Tomás Saraceno Serpentine

Tomás Saraceno at the Serpentine review | Argentinian brings the outside into the Serpentine

★★★★☆ This summer the Serpentine is hosting Tomás Saraceno’s largest exhibition in the UK to date. But don’t expect a typical exhibition – Saraceno has injected a number of interventions into the format to shake things up. 

When you enter the gallery, you are asked to hand over your mobile phone, removing it as a potential source of distraction, while also giving you the opportunity to reflect on the valuable materials used to produce mobile phones (such as lithium in the battery) – the majority of which are never recycled – and the energy consumed by running a phone and its processes. To sweeten the deal, you receive a small piece of art when you collect your phone at the end.

Tomás Saraceno Serpentine

© Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno, 2020

The next room is the one that Saraceno hopes will help arachnophobes become arachnophiles. Glass vitrines house magnificent spider webs that are architectural in their forms. These have been crafted by a spider (or sometimes groups of different species of spiders) at the artist’s studio in Berlin, and then carefully transported to London, where spotlights highlight their beauty and intricacy.

Some bravery may be required for the next room. This features a confession box – something that would typically be seen in a Catholic church, where a person could confess their sins to a priest. However this booth has been decorated with stained glass and sculptures of spiders, and has been repurposed as a space where up to two visitors at a time can communicate with spiders through vibrations. At the preview the booth was unoccupied by any arachnids, having just been installed a few days previously, but I was informed by an invigilator that they have currently programmed the space to emit regular vibrations as a way to attract and encourage some of London’s spiders to move in and commence communicating though their own vibrations.

Tomás Saraceno Serpentine

Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno.

Tomás Saraceno Serpentine

Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno.

The main room is a screening space for Fly with Pacha, Into the Aerocene – a documentary Saraceno directed with Maximiliano Laina, in collaboration with the communities of Salinas Grandes and Laguna de Guayatayoc Basin. The film, which runs for just over an hour, addresses the environmental impact of mining lithium (which can require up to two million litres of water to extract one tonne of lithium) as well as documenting the world’s first fossil fuel-free human flight using an aerosolar balloon.

The show as a whole has an overarching environmental theme. The Serpentine has taken the unusual step of switching off its temperature and humidity controls, while the artworks and their components (videos, amps, spotlights, etc.) are powered by energy derived from the solar panels on the gallery’s roof. This means the way the works are seen will depend on the weather of the day, and should there be a heat wave, sections of the gallery may need to be closed.

Tomás Saraceno Serpentine

Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno.

Tomás Saraceno Serpentine

Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno.

However the west gallery and the outdoor exhibition spaces will remain open, whatever the weather. And you will hopefully engage with visitors that are usually made to feel unwelcome in art spaces. The gallery’s doors to the park will be kept open during the day, and there are sculptures for animals to interact with, from houses for hedgehogs and birds to scented works for dogs and steps for squirrels to climb. These extend outside of the gallery, with bird houses dotted around the roof, and a sculpture in the park, taking the inspiration for its shape from cumulonimbus clouds.

Also outside the gallery, visitors are invited to hop on a static bike and pedal to generate power to listen to an audio recording of “The Manifesto for an Ecosocial Energy Transition from the Peoples of the South”.


Header Image Credit: Studio Tomás Saraceno.


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