Get your ideas flying!

by Martino Margheri

People who work in museums and cultural institutions are more than familiar with the endless timing involved in planning an exhibition. Whether it’s an exhibition of old master works or a monographic exhibition focusing on a leading contemporary artist, preliminary meetings can be held up to four years before it’s due to start. For the Tomás Saraceno. Aria exhibition, initial discussions with the artist and his studio began in 2017 and Saraceno conducted his first exploratory tour of Palazzo Strozzi in the autumn of 2018. Once a project’s broad outline has been defined, discussions get under way with all of the cultural institution’s various departments. The idea is to get the most out of the exhibition, to exploit its full potential by developing activities and strategies concerning every aspect of the work, from communication and promotion to educational projects.

Working with Tomás Saraceno offered us a major opportunity because his studio comprises so many different professional figures: architects, video makers, designers and layout planners who teamwork with the artist and help to breathe life into his vision. Amid the variety of the projects produced by Saraceno and the Aerocene Foundation set up in 2015, we identified experiences that would allow us to experiment with interesting educational formats we could propose to communication and design students to tie in with the Palazzo Strozzi exhibition.

This triggered a dialogue with IED Firenze (Istituto Europeo di Design) which rapidly turned into a substantive institutional partnership and a project entitled Museo Aero Solar with a select group of teachers and students. The Museo Aero Solar is a large flying sculpture made up solely of reused plastic bags. The project first saw the light of day in the course of a conversation between Tomás Saraceno and Alberto Pesavento in 2007, and it has been produced in a variety of formats in over twenty-one countries since then. The Museo Aero Solar embodies the vision of a future without pollution through the growth of the spontaneously created and geographically distant communities that take part in it.

Museo Aero Solar, photographies by Studio Tomás Saraceno, courtesy Aerocene Foundation

On that basis, we set ourselves the goal of involving Palazzo Strozzi’s visitors in the production of a major participatory project for Florence that would start by collecting plastic bags and end with an experimental flight in the Cascine park. But how should we go about doing that? What tools should we use to achieve that goal? What technical skills would we need to build a flying sculpture?

From Aerocene Journal

The most important thing to do first and foremost was to analyse the identity and characteristics of the Museo Aero Solar in Tomás Saraceno’s own artistic experience. An introductory lecture with the IED students allowed us to address both the project’s conceptual side and its technical requirements. The debate rapidly led us to the crucial question: how were we going to produce an Museo Aero Solar in a city? How should we communicate it? How could we involve people in the various phases?
We began to work on developing a single graphic style for postcards, flyers and posters for libraries, schools, universities and academies. The communication would need to convey three crucial aspects: acquainting people with the project, encouraging the collection of plastic bags and inviting people to the grand final assembly and flight workshop.

Communication development and design meeting with the students of IED Firenze

Using the same coordinated image, we worked on the design of a large container in which visitors to the exhibition would leave their plastic bags. While the students worked on producing all this material, we kept in constant touch with Tomás Saraceno’s studio to ensure compliance with their communication guidelines. The workshop at the Cascine park was to be the cherry on the cake, and so to make sure we were properly prepared for it we held a test-assembly of the bags in accordance with instructions received. We set up a tight network of interlinked activities coordinated by the Education Department in close cooperation with a highly motivated group of IED teachers and students.

Communication project of Museo Aero Solar and bag collector on display at Palazzo Strozzi

The exhibition had only just opened and the first plastic bags had begun to appear in the containers when Palazzo Strozzi entered lockdown like so many other exhibition centres all around the world.
So, was it good-bye to Museo Aero Solar? Yes, but only in its physical format.
Team planning meetings got under way again and we developed a new strategy. We thought it would be interesting to transform this new sense of belonging into an on-line project tailored to reflect the “age of social distancing”. In the same way as Palazzo Strozzi’s visitors would have contributed with their plastic bags to the formation of a community, each one could now make his or her contribution to the project with a thought or an image through this website page.
It all kicked off with this: What ideas do we have for the future? Let’s collect thoughts, let’s talk about it and get them flying in a metaphorical sense. You have a different viewpoint from up high and so it allows to find new solutions for our way of life.

The project was brought to life thanks to our collaboration with IED Firenze, the unflagging work of Alessandra Foschi who coordinates the Advertising Communication course, Cecilia Chiarantini who coordinates the Interior Design course, the precious advice and experience of lecturers Marco Innocenti, Luca Parenti and Francesco Toselli and a tremendous working team comprising their students Edoardo Bartoli, Fiamma Batini, Damiano Boragine, Sara Cabrini, Livia Ceccarelli, Lorenzo D’ Elia, Camilla Giachi, Serena Grazia, Eva Lazzeri, Davide Lichen Lu, Mariasole Monaci, Pietro Niccolini, Liliana Parlato, Alessio Pezzi, Davide Pisoni, Lisa Purini, Martina Oliva, Zössmayr Sebastian, Irene Spalletti, Taeko Shinjo, Eulalia Talamo, Luca Varricchio and Carlotta Zandon.

