Fea­ture To­mas Sara­ceno has big ideas for Queens­land’s Har­vest

Artist To­mas Sara­ceno’s airy in­stal­la­tions are steeped in sci­en­tific in­quiry that he hopes may shape our fu­ture world, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

AR­GEN­TINIAN con­cep­tual artist To­mas Sara­ceno is not well known in Aus­tralia. In fact his de­but Aus­tralian com­mis­sion, for the 2011 Perth Fes­ti­val, is a ca­reer mo­ment he’d rather for­get. “Oh no,” he laughs at the men­tion of it. Sara­ceno’s was 18 months in the mak­ing and pro­moted as a fes­ti­val high­light. A sil­very bal­loon sculp­ture made from fab­ric en­cas­ing a he­lium-filled blad­der, it was 6m high and com­prised eight poly­gons that were in to­tal 27m by 15m wide. On a Satur­day evening dur­ing the fes­ti­val, was un­veiled, in­flated and an­chored at Lang Park be­side the Swan River with sturdy ropes de­signed to re­sist the el­e­ments. But the el­e­ments had dif­fer­ent ideas.

“It flew away by the wind, it was a dis­as­ter,” says Sara­ceno by phone from an air­port lounge in Oslo. “But we learn by them.”

Sara­ceno’s art is steeped in sci­en­tific in­quiry. In­deed which he did not ac­com­pany to Aus­tralia, had been in­tended to “chal­lenge the bound­aries of earthly liv­ing’’; as that chal­lenge went, the earth won: the huge bal­loon was tracked to the wa­ter off Fre­man­tle.

Un­de­terred, the Ger­many-based Sara­ceno will make his first pro­fes­sional visit to Aus­tralia later this month for the ex­hi­bi­tion at Bris­bane’s Gallery of Mod­ern Art. The artist will over­see the in­stal­la­tion of a collection of PVC balls that will be sus­pended in the Long Gallery on the ground floor. Three of the spheres are 3m wide, the fourth is slightly smaller, but all of them will fill a large sec­tion of the gallery be­cause of the in­tri­cate web­bing hold­ing them in place.

Web­bing is a sig­na­ture ma­te­rial for Sara­ceno. While the re­straints hold­ing down his works are forged from rope and ny­lon monofil­a­ment, Sara­ceno ad­mits his real fas­ci­na­tion lies in the pro­duc­tion of spi­der webs.

“Many sci­en­tists be­lieve if we were able to re­pro­duce the silks from spi­ders we (would be) able to cre­ate a space el­e­va­tor — a very long thread, 43,000km long — which goes ver­ti­cally from the earth into outer space,” he says. “You lose grav­ity al­ready by 100km, and then from Earth it would be much more easy to travel to deep space. I’m fas­ci­nated with it.”

Sara­ceno is an artist of the world: English is his third lan­guage af­ter his na­tive Span­ish and adopted Ger­man. He tack­les com­plex sub­jects in his work and is oc­ca­sion­ally in­vited to present pa­pers about his ideas at in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences. In ad­di­tion to the struc­ture of spi­der webs, he is cu­ri­ous to dis­cover how they might be har­nessed for hu­man use on ac­count of the sheer vol­ume some species cre­ate.

“It is amaz­ing the amount of silk these pro­duce, but mostly all the lab­o­ra­to­ries and all the sci­en­tists are work­ing on build­ing (web­bing) syn­thet­i­cally,” he says.

In­deed Sara­ceno praises the work be­ing done at the Univer­sity of WA’s Sym­bi­ot­ica re­search fa­cil­ity ded­i­cated to artis­tic in­quiry into so-called life-sci­ence tech­nol­ogy. De­spite its isolation, the long-es­tab­lished unit is in­ter­na­tion­ally re­puted as a leading lab­o­ra­tory in­ves­ti­gat­ing in-vitro growth and ma­nip­u­la­tion of liv­ing tis­sue in three di­men­sions.

While Sara­ceno’s works are con­structed from PVC, he is work­ing to­wards build­ing them from or­ganic tis­sue. The orig­i­nal se­ries was launched at Den­mark’s Na­tional Gallery in 2009 and later that year was in­stalled cen­tre stage at the in­ter­na­tional Olympiad of con­cep­tual art, the Venice Bi­en­nale.

