A Large-Scale Exhibition by Tomás Saraceno at the Palais de Tokyo

The exhibition ON AIR is like an ecosystem in motion, welcoming a polyphonic choreography between humans and non-humans, where works reveal common, fragile, and fleeting rhythms and trajectories that bind these two worlds. A hybrid organism, ON AIR is constructed using a myriad of presences, alive and non-living, that meet and exist together. Certain voices are reduced to silence while others, ordinarily less audible, are magnified. The exhibition was imagined as a whole, unveiling the relationships between events and sensibilities, the indescribable intimacy that unites cosmic and terrestrial phenomena, a reality that, while it can not be written, may, perhaps, be felt.

ON AIR offers a space and time that reveals the force of the presences that populate the air and the way they affect us: from carbon dioxide to cosmic dust, from infrastructure and radio frequencies to new corridors for air traffic. These invisible stories, that compose nature and that are a part of us, invite us to poetically reimagine our manner of living in the world and to reevaluate our manner of being human.

As industrial extraction activities exploit Earth, exhausting its resources and threatening entire ecosystems, ON AIR celebrates new ways of imagining our relationship with the planet through different modes of production and knowledge. The exhibition is open to debates and global challenges presented by the Anthropocene, a term suggested to describe the era on Earth in which we are now living, which began when human activities had a significant, worldwide impact on the Earth’s ecosystem. Visitors are invited to collectively interact in an exercise of global harmonization via activities offered in Aérocène an interdisciplinary artistic project initiated by Tomás Saraceno that attempts to resuscitate the collective imagination with the goal of ethically collaborating with the atmosphere and the environment.

Three Works Produced, in Collaboration with Manuel Poletti from IRCAM

Webs of At-ten(t)sion

Spiders weave tiny universes; complex webs of silk strings that shimmer like the strings of a galaxy rising up from the vast cosmic web. Webs of At-ten(t)sion is a vaporous constellation of hybrid webs: tridimensional sculptures interwoven by different species of spiders in which each strand metamorphizes and becomes entangles, the spatial-temporal axis move and shared worlds collide.  Emerging from the shadow of meetings between solitary spiders—social or semi-social—each web is built with a speculative architecture that pushes the imagination towards other relationships, other means of communication and cooperation among species: we can observe the multitudes in the act of building a community. Each web is a multispecies instrument through which terrestrial and cosmic quakes resound.

Webs of At-ten(t)sion is a material trace of the multiple entanglements and relationships among the universes of arachnids, of humans, and of more than human. The strings of these webs reify the sensorial  and living connections at the heart of an infinite network of life, intertwined with a myriad of species and ecosystems question the idea of the hierarchical tree of life and suggest multiple hybridizations that bond different species and universes. In exchange, they lead us to imagine the invisible stings that connect us to organic, dynamic networks of vibrations and inter-species communication.

Taking part in this jam session, our attention is drawn to the strained and suspended universes and our ears must tune into the non-human voices that join ours in a never-ending network of connectivity. Like a cluster of glimmering stars in the night sky, or bioluminescent forms floating in an aerial ocean, the Webs of At-ten(t)sion glimmer and slip away in response to variations in the air and vibrations in the space. The hybrid dynamics that emerge question the established hierarchies and offer new modes of vie and harmony with or non-human neighbors. The hybrid assemblages welcome new residents: spiders that already lived at the Palais de Tokyo whose rhythms resonate and organize Webs of At-ten(t)sion. Each vibratory signal sent or received informs the spider about the form of her universe and extends her senses and perception of the world.

Sounding the Air

Sounding the Air is a wind instrument that produces harmonic frequencies with floating strings: five strings made of spider silk that resonate in the air. A camera captures, in real-time, the motion of the ballooning strings and translates them into sound frequencies and motifs. These sounds influence blinking lights that illuminate the work Webs of At-ten(t)sion, creating a sort of harmonic resonance between the different spaces.

Sounding the Air is inspired by the phenomenon of “ballooning” which lets spiders fly using kites they made of spider silk, carried by thermal currents and static electricity. This phenomenon—that can concern an individual or an entire colony of spiders flying together—lets us envisage the possibility of collective flying and of a collaborative agreement between certain species and atmospheric forces.

Sounding the Air is a sym-poetic sytem, a collective creation “interpreted” by an uber-human ensemble of strength and bodies. The vibrations of the silk strings are activated by changes in the thermodynamic currents in the room: the body heat or the gusts and tremors generated by the flow and breathing of the visitors. Endless infra-actions with different aerial elements—dust, silk, heat, wind, spider, static electricity—generate a cascade of actions/reactions that regulate the rhythms of the silk strands floating in the air: the sliding tension gives birth to different sounds, translating vibrations into music. In this immersive sonic environment, each movement, even the most subtle, alters the composition. Projected in this acoustic dialogue, each of us becomes a musician and is a part of an atmospheric jam, inventing an improvised score together.

Particular Matter(s) – Jam Session 2018

Air never rests. It is always in motion: every cubic centimeter of air contains 20 billion molecules that crash against each other and move faster than the speed of sound and makes it possible to create a new sound, acting like a drum. The particles floating in the air are inaudible to us. What would we hear if we listened to them? In this installation Particular Matter(s) – Jam Session 2018, visitors become actors in a rhythmic group. A beam of light illuminates dust motes, local dust, terrestrial dust, cosmic dust. Cameras record the location and speed of these particles in real-time as they cross through the space, transforming them into musical sounds heard through loudspeakers positioned throughout the space. The frequencies produced by the elements of this composition resonate in the strings of a hybrid spider/web, the strings of which are gently plucked by a spider. The vibrations produced by the spider on her web are amplified by a loudspeaker situated above the light beam. This reverberation moves the dust motes, making them float and collide. This jam session between spider/web and dust is amplified by the presence of visitors in the space; their movements generate new variations in this evolving ecosystem.

Particular Matter(s) is an exercise in understanding between the body and aerial forces, echoing the vibrations in the room by following the dynamic choreography of the dust motes that play the role of inter-species translator. Everything becomes a semiotic sign in this living ensemble—both the medium and the message—the dust motes, the spider/web, the interactions produced by the heat, the static electricity, and the draughts of air that fluctuate with the visitor’s movements or the cycles of inhalation/exhalation.

Photos credits
1. Eclipse of the Aerocene Explorer, 2016. Performance in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, January 2016,  during Tomás Saraceno’s artistic expedition
2. Tomás Saraceno, How to Entangle the Universe in a Spider Web © Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2017



Tomás Saraceno

Tomás Saraceno was born in Tucumán (1973), Argentina. After a Master’s degree in architecture at the Buenos Aires School of Fine Arts, Tomás Saraceno continued his studies in Europe. He studied fine arts at the Städelschule in Frankfort and then a Mas...