Moving into phase two

by Arturo Galansino, Ludovica Sebregondi, Riccardo Lami and Matthias Favarato

Eighty-four days separate Sunday 8 March, Palazzo Strozzi’s first lockdown day, from Monday 1 June, the day the Tomás Saraceno. Aria exhibition reopens. “Phase Two” in the era of COVID-19 is beginning for Palazzo Strozzi too, as we reassess and rethink our IN TOUCH online project to bring it into line with this new development.

IN TOUCH was an immediate, spontaneous response with a strong sense of urgency at a time of total uncertainty as to what was going to happen in ensuing weeks. We were determined from the outset to react to this crisis with a clear goal, which was to stay in touch with our visitors – to protect our bond of proximity at a time of deep insecurity for all of us, as our normal bearings came under severe strain in this new and utterly unprecedented situation. The Tomás Saraceno’s exhibition offered us the perfect starting point; in fact it was almost prophetic in its reflection on the fragility of our world. Comparison with a spider’s web to illustrate the environment we live in, a concept that plays a major role in Saraceno’s art, is well suited to define the network of relations that have kept us united at this time – a network linked to the online world on which all our daily activities, including our thirst for culture and beauty, have had of necessity to pivot during lockdown.

The video message by Tomás Saraceno

Our choice for the IN TOUCH project was to merge our website and social channels by creating new and original content taking a fresh look at certain moments in Palazzo Strozzi’s history, rather than simply taking a stroll down memory lane, in an effort to discover new values in them in the light of our present circumstances. This led us to address such eminently topical issues as interconnection, isolation, the sense of nationhood and community, the family and inclusiveness. To address as broad an audience as possible we hosted different viewpoints, as you can see from the authors of the essays (from both within and outside the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi), with whom we were eager not to look backwards into the past but always forwards at the present and into the future. A crucial role was played by the video messages sent in by artists wishing to testify their closeness with Palazzo Strozzi in consideration of their strong bond with us and with Italy as a whole. Marina Abramović, Ai Weiwei, Jeff Koons and Tomás Saraceno all aired their support for us and their contributions proved hugely popular, with Marina’s message in particular attracting almost 1 million hits.

The video message by Marina Abramović

But there are other figures that can help us tell the story of this project too. On our IN TOUCH platform we published 24 essays read by almost 60,000 single users. On Facebook and Instagram we published over 100 posts, reaching over 1.5 million people and causing our online community to grow by 10% in a mere two months. In addition to which, the fact that our visitors spent longer than average on the pages of IN TOUCH is another extremely interesting development because it shows that people preferred to focus on exploring the content in depth rather than simply skimming over it; and this, despite the moment of frenzy everyone was experiencing in the consumption of online content. The top five most avidly read articles were We’re All in the Same Boat; The Shattered Embrace; Dining with Pontormo; Men, Apricots and Cows; and Heaven in a Room. Far from being a mere hit parade, however, this list perfectly mirrors the multi-faceted nature of our approach and the variety of our readers’ interests. A project that deserves a special mention here is the remote-educational project that we christened ART AT HOME for families with children and teens on their hands. The project was visited by almost 6,000 users, many of whom then sent us in the results of their various activities. And we also very much appreciated the affection and esteem displayed by those who have been following our initiatives for a long time, given that the newsletter was the tool most widely used for accessing IN TOUCH, thus highlighting our audience’s closeness even at a time of physical distancing.

A selection of articles of IN TOUCH from our website blog.

And now, as the exhibition gets set to reopen on 1 June, we are about to launch a new phase for IN TOUCH too, turning it into a fortnightly column. Like every cultural institution eager to talk about its own era, Palazzo Strozzi is committed to addressing the most relevant and topical issues of our time, so that every exhibition and activity we produce provides us with an opportunity to explore the world we live in an increasingly contemporary vein. Over the next few weeks we will be pursuing our IN TOUCH project by seeking inspiration in what Tomás Saraceno has called “visions of the future and of reality.” We will be discussing the exhibitions, activities and daily life of Palazzo Strozzi in an effort to keep open a space for parallel debate, a place for cross-contaminating and sharing different points of view.

