Rodel Tapaya’s main piece at ARNDT’s primary location in Berlin resists blatant interpretation. In his expansive painting, The Chocolate Ruins, the blend of thematically related images impresses a conflated disquiet and a sense of simultaneous ironies. Speaking in the reconstructed and often esoteric language of folklore¬ – myths and legends and their transfer in barbershop talk and current events – his works resurface age-old wisdom to comment on our contemporary life. All the images are visually connected by parts of the cacao plant, scattered across the canvas, each one dedicated to the three major disasters that has devastated the Philippines during the past year; a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, Supertyphoon Haiyan, and the scandal over widespread misuse of congressional funds. Chocolates are easily a substitute for anything that corrupts, be it money, beauty, or tradition; an insinuation to its prominent role in the bittersweet aspirations and decline of Imperial Spain’s colonial rule over the Philippines. Other elements in the tragic tableau show vestiges of church ruins, makeshift shelters, storm clouds with faces, and helpless men. As our living and thinking increasingly adapt to the unremitting charge of information, artists like Rodel Tapaya have developed an ability to isolate particular parts of this dissonance and arrange them in fresh dramatic combinations. Tapaya has an awareness of the world as one would an ancient storyteller with insight developed in the context of the events that have altered into other things, and explores the implication of these dynamic and inexhaustible symbols and narratives in relation to one another. In a time and place when these myths and legends have become ruins as well, of national identity, the painter looks not to new discoveries to catalogue the human condition, but rather pathways among the thicket of things already known to our ancestors and his nation’s literary heritage.
Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, 15 September 2011 – 15 January 2012
In what was once the arrival and departure hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof (The old railway station of Berlin) which was turned into a “Museum für Gegenwart” of the National Museums in Berlin, Tomás Saraceno has installed a kind of space station with the feel of an adventure playground.
Small, large and giant, transparent plastic balloons are braced with rope nets in the hall. Some small, half-filled with water, keeping the large balloon as ballast weights to the floor, and in the two largest, visitors can board via gangways. One must take off his shoes off before entering into one of the balls, suspended from floor to ceiling. I thought, the orbs were exciting as everything could fall out from one’s pockets or scratch the plastic skin.
It is warm inside the balloons. They are slightly overpressured and sealed by a double lock door, so that no air escapes and the balloon will not fall. Only two or three can fit on the inner trampoline membrane that divides the balloon’s lower and an upper sphere. From outside and below you can see how the people wallow, roll about and lose their balance on it. It is the sensual and playful appearance of lifting into a higher sphere, between flying and falling.
CLOUD CITIES is an installation that mimics a “biosphere” as an idea and model of a “realizable utopia” of future urban life in “cell-like, floating cities” and “hanging settlements”. Tomás Saraceno references Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes and Frei Otto’s biomorphic lightweight constructions after the tension and curvature voltage principle. Different from a nebulous phantasmagoria, a real utopia should always be distinguished in such a way that their futuristic design is something conceivable and reflects and brings us back to a specific contemporary problem.
In this sense, however, all the designs of detached habitats floating, floating, above or below ground habitat have failed so far to the reality – and socially and technically. The old, renewed from nanotechnology fascination with cobwebs and bubbles can not hide the fact that the analog scaling of nanostructures into Metric technically and atmospherically bound to fail, as long as not even the pressure and density of the air will be strengthened accordingly. Even socially, it is still quite unclear to whom such a “biosphere” are intended: for relatively “autonomous communities” a few thousand people with Astronautics adventure spirit, for art lovers as participants in a sinneserweiternden Simulator self test – or, and it is indeed thought, as posthuman supply and disposal colonies for elderly, unemployed or sick disease, such as those Atelier Van Lieshout with black humor designs. That although nobody talks seriously, but the new camp thinking in this direction is only realistic than the spheres utopias “cell-like, floating cities”.
Driving this architectural and habitat utopias is the concern for the human world according to Saraceno. Climate change, global resource depletion and overpopulation of conurbations in fact require new technological, social and aesthetic inventiveness. This would require art to make a sample of those assertions, similar to the science lab, leaving the art world and the museum and risking real-time experiments in social reality. It would therefore attempt, as Tomás Saraceno’s biosphere had to be used for example as mobile emergency and travel accommodations, an ecological experiment or as an urban transport model.
Whether holding many or few people, whether anchored and portable or fixed – such spherical spaces would be rudimentary, easy to install and connected to a network of existing supply of energy and infrastructure. Its waste should be neutral, thus also increasing their efficiency. Above all, it can not only be about new technical modules that function similarly to containers or vehicles, but it would have to have social components, whose purpose it shows to its users. If they work in the slums of Mumbai, Nairobi and Manila as a stretchable low-tech passive huts just like as “Lighter-than-air” -Reiseballons the rich or a tree house-resistance camps in Brazil and Malaysia against Rhodung the jungles, then would be Saraceno’s utopia reflected in the global communicable experience that “we owe ourselves the most beautiful of all the spaceships : the earth”. This “feeling of planetary affiliation” research Tomás Saraceno together with scientists about cobwebs and has patents acquired in a thermal envelope and an iridescent foil membrane. (See. Hanno Rauterberg, The Cloud Walker, in Die Zeit from 15.9.2011, p.65) A meeting was even held by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences during the exhibition in Berlin on 13 December 2011, for the “experimental artistic approach” by Tomás Saraceno.
The exhibition itself is certainly not an experiment, but a model-gimmick in the tradition of spherical engineering and architectural utopias. There have long been such projects within art and it can not be otherwise. Museums, galleries and other art spaces are pseudo laboratories of reality and they have always presented things like this in an ironic-fantastic manner. This exhibition by Saraceno at the Hamburger Bahnhof and in the same place a few months ago Carsten Höller with SOMA and the potion of fly agaric-enriched Caribou urine, and in the spring of 2011 in Frankfurt, Weimar and Salzburg Kate McIntosh with her madcap pseudo -Physiklabor performance “Dark Matter”. McIntosh recorded and divided herself in “the authoritarian structure of scientific order,” while Höller visitors were involved in “absurd theater research”. Both broach and fictionalize scientific experiments without executing them. Because as head of research and subjects they would insist on repeatability and strict control of the actions and identity of people, while “building the game of non-identity”. (See Natascha Adamowski about “experiments as Instructions”;. 8.Kongress the German Society for Aesthetics, Dusseldorf, 4th-7th October 2011 Congress acts 2 website, the DGAE)
Experiments can be made in art, but these are then aesthetic not scientific experiments. Such as James Turrell’s light spaces and Olafur Eliasson color fog. The visitors here do-it-themselves with each individual perception experiments and sensory irritation, but they are not subjects. Balance and spatial orientation are uncertain, some enjoy it, others become dizzy, it is a mind game a little beyond the familiar. The experience of vacillation, floating and falling in Saraceno’s balloons move between regression and fear. They are playful enticements out of the solid, predictable reality, but not experiments for the suitability of visitors and for materials for new biosphere. As such, it will only work in the social reality, whether in slums, on trees or as traveling balloons.
The exhibition is always quite crowded and visitors have to wait until they can climb into the trampoline spaceships. Because of this visitors come to the speeches, fit the stored things and find the whole thing, as a young woman said, “actually better than art.”