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TOMAS SARACENO: ON ART AND CLIMATE CHANGE

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Tomas SaracenoBorn in Argentina, Tomás Saraceno was trained as an architect. His job was to design buildings.  Now, he designs transparent globes that float and tell us stories about the fragility of the planet.

 His exhibition in the National Gallery of Denmark is part of RETHINK, where a group of artists from Europe and the developing world have come to tell their own stories in the city where an agreement on climate change was discussed and never reached. The theme of Tomas’s segment, Biospheres, is simple. A big transparent balloon hangs from the ceiling; as you enter it, you have a sense of uncertainty, because you feel as if you were suspended in limbo. Attached to the balloon are black strings that end in smaller balloons where plants and ponds are attached to the floor. It looks like a combination of both the spider and the monster taken from H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds

 “How little we know about the planet and where we stand in the universe”, he tells me, when I ask him about the meaning behind this exhibition.

 Tomas Saraceno's piece“Biosphere one is the planet earth”, he tells me, pointing to the huge transparent balloon that hangs from the top of the gallery. “It’s a huge inflatable structure. When people are suspended in it, the surface becomes very unstable.” And, for him, that is the way we live on the earth. A place that you can no longer take for granted.

 When people enter the sphere, they tend to move in different ways simply because the surface is  uneven; some fall over while others try to keep standing. And that, according to Tomás, creates a kind of dialogue. An unstable world where people can talk to one another, regardless of their origin or language. “It shows how much we depend one on another”, he tells me.

 He believes that the balloon also represents an eco-system, where human beings learn to relate to one another.

 “It is a work I started ten years ago. Its inspiration was the clouds and the idea was to build up a symbolic, interactive space where we can liberate,  in a way,  the eco-system, so we can learn to inhabit the planet again.”

 It is somehow impossible not to establish a link between art and politics in Tomás’s work. After all, his exhibition is part of RETHINK, a movement of artists who want to use their work to raise awareness about the way we are treating the planet. And COP15 is, after all, political.

 Tomas must have expected my question because he smiled like somebody who has a ready-made answer. “Things have gone beyond politics”, he tells me. “Climate change  is something that has to be tackled by all of us, and only now politicians are becoming aware of the problem”. He informs me that this movement did not start recently but in the 1960s with groups like “the hippies in Christiania”. He is referring to an old barracks which was taken over by people who wanted to live an alternative life in Copenhagen. “It is interesting to see how as artists we can help establish a dialogue between these and other people.”

 The big sphereIt is strange to be talking here in Copenhagen, where delegates from all over the world are discussing, in the new and modern wing of the remarkable Bella Centre, an agreement that will not materialise. Clashes among poor and the rich countries have prevented humankind from taking radical steps to save the planet from climate catastrophe. Doesn’t he feel frustrated, like many others, that yet again, the political class has let us down?

 “It is a failure but also a success because there are more than 100 nations trying to establish a dialogue. (…) There should be more meetings like this one, in two months time, and then again in another two months time” until an agreement is finally reached.

 The balloon has run out of air and needs to be refilled, so more people can enter it and experience the wobbly surface and the dialogue. Maybe his spheres will not save the world, but they give you an idea of what it is possible if people talk. At least, that is what Tomás believes. And who are we to disagree?

Listen to and audio podcast with Tomás Saraceno