Let us allow the cobweb to guide us

To understand the world of Tomás Saraceno you need to enter the world of spiders and their webs, Thanks to the Arachnomancy App and to individual readings of Archnomancy Cards, we can commune with the non-humans so dear to this artist and thereby interact in a virtual manner with the Tomás Saraceno. Aria exhibition.

width=

Tomás Saraceno, Webs of At-tent(s)ion (detail), 2020. Installation view of Aria
Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020
© Photography by Ela Bialkowska, OKNOstudio

The fascination that arcachnids hold for Tomás Saraceno dates back to his childhood, when he perceived their presence as beings of equal importance in his home in Italy. This awareness that he was inhabting a shared environment prompted the artist to ask himself: “Do these spiders live in my house, or am I the one living in the spiders’ house?” And just like spiders, which emit vibrations through their web to connect with the reality all around them, so Saraceno’s work acts as a tool allowing us to perceive phenomena that lie outside our senses. Thus Saraceno has transformed Palazzo Strozzi into a space for imagination and participation in his determination to overcome our anthropocentric ideology and to extol the values of diversity, cooperation and interconnection. He invites us all to tune in to non-human voices which join with ours through endless networks of connection and disconnection in an exhibition that defies the hierarchical norm of the tree of life, proposing in its stead a network of life that highlights the interaction among different species and different worlds.

The exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi unfolds around a set of thirty-three Arachnomancy Cards designed by the artist as metaphors of the links between everything that exists in nature, whether living or otherwise. Each room in the Palazzo Strozzi exhibition is associated with a card that performs the role of a herald linking the content in each space, creating unexpected connections between seemingly distant elements, while another, smaller room is devoted to the complete series of thirty-three cards.

width=

Tomás Saraceno, Arachnomancy Cards, 2020. Installation view of Aria
Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze, 2020
© Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno

In the context of the current ecological crisis known as the Sixth Mass Extinction, invertebrates such as arachnids and insects are fast disappearing, and their disappearance is having a serious impact on the environment and on ecosystems. While invertebrates account for over 95 percent of all animal species, an overwhelming majority of countries have no guidelines or national regulations safeguarding non-human rights. So it is imperative that we tune in to the non-human voices that join with ours in endless networks of connectivity and disconnectivity and that we recognise their vibrating voices.

width=

Cobwebs in Palazzo Strozzi
© Photography by Ela Bialkowska, OKNOstudio

There are two ways that we can connect with spiders and consult their cobweb oracle. The first tool enabling us to do this is the Arachnomancy App (available for iOS and Android), an application developed by the Studio Tomás Saraceno allowing you to consult the oracle at any time and in any place, joining a mapping initiative against extinction and creating a network interconnecting real cobwebs throughout the world. Once you have downloaed the App, you photograph a cobweb (there are plenty in your house, even though they may not be immediately apparent!) and take part in a collective exercise that has been christened Mapping Against Extinction.

width= width= width= width=

Studio Tomás Saraceno, Arachnomancy App
© Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2019

If you complete this small mission, you can unlock the individual cards required to consult the spider’s web oracle, devoting your energy to forms of knowledge that echo the methods of divination practised in various parts of the world. For instance, the Mambila people in Cameroon use divining cards made of the stiff leaves or bark of the rafia tree with ideograms cut out for the practice of nggám, the divination of the acts of a spider. A spider that lives in the area is asked questions, the anwers to which are communicated through the movement of these cards. The spider’s powers of divination come from its sensoral universe: its highly developed vibrational senses allow it to enter onto the wavelength of a symphony of biotic and abiotic tremors, a form of knowledge that we humans are incapable of perceiving. This also happens with the vibration of a normal mobile telephone. You can further explore this and other themes that Saraceno and his studio have probed in depth, on the website Arachnophilia.net.

width=

Divining cards for practising nggám or spider divination

You can also consult the oracle by individually reading the Arachnomancy Cards. Each one of the thirty-three cards comprises a storehouse of meanings, the interpretation of which can open up your vision to your experience of life. Gestalt psychotherapist Dr. Gianmarco Meucci will be holding readings lasting fifteen minutes each using the Zoom videoconferecing app on Thursday 30 April from 18.00 to 20.00 and on Satuday 2 May from 15.00 to 17.00. The sessions, held in Italian only, are free of charge and may be booked on Eventbrite. Only a limited number of places are available, but this is a unique opportunity for you to tune in to our reality and the universe of which we are a part.

Cover illustration: Tomás Saraceno, Arachnomancy Cards, 2019 (detail). 58th International Art Exhibition – The Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy. Courtesy the artist. © Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2019.

