Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Expansion: Lost in Space, not in Meaning

Things discussed: Tomás Saraceno, being active or passive, void, Hangar Bicocca, Milan, space, time, craters, instability, quantum physics, foam, Yves Klein.

I am going to correct here my blog co-author who in a previous post wrote: 
Rudolf Stingel: when you think about art and space, his is the name that comes to mind.
Okay: I agree. But I must add a name: Tomás Saraceno. In his installation On Space Time Foam, which I experienced at the Hangar Bicocca in Milan, in January 2013, not only there is no distance between space and work, but also between space, work and you. 

All pictures © Tomás Saraceno

You become an active element of the installation, modifying its shape, balance, and in turn the balance of other active visitors. You have to be active to fully enjoy the work, because the work is an experience.

On Space Time Foam is a floating structure consisting of three membranes of transparent film that can be accessed by the public. The Hangar Bicocca was the ideal location for this installation, which was specifically designed on the cubic space of the exhibition site. In this big room, a cube 24 meters high, the Argentinian artist and architect stretched three layers of film at different heights, and with different degrees of tension. Unfortunately, at the moment of my visit only two were accessible, the highest and the lowest one.

© Tomás Saraceno

You start from the top. But first, in another big dark roomthe perfect anteroom for this, taking you from darkness to lightyou have to sign a form, taking full responsibility for whatever can happen, and vowing to visit responsibly. This could be a put off as much as a turn on. In my case it was the last one.

There are shifts, as access is limited to a certain number of persons, and I were lucky to be able to go in a quiet moment and did not have to wait long, which I have been told was quite the case in the evenings and weekends.

© Tomás Saraceno

I climbed the stairs to the top, where I was asked to take off shoes, belt, any clock or piece of jewellery. And then, I was ready to bent and crawl on an almost transparent wobbly surface suspended at 24 metres (79ft) from the ground. This upper sheet looked like a big bubble, you access it slowly, one person after the other, and when you are on it, it gives away and you create a sort of depression. You move on, other people slide in, and the bubble fills up with human craters. You are advised not to join other humans as it might get difficult to get out of the joined cavity.

© Tomás Saraceno
© Tomás Saraceno

I was then free to cheerfully slither around, roll or just lay belly down, looking at the lower level through the cloudy film sheet (it was obviously quite thick, so not really transparent, which I would have loved to) or belly up. And there, resting quiet for a while, I started to feel my body heaving up and down. The other visitors were moving too, altering and influencing my position.

From a first almost childish pleasant surprise given by the unfamiliar surface and unusual kind of movement, I then accessed one of the things the artist really wanted to convey. The clear notion that everything and everyone is connected and there is no movement or action by someone that has not an impact on something or someone else. I then felt also the responsibility of my own action and movement. I could not just enjoy randomly the experience, I had to pay attention to my actions and to the others’ position in space. But this  did not take away the first simple pleasure: it was still pure pleasure, only emphasized by the fact that it started from a physical one, and then, reaching a deeper comprehension—touching not just your outer senses, but also your inner perceptions and understandingbecame a fully satisfying experience.

© Tomás Saraceno
Even the opening of a door or the breathing of a visitor could actually change the shape of the installation, as if it was a living organism. The work was in fact made by what you don’t see. As the artist said, the installation is made of 7.000 cubic meters of air, and you are supported by air. The visitor does not realize (I did not indeed) that the Cube is subject to a pressure of warm air that keeps the membranes inflated.

© Tomás Saraceno

Too soon it was late, and we were called back because the time was over (15 minutes maybe?). But there was still a layer, the lower one. This one was not bubblish, but almost completely deflated, so when I got inside (and only three people at a time were allowed here), I just slided down. It was like a big crater from which I could crawl upward to then leave my body go down again, head upward, downward, or rolling. Beneath, was only the floor, some 10 meters beneath. Passive visitors can visit the installation from there, nose up at the people hovering at various heights over their heads.

© Tomás Saraceno
Sense of time, but above all of space, is suspended, like those film sheets. Movements in space are turned upside down, and this has a subtle influence on your mind and spirit. It is a capturing, exhilarating feeling, but as I said, with a lingering taste of a meaningful experience, that brushes chords mostly untouched.

There are not many occasions to experience space in a different way from the usual. The experience here was so enjoyable and positive, that I wished it to be a permanent installation in the city. Actually, I wish there to be one in every city, so that you know you can get some nourishing restore of the body and of the mind whenever you want.

It was indeed a pity that the middle layer was not accessible, as from pictures of a previous time, I could see that the upper and middle levels can be at times so close that people ‘upstairs’ can even touch the middle level. Another kind of connection, and of responsibility, arouses. A vertical connection, not as direct as the first one (the horizontal one, on the same layer), but subtler, more delicate, and possibly dangerous too.

© Tomás Saraceno
© Tomás Saraceno
via AP
The effects of this installation on the various nuances of emotive life are vast. More than transparent layers, the sheets become like mirrors, amplifiers of emotional landscapes, of inner possibilities in meetings. The power of the artist lies in giving all this in a playful way. I really turned into a child in a playground, but I ended up being conscious of inner movements that were still growing in my conscience as I walked away from the exhibition site.

Only after writing this post I found out that the idea for On Time Space Foam stemmed from a drawing by physicist Paul Davies and is connected to the quantum foam concept - the theory of quantum physics, where the fundamental layers of existence, the conformation of the universe on the smallest scale is structured like a foam - and to Yves Klein’s obsession with air.

All drawings © Tomás Saraceno

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