citricola, 2014; spidersilk, carbon fiber, light, tripod. Courtesy of the Artist and Esther Schipper Gallery, Berlin.

In spite of what the name of the exhibition suggests, the curatorial framework of the show is given vague, but stylish parameters that situate Saraceno’s oeuvre on the crossroads of art, architecture, and science. To term Saraceno’s show as “sound art” or “sound installation,” would be an underestimation of the multivalent nature of an artistic practice that prizes interaction, interconnectedness, and a kind of new order that can only form out of an established network of chaos.

Tomás Saraceno. Spider Salon: Jam session with Evan Ziporyn with Cyrtophora citricola duet on Semi social musical instrument SXDF-NB1006-2: built by four Cyrtophora citricola, eight weeks, on September 28, 2015 (performance still). Courtesy of Studio Tomás Saraceno.

Tomás Saraceno. Spider Salon: Jam Session with Evan Ziporyn with Cyrtophora citricola duet on semi social musical instrument SXDF-NB1006-2: built by four Cyrtophora citricola, eight weeks, on September 28, 2015 (performance still). Courtesy of Studio Tomás Saraceno.

Built upon the notion of conceiving “alternative ways of knowledge, experience, and interaction”[1], Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions comfortably slips out of any attempt at definition or categorization, playing to its own brassy tune in interrogating the nuances within the established structures of knowledge. In the enveloping darkness of the gallery space, glowing glass cases suspend the webs in the expanse of space, lending metaphorical and literal weight to each installation: a small, chaotic network of nature whose interconnectedness parallels transnational urban systems and galactic spirals in both shape and behavior. Their imaginative, gemlike exquisiteness, however, is muted by the sheer amount of technical and scientific information provided in the catalog, like a well-timed reminder that its beauty is a construct out of the precise observation of nature.

Tomás Saraceno. Spiderweb sonification experiments in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Hannelore Hoch and Roland Mühlenthaler, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, 2014 (performance still). Courtesy of Studio Tomás Saraceno.

Tomás Saraceno. Spiderweb sonification experiments in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Hannelore Hoch and Roland Mühlenthaler, Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, 2014 (performance still). Courtesy of Studio Tomás Saraceno.

A spiderweb functions as a visual metaphor for what Saraceno prefers to term as the “cosmic web,” a persistent theme that is demonstrated over and over in varying forms and materials throughout the course of his artistic practice. The web begins with a single thread flung into the wind, where by chance, the filament of silk catches on an object that will anchor its structure. Only then does the web’s tridimensional complexity—assembled upon mathematical principles of radial lines and auxiliary spirals—start to take shape, as form and function come together geometrically to create a product of precision engineering. Social .. Quasi Social .. Solitary .. Spiders … On Hybrid Cosmic Webs (2013) features multi-tiered, collaboratively woven webs by different species of spiders showing grades of sociability: social (living together in a community on a single web), quasi-social, and solitary (living alone in a web). These hybrid webs interlink, morph, and shift, serving as instruments for communication and cooperation. Saraceno’s working process mirrors the spiders’ complex web-spinning processes, if not in precision, at least in form, invoking ideas that begin on the ground and end up somewhere in the cosmos: an envisioned future formed by collaborative forces, perfected by technology and sustained by trailblazing ideas.

Tomás Saraceno. Social .. Quasi Social .. Solitary .. Spiders ... On Hybrid Cosmic Webs, 2013; Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Esther Schipper Gallery, Berlin. ©Andrea Rossetti.

Tomás Saraceno. Social .. Quasi Social .. Solitary .. Spiders … On Hybrid Cosmic Webs, 2013; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and Esther Schipper Gallery, Berlin. ©Andrea Rossetti.

“When cosmologists or astrophysicians were trying to explain how the universe had formed, the way how they describe [that] type of cosmic web and the geometrical analogy as they like to use is tridimensional spiderweb,” Saraceno says. Indeed, his constructs mimic what already exists in nature; from cosmic macrostructures to biological microsystems, his many projects of interests interrogate an endlessly expanding cluster of ideas grounded in socialist sustainability, until they morph and materialize into schools of thought that span multidisciplinary practices—again, not dissimilar to the process of web spinning.

The material results of these combining fields of knowledge are large-scale productions of networked utopias, cloud cities, and scalable installations that contain the indispensable notion of connectivity, found in the complex ecosystem of a spiderweb, the morphology of cloud formations, and within sociological and evolutionary pathways. In Galaxy Forming Along Filaments, Like Droplets Along the Strands of a Spider’s Web (2008), interwoven elastic ropes are stretched across floors, walls, and ceilings, over and around viewers. A single touch of the elastic connectors sends reverberations through this simulacrum of a universe, allusively drawing attention to concepts of social theory, patterns of networks and spheres that seem to articulate the basic structures of contemporary interaction.

Tomás Saraceno. Galaxies Forming along Filaments, Like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider's Web, 2009; installation view, Venice Biennale, 2009. Courtesy of Studio Tomás Saraceno. Photo: Alessandro Coco.

Tomás Saraceno. Galaxies Forming Along Filaments, Like Droplets Along the Strands of a Spider’s Web, 2009; installation view, Venice Biennale, 2009. Courtesy of Studio Tomás Saraceno. Photo: Alessandro Coco.

As far as exhibitions go, Saraceno’s ambitions are hard work, literally and figuratively. They straddle high conceptualism and scientific research, borrowing heavily from the technical language of visionary architects like Buckminster Fuller, and require years to complete. Underlying the web’s intertextuality is the subliminal emphasis on the selfless collective, and in a culture where individualism dominates, that is perhaps the hardest to understand.

Tomás Saraceno: Arachnid Orchestra Jam Sessions is on view at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore through December 20, 2015.


[1] Tomás Saraceno: Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions. Press release and exhibition catalog.

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