Tomás Saraceno: Reducing our movement

Tomás Saraceno takes directly part to the project IN TOUCH with an exclusive video-message. Starting from the description of one of his artworks, Particular Matter(s) Jam Session, the artist invites us to reflect in a new way on ideas like sharing, awareness and solidariety.

“Our movement influences how fast or slow particles drift through the air. Reducing our movement, and slowing the particles will help everyone to stay safe. In solidarity with Palazzo Strozzi, Italy and the World, let’s move differently for better times.” (Tomás Saraceno)

 

Hello, my name is Tomas Saraceno. And I want to talk about an artwork which is exhibited at Palazzo Strozzi. It is an artwork that consists of a light beam, that illuminates what is floating today through the air. There are millions and billions of particles that move and their movement depends on how we move.
If for example, I talk very close… or I move, some of the particles in my pullover… you can see these particles are released into the air. And if I talk a little bit further from it these particles start to move much more slowly.
What you hear, in Palazzo Strozzi – you what you can hear now this video – is the sound these particles produce when they move. That means every time that I move faster, you can hear the sound moving faster. It’s this “beep beep beep”… If we move slower, the particles produce a different sound. This means it is a way to sonify the way how we are moving through the earth or the movement of particles into the air. This means, if in this time we need to move slower, the sound would be different and the particles will move slower. This means in solidarity for all the people in Italy, in Europe and in the world.
We hope we can become conscious about our actions. How the air it moves today and how much our movement can influence the way… Of how also we can restrict this movement of some of the particles that became so harmful for many people today on the planet earth.

width=

Tomás Saraceno, Particular Matter(s), 2020. Installation view of Aria, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020. © Photography by Ela Bialkowska, OKNOstudio

A visionary artist whose multidisciplinary practice encompasses art, social and life sciences, Tomás Saraceno (Argentina, 1973) creates immersive works and participatory experiences that suggest a new way of living in our world by forging connections with such non-human phenomena as spiders, dust particles and plants, which become players in his works and metaphors of the universe. As his work unfolds along a path from the courtyard to the exhibition halls of Palazzo Strozzi, Saraceno interacts with the historical context by creating an original dialogue between the Renaissance and the contemporary world – a shift from the idea of ‘man at the centre of the world’ to the concept of ‘man as part of a universe’ in which a new harmony can be sought.

A Manifesto for the Future: Thermodynamic Constellation

by Arturo Galansino

Even though the Tomás Saraceno. Aria exhibition has been closed for some days now, you can still visit the Palazzo Strozzi courtyard, an area that has become in recent years a fully-fledged public space, a piazza in the heart of Florence currently hosting a major installtion that Tomás Saraceno designed and produced expressly for Palazzo Strozzi, entitled Thermodynamic Constellation.

 

width=

Tomás Saraceno, Thermodynamic Constellation, 2020. Installation view of Aria, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020. © Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno

 

Thermodynamic Constellation is a manifesto for the future, possibly even more so today for people seeing it through Palazzo Strozzi’s open doors or in the countless images of it that are circulating in the social media. The spheres of which the installation is comprised, interconnected with one another in a state of mutual tension, are prototypes of real aerosolar balloons capable of floating in the atmosphere without the use of fossil fuels. The upper, mirror part reflects the sun’s radiation, thus preventing overheating during flight in daylight hours, while the lower, transparent part helps to keep the temperature inside the capsule stable during night flight by absorbing the heat of the planet that provides the aerostatic thrust. The work is not based only on artistic research but also on a scientific study of the materials and laws of physics that should govern this kind of dance of the spheres in the air. In 2014 and 2015 Tomás Saraceno was the resident artist at the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (National Centre for Space Studies – CNES) in France, where he had a chance to explore the characteristics and qualities of specific materials used in the aerospace industry.

 

width=

Tomás Saraceno, Thermodynamic Constellation, 2020. Installation view of Aria, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020. © Photography by Ela Bialkowska, OKNOstudio

 

The installation combines a profound ethical message with an enthralling experience. Tomás Saraceno’s ability to master space has led to the creation of an artwork that interprets Palazzo Strozzi’s architecture in an intriguing manner, dialoguing with one of the loftiest examples of Renaissance culture. This, because the mirror part of the spheres not only forges a sense of community by reflecting our own image, it also allows us to observe the palazzo‘s symmetrical 15th century architecture with new eyes, to see it distorted in a Baroque anamorphosis that changes as the hours of the day go by. So today too, from a distance, the spheres can be a space for conceptual collective participation in which visions and physicality forge a powerful bond.

