Last year, MIT established a Center for Art, Science & Technology to integrate arts into its engineering-centered curriculum. As the first artist in residence at the center, MIT picked Tomas Saraceno, whose works resemble strange, epically large science fair projects. (In fact, they have sometimes been criticized as experiments rather than art). Saraceno was born in Argentina, raised in Italy, but prefers to say he's from Planet Earth, floating above national boundaries like the clouds.
Saraceno's installation in Milan now, On Space Time Foam, consists of layers of undulating plastic sheets, suspended dozens of feet off the ground, that people climb and crawl on. Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last summer may have clambered through his Cloud City, a series of interconnected transparent chambers inspired by soap bubbles mashed together. The sculpture came with a list of warnings that read like rules for a flight simulator. "Some of the visitors feel a little bit weightless," Saraceno explains. "Some people get vertigo, also."
An interest in clouds, balloons, and weightless structures led Saraceno to spider webs, and he's made several works based on webs. He wanted to recreate one at a giant scale, and Peter Jaeger, an arachnologist at the Senckenberg Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, supplied him with one – not a house spider, but a black widow. Saraceno's team tied tens of thousands of strands in the gigantic space of an airplane hangar. Mark Wigley, who taught Saraceno in architecture school, remarks that "When we walk into the gallery, it's as if some sort of spider has attached its web to all corners of gallery, and we are flies. You never know with Tomas's work if we'll all be eaten by it in end."
The obsession runs deep for Saraceno, Wigley thinks. "He dreams of being a spider. I don't think he ever says that, but you can imagine art work coming out of his rear end."
Slideshow: The Work of Tomas Saraceno