Argentinian born artist Tomás Saraceno is an unconventional renaissance man. First formally trained as an architect, he also holds postgraduate degrees in art and has completed the International Space Studies Program at NASA. He holds the world record for the first and longest certified fully-solar manned flight. He has lectured at MIT and presented at the Venice Biennale—I would guess there is only a small handful of people can say they’ve done both. Saraceno is now based in Berlin, although according to his website, he “lives and works in and beyond the planet Earth.”
On view until June 9th, Solar Rhythms is Saraceno’s latest show at Tanya Bonakdar in Chelsea. A continuation of his Aerocene series, which began in 2015, Solar Rhythms explores the human relationship to the unlimited potential of the sun. Visitors to the gallery are first confronted by what appears to be a simple square framed image on the wall, titled Aerocene Float Predictor. It is, in fact, a trajectory computation and visualization; developed in a collaboration with Glenn Flier, Lodovica Illari and Bill McKenna from MIT. Using wind forecast data, visitors can generate fuel-free flight trajectories based on wind patterns, an alternative to the standard straight-line flight of propulsion technology that fights against nature. This isn’t just a vision of the future, Saraceno’s Aerocene Foundation has produced sustainable aerosolar sculptures, first unveiled at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015.
The Aerocene Explorer sits beneath, a backpack containing a flight starter kit. Once in the sky, it collects data on air quality, temperature, humidity, and pressure. The kit is meant to be used by anyone, and participants can modify the device on their own. Video works in the smaller upstairs gallery show the launch of Saraceno’s D-O Aerocene sculpture in White Sands, New Mexico. Not coincidentally, this is the same place where the world’s first nuclear bomb was tested. Another video, titled Diving into the Ocean of Air, shows people flying Aerocene Explorers over Salinas Grandes, a salt lake in Jujuy Argentina. The group of participants is diverse, ranging from artists and sociologists to radio amateurs and local community members. The lake has become a lithium extraction site, threatening the environment and surrounding indigenous communities.
In the main gallery, hand-blown glass forms tie the story of another one of Saraceno’s projects, Cloud Cities, back to Aerocene. The delicate bubbled forms are filled with breath—another iteration of wind, a representation of life force. Saraceno is very conscious of his own existence within the age of the Anthropocene, as humans have already made irreversible changes to the planet. Viewers of the show become part of its ecosystem, casting shadows on the wall next to those made by the sculptures. Saraceno’s work begs us all to consider our own personal relationships with the world around us, but his view of the future is anything but pessimistic. The sky is no longer a new frontier—but Saraceno’s divergent exploration of it marks the beginning of a potential rethinking of everything we know about air travel.