Cloud City

Of the four works ac­quired for Har­vest by GoMA, three spheres are from edi­tions of three — there are two other iden­ti­cal pieces within other in­stal­la­tions ac­quired by mu­se­ums and pub­lic gal­leries in Nor­way, Ger­many, Italy and Den­mark. The fourth Bio­sphere at GoMA is unique and prom­ises to be the most spec­tac­u­lar. Rather un­re­mark­ably ti­tled Bio­sphere 2, the PVC bub­ble will con­tain 50 Tilland­sia plants and an air pres­sure reg­u­la­tor and hy­dra­tion sys­tem to sup­port them. Tilland­sia is the generic name for plants that sur­vive with­out roots, ab­sorb­ing sus­te­nance through their leaves.

QAGoMA cu­ra­tor El­lie But­trose says rather than at­tempt to im­port the flora, which orig­i­nated on the Amer­i­can con­ti­nents but can now be found all over the world, they will be lo­cally sourced ac­cord­ing to Sara­ceno’s in­struc­tions.

But­trose is cu­ra­tor of Har­vest, GoMA’s big, free win­ter fes­ti­val of bounty for which Bio­sphere is a ma­jor in­stal­la­tion. “It’s re­ally the fi­nale in the way it’s talk­ing about pos­si­ble fu­tures,” But­trose says, ex­plain­ing the work’s con­nec­tion to Har­vest.

The new in­stal­la­tion at GoMA com­prises the first Sara­ceno art­works ac­quired by an Aus­tralian pub­lic gallery. Phi­lan­thropist Tim Fair­fax picked up the bill. Har­vest is be­ing drawn mostly from the gallery’s per­ma­nent collection with 150 works or­gan­ised around two themes of ob­jects in circulation and land and labour.

“These works and themes al­low us to ex­am­ine the ways in which farm­ing, food, food prod­ucts and sys­tems of dis­tri­bu­tion have through­out his­tory been cen­tral to the for­ma­tion of world views and their artis­tic ex­pres­sion,” But­trose writes in the Har­vest cat­a­logue.

Among the ex­hi­bi­tion’s fea­ture works will be Tracey Mof­fatt’s pineap­ple can­nery im­age from her 2008 se­ries First Jobs and Su­per­flex’s un­for­get­table flooded McDon­ald’s video in­stal­la­tion. The film pro­gram will in­clude Gabrielle Axel’s Ba­bette’s Feast, Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and for a dose of mod­ern re­al­ity Robert Ken­ner’s tough 2008 food pro­duc­tion doc­u­men­tary Food Inc.

A cen­tre­piece of Har­vest is Fallen Fruit of Bris­bane: Pineap­ple Ex­press! com­piled by Los Angeles artists David Burns and Austin Young, who in May called for sub­mis­sions from Bris­bane lo­cals for ephemera adorned with the spiked fruit com­monly grown in Queens­land. From email re­sponses more than 150 ob­jects were cho­sen to go on dis­play in GoMA’s foyer. Items al­ready col­lated are a hand­made pineap­ple cos­tume, a ukulele fash­ioned from a pineap­ple tin, a pineap­ple-shaped mir­ror ball and hand­crafted pineap­ple ceram­ics. The dis­play will also in­clude tins of pineap­ples col­lected from far-flung cor­ners of the globe, in­clud­ing Ire­land, Berlin and Canada. With pineap­ple pro­duc­tion largely limited to Asia, Aus­tralia and South Amer­ica, But­trose says the tins will in part be used to tell the story of their pro­duc­tion.

Along­side this dis­play Burns and Young are cre­at­ing a wall­pa­per to be pasted along the foyer wall in which pineap­ples in all stages of their growth will be por­trayed. The pair re­cently spent a day at a Queens­land pineap­ple farm col­lect­ing fruits to pho­to­graph.

“The farmer gave us heaps of pineap­ples at dif­fer­ent stages of growth, from the budding to the very ripe and the guys are pho­tograph­ing them to cre­ate a Vic­to­rian-style re­peat wall­pa­per,” she says. “They’re also in­ter­ested in find­ing pineap­ples that didn’t nec­es­sar­ily look like the ones you find in su­per­mar­kets.”

Food pro­duc­tion is also among Sara­ceno’s

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