This past December as I wandered through SFMOMA’s new Snøhetta-designed expansion, wondering about the future of America and our planet, I came upon Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities. Under the ethereal grouping of cloud-like structures floating overhead at the gallery’s entry, I was drawn to the curator’s description of the artist’s work: Tomás Saraceno assembles visually arresting installations that challenge the viewer’s relationship to the built world.
As I walked into the exhibit space, those words came to life. The gallery was filled with geometrically complex groupings of polyhedrons tethered to the walls, ceiling, and floor, the objects’ arrangements creating a multitude of spatial configurations within the rectangular room. Aspects of spider webs, disco balls, floating networks, space, light, and shelter all coexisted within the work. I noticed many other viewers stopped in place as I had to take in the totality of the installation. As I continued walking about, I found myself fantasizing about floating in space in a cloud city, docking with other airborne cities and people.
I looped back to the entry to revisit the curator’s description of the installation, which continued: Cloud Cities presents a model for utopian cities of the future, conjuring an era in which humanity has ceased to negatively impact our planet and instead inhabits sustainable airborne structures that exist in symbiosis with nature and the atmosphere. As I moved throughout the installation, I had to consciously remind myself that what I was experiencing with such pleasure was a response to the destruction of our planet and a need for an alternate means of inhabiting the Earth.
Tomás Saraceno is certainly not the first architect or artist to create designs for a utopian future. In 1944 Argentinian artist Gyula Kosice declared in Arturo that “man is not to end his days on Earth” and later created the project Hydrospatial City as a response to what he saw as humanity’s future need to sustain life in space. And there are certainly parallels between Saraceno’s work and the thoughts and designs of Buckminster Fuller, also one among many to consider the impact of climate change on our ability to inhabit Earth in the decades and centuries to come. Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities is the most recent in a series of installations and projects created by Saraceno that are linked to Aerocene, an open-source, community-based project initiated by the artist in 2007 that includes air-fueled sculptures that float long distances around the globe.
Understandably, the majority of responses to climate change focus on how to eliminate the impacts of environmentally destructive human activities or to reverse the damage we’ve already inflicted on the planet. These are critical efforts that need to be addressed more urgently every moment. Saraceno’s work starts with these same theses; however, they serve as inspiration for explorations that interweave his interests in architecture, natural sciences, astrophysics, and engineering and move his work from reaction to vision.
Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities combines a poetic utopian concept and a reminder of a potential future when our planet may no longer be habitable—an engaging and provocative mixture for viewers. Saraceno’s restrained use of limited elements—polyhedrons, cords, and light—creates a framework for reconsidering how we currently occupy our planet and presents a beautiful world of possibilities we may open our minds to in the future.
Stillness in Motion — Cloud Cities is showing at SFMOMA through May 21, 2017.