Image by The New York Times.
Spiders, their webs, air, and invisible bits of matter are all included in a new show by Tomás Saraceno. The massive, multisensory, immersive installation Free the Air: How to hear the world in a spider/web (2022), commissioned to fill The Shed's 17,000 sq. ft. internal courtyard, is a highlight of the exhibition. The work, which takes the shape of a 95-foot-diameter spherical sculpture, features two internal wire mesh nets, one suspended at 12 feet and the other at 40 feet. Visitors must purchase a separate ticket for the installation, which allows them to choose between the upper and lower floors.
Saraceno works with concerns of air quality and environmental justice throughout the show, using air as a protagonist. A beam of light situated about eye level spreads over a pitch black room, illuminating millions of microscopic particles floating in the air in the work Particular Matter(s) (2020). The observer walks through the dusty light, which heightens their awareness of the stuff that is typically unseen in the air we breathe. Seeing this painting immediately after seeing the immaculate, delicate spider/webs serves as a sobering reminder that all ecosystems are interdependent, fragile, and vulnerable to the same environmental challenges, especially air quality.
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Free the Air's domed walls, pathways, and nets are dazzling white and bathed in an ethereal light, which contrasts sharply with the near absolute darkness of most of the exhibition's rooms. Rising mist adds to the surreal atmosphere at the 12 ft high level. The top net, which rattles and bounces with every movement, allows visitors on the higher level to view down into the mist. The prohibition on bringing any things, including cameras or phones, to the top level is a welcome encouragement to totally immerse oneself in the exhibit. The light dims to darkness and Saraceno's eight-minute experience begins as soon as visitors are seated or lying down.
A video of "Feel the Air" by Beth Frank
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