 

width=

Tomás Saraceno, Thermodynamic Constellation, 2020. Installation view of Aria, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020. © Photography by Ela Bialkowska, OKNOstudio

 

The flying sculptures that make up Thermodynamic Constellation explore the kind of socio-political structures that might come into being if only we could freely surf the rivers of the atmosphere in a new era of harmony with the air and with the atmosphere: the Aerocene. Tomás Saraceno has launched a vision of Homo Flotans, a new generation of man as nomad of the air on the same wavelength as the rhythm of the planets and the atmosphere, allowing himself to be both conceptually and physically guided by the air.

This artwork, in which everything fluctuates and is reflected, urging us to move in a new way, is a port open to the sky. In forging a link with the problems of our contemporary world, of which the current emergencies are both a symptom and a consequence, Thermodynamic Constellation embodies a proposal, or a challenge, for a different future.

 

width=

Tomás Saraceno, Thermodynamic Constellation, 2020. Installation view of Aria, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020. © Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno

Like in a Spiderweb

by Arturo Galansino

Palazzo Strozzi, like any cultural institution that wants to speak to its own time, is committed to dealing with the most relevant issues of the present. Each contemporary art exhibition thus, becomes an opportunity to investigate the world in which we live through the sensitive gaze of the artists.

The exhibition Tomás Saraceno. Aria presents a series of imaginary and utopian ‘futures’ throughout our exhibition spaces – at once hypothetical and extremely true and present. These visions are of harmony and balance, a world in which connections are clear and  cooperation is necessary.

Today, in light of the situation we are experiencing, the artist’s installations speak to us with an even greater strength and heightened awareness, their messages echoing through the empty rooms.

This moment of emergency leads us to reflect on our lifestyle, on the weight of our actions and on the fragility of our world. We are immersed in a hyper-connected reality, virtually and physically, and if we were to visualise our connections and social interactions or the routes of our movements we could effectively think about the image of a spider web. We are so much part of this structure that we do not even realize it, and we open our eyes only when it is threatened or runs the risk of breaking.

Today it becomes very clear that the hyperconnection and hypermobility associated with individualism have played a significant role in aggravating the situation we are experiencing.

 

width=width=

Tomás Saraceno, Aerographies (detail), 2020. Installation view of Aria, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020. © Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno

Tomás Saraceno, Webs of At-tent(s)ion (detail), 2020. Installation view of Aria, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020. © Photography by Ela Bialkowska, OKNOstudio

 

According to the famous “butterfly effect”, coined in 1962 by the mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas. In more concrete terms, a small action can reverberate and cause far greater effects. So let’s think about the vibration of a thread, a simple touch. When this is connected to a larger structure, the whole system can vibrate, oscillate, break. If connections are threatened in any way, the damages to the entire complex can be enormous.

How can you exist in a balanced way in this hyper-connected reality? How can risks can be limited? The path indicated by Tomás Saraceno is one of harmony. In whatever future we want to live in, we humans must learn to live symbiotically with all other beings, living and non-living, human and non-human. The search for a dynamic balance must become our goal, our reason for being. To achieve this, it is necessary to cooperate, making individual gestures and actions that don’t betray the common good but move in a mutually beneficial, collective direction.

Some events can disturb the balance, threatening our world. In these cases everyone is responsible for helping to maintain the balance. Every action causes a reaction, be it good or bad. As in a close-knit orchestra, when each musician plays their part, the result is harmony: a unitary response made up of many individuals, distinct but united.

We have to be aware of our behaviors, our relationships, our movements, and the consequences they can have on others. This awareness must take place not only for our individual good, but for the good of everyone.

As in a spider web, we are small knots, part of an infinitely larger twine in which, through a chain of actions and reactions, each of our gestures makes the entire system vibrate. We must be conscious, and capable, of making it resonate in the most harmonious way possible. We must become a harmonious network in which each individual is an essential part.

 

width=

Tomás Saraceno, Connectome (detail), 2020. Installation view of Aria, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, 2020. © Photography by Ela Bialkowska, OKNOstudio

 

In the coming weeks we will continue to champion these visions of a possible future reality outlined by Tomás Saraceno. We will do it in new ways, at a distance, hoping to stimulate a moment of reflection through the language we know best, that of art.

 

width=

«Lamps and lightbulbs as allies in daily hunting,
bridging lifeways in entangled dependency.
Nature seems to elect relationships rather
than individuals, nothing makes itself alone.
Ask yourself how many multitudes you contain.»

SYM(BIO)POETICS: Card n.3 Arachnomancy

 

 

Tomás Saraceno, Arachnomancy Cards, 2019
Courtesy the artist. © Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2019