It’s the last week to catch a fascinating, ethereal exhibition of the artist Tomás Saraceno – in which spiders have spun most of the work, with mesmerising results. Allison Geller visited the exhibition in New York for uncube and finds a show that provides existential chimes from the minute and mummified to the stellar and sublime. And with Saraceno’s practice inspired by and interwoven with the intricate geometries of nature, there’s a nice little pre-echo here of the work of another great practitioner who is the focus of our forthcoming and (a modest ahem) fabulous issue which is waiting in the wings: Frei Otto.
Remember when you were a kid playing outside and you found a spider’s web spun between the branches of a tree? Perhaps you stopped to marvel at this sudden wonder, which you would have ploughed right through if you hadn’t seen the sun glinting off the drops of dew. You’d been told that spiders spin webs of incomparable strength. But how could these wispy threads stand up to your solid humanness? At least once, you gave in to the urge to carry on and destroy it.
Then what about also that feeling when staring up at a dark night sky and losing track of the solid boundaries that defined you?
Tomás Saraceno, an artist with an architect’s training and a quantum physicist’s cosmic fascination, brings both these existentially remembered moments – the dual sublimity of nature and outer space – to a darkened gallery in Chelsea in New York with his exhibition Hybrid Solitary… Semi-Social Quintet… On Cosmic Webs…. On view at the Tonya Bonakdar Gallery until May 2, it showcases hanging sculptures of eerie loveliness that use only three materials: plexiglass, carbon fibre sticks, and spider silk.
A typical title of a work is: Hybrid semi-social solitary musical instrument Arp87: built by a couple of Cyrtophora citricola - one month - one Agelena labirintica - two months - one Cyrtophora moluccensis - two weeks - and one Tegenria domestica - 4 months- (turned 4 times 180 degrees on Z axis). It ain’t pithy, but that’s not the point. There’s a tongue-and-cheek quality to these labels, neither precisely scientific nor immediately “artsy”, which include constellations and other stellar features (Arp87 is a pair of “interacting galaxies”) and attribution to the spiders that spun them. The “semi-social solitary” part, a seeming contradiction in terms, refers to the way the webs were created. A solitary spider was placed in the cube to begin its web, and then was replaced by a colony of “social” spiders (team players which are relatively anomalous in the arachnid family). Saraceno flipped the cubes at intervals, changings the spiders’ perceptions of which way was up.
Each web-sculpture is a discreet universe. At the centre of one, an egg sac sits, glowing like a jewel from the light that illuminates it from below. In another, the brown husk of an insect is all but mummified in the gauzy wrappings collected in a corner. One of the larger pieces is a breathtaking performance of ghostly swoops that seem frozen in space and time. Seen from another angle, you can see a cocoon-like membrane giving structure to the ephemera, reminiscent of the meshy grids showing gravity and its distortions that can be experienced uptown at the Hayden Planetarium.
At intervals, audio plays, like some minute natural process has been miked for sound. Cosmic Jive is in fact a recording of the low-frequency vibrations spiders make while working with other spiders to spin their webs. It adds to the curious convergence of nature with the chrome-edged gallery space.
Next to one cube, an attendant, half-hidden in the shadows, will ask you to stand back if you get too close – there’s no glass. Dust glows as it flies through the air like a solar wind and the strands of the web sway gently. And there’s that impulse again: to disrupt it all with a swipe of the hand.
Scientists are now virtually weaving together telescopes around the world in order to look deep into the eye of a black hole. Saraceno reminds us, though, that there are things here on Earth that merit a closer look. Do we understand the way a spider maps its web better than we understand the mingling of two far-off galaxies? How do we connect to each, as viewers and participants of the terrestrial nature and of the universe at large? There are forces at work here, he seems to be telling us. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and on our little blue planet, neither do we.
– Allison Geller is a writer based in Brooklyn and Associate Editor of A Women’s Thing magazine. “Write Home”, a chapbook of her poems, was published by Finishing Line Press in January 2015. allisongeller.com @allison_geller
Hybrid solitary... semi-social quintet... on cosmic webs...
Until May 2, 2015
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
521 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10011