Arts Listings

Thomas Saraceno’s Visionary Art at BAM

By Peter Selz, Special to the Planet
Friday December 14, 2007

Tomas Saraceno is a visionary artist who aspires to bridge the gap between art and science. Knowledgeable about principles of physics, chemistry and architecture, he has made use of high technology to design cities in the air.  

On view at the Berkeley Art Museum are models of Flying Gardens/Air-Port-City, elliptical plastic pillows filled with air and bounded by elastic cords. In his lecture at the museum the Argentine-born artist, who works mostly in his Frankfurt studio, traced his models for aerial cities back to hot air balloons. He had already experimented with the possibilities of passive solar energy and built and flew the largest geodesic balloon ever built. 

For his aerospace vehicles he proposes to use a chemical called “Aerojet,” a gas which is only three times heavier than air and which is already being employed in the aerospace industry.  

There are important precedents to Saraceno’s work: Buckminster Fuller’s pivotal geodesic dome and the Cloud Nine experiments on the 1960s. Paolo Soleri’s Acrosanti buildings minimized the use of land and energy by building very tall self-sufficient structures, which were exhibited at BAM in 1971.  

Ant Farm, shown at BAM in 2004, proposed pneumatic inflatable structures, which were designed to challenge the hierarchies of land-built architecture to provoke users to take charge of the environment. In Germany Frei Otto built lightweight fabric constructions and experimented with pneumatic membranes for his tent-like structures. In England, a group of visionary architects, called Archigram, came forward with hypothetical projects of high tech, low weight structures, which were not bound to the ground.  

The models for Saraceno’s Flying Gardens are evocative sculptural forms, which look great in Mario Ciampi’s open museum space. Elizabeth Thomas, the museum’s Matrix curator, has mounted an exhibition that can motivate the viewer to ponder a new technological utopia. Utopias of a political nature have, as we know, brought about veritable disasters.  

Saraceno’s vision proposes a network of habitable structures that float in the air. Will the social intercourse of humans, we may ask, improve with altitude?  


Tomas Saraceno: Microscale, Macroscale, and Beyond 

Through Feb. 17, 2008 at the Berkeley Art Museum, 2575 Bancroft Way. 642-0808. 


Image: Tomas Saraceno’s installations are on display at the Berkeley Art Museum.