Saraceno, aerosolar, sculpture

Aerosolar Sculptures

You’ve heard of the Anthropocene: the proposed name for the current geological epoch during which the collective activities of Homo sapiens have irrevocably and unwisely (man!) altered the Earth’s surface, atmosphere, oceans and systems of nutrient recycling.

But have you heard of the Aerocene?

Tomás Saraceno, Aerocene Gemeni, Free Flight, 2016. Courtesy of the artist. Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; Andersen’s Contemporary, Copenhagen; Esther Schipper, Berlin. Photo by Tomás Saraceno, 2016.

Brainchild of the prolific Argentinian interdisciplinary artist Tomás Saraceno, Aerocene is the proposed name for a future planetary epoch – post-Anthropocene, post-fossil fuels – during which Wise man turns increasingly to the Air, to the unlimited potential of the Sun, to the borderless highways of the Wind. In this enlightened future era of ecological awareness, Saraceno imagines our species evolving beyond the Anthropocene to achieve sustainable co-habitation of our shared planet, no longer governed by extractive geopolitics.

To date, the Aerocene is perhaps best known for its open-source aerosolar sculptures (some made of reused plastic bags). These emissions-free floating airborne sculptures are filled only with air, lifted only by the sun, and carried only by the wind. Aerosolar sculptures are kept afloat in Earth’s stratosphere by the heat of the sun (during the day) and infrared radiation from the surface of the Earth (at night). No solar panels, no helium, no batteries, no fossil fuels. Just the sun and wind doing their magic.

Screenshot of Museo Aero Solar website

You can download free open-source do-it-together (DIT) instructions for making your own aerosolar sculptures here.

The Aerocene is also the name of an open-source participatory platform for global artistic and scientific collaboration to mobilize an urgent international and cross-disciplinary response to the Anthropocene. It has quickly evolved into a vibrant planetary movement of artists, meteorologists, engineers, architects, anthropologists, geographers, philosophers, historians, scientists, musicians, explorers, balloonists and several institutes (e.g. CNES, MIT, London’s Royal College of Art). An unsigned online manifesto calls for, among other things, “building a less anthropocentric relationship with our environment” and to “re/entangle ourselves with the surrounding milieu.”

While Studio Tomás Saraceno is located in Berlin, Saraceno “lives and works in and beyond the planet Earth”. He has been widely exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions including, among others, the Venice Art Biennale (2009), Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart (2011), New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (2012), Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (2015), COP21 (2015), London’s Royal College of Art (2016), Zurich’s Haus Konstruktiv (2017), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2017), and Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2018-2019).

In 2017, Saraceno was invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, as well as the TED2017 in Vancouver where he inspired audiences to “consider the impossible.”

By creating positive new narratives, Saraceno and his collaborators around the world challenge conventional thinking about climate change, architecture, the energy transition, mobility. The result is often a palpable sense of awe – a cosmic jam session – that inspires new ways of thinking about our relation to our only home, Earth.

In an interview posted on an MIT website, Saraceno explained his fascination with the Air: “We like to think of ourselves as living on the Earth’s surface, but we are living at the bottom of an ocean of air.” In a second interview, he added “There are highways in the sky; the jet stream moves at a speed of 300km per hour.” Saraceno’s aerosolar sculptures that glide on wind currents prompt us to “speculate on how mobility shapes the way we live on the earth.”

The Aerocene’s focus on nature as an endless source of inspiration is in stark contrast to many contemporary artistic interpretations of the Anthropocene’s planetary destruction as a fait accompli. For example, a recent major multimedia exhibition in Canada entitled Anthropocene at two simultaneous art museums featured hauntingly beautiful but emotionally numbing images of human-altered landscapes by the award-winning Canadian collaborators Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicolas de Pencier.

While reaction to this ambitious concurrent exhibition was generally positive, several reviewers astutely questioned “Do we need (more) images of the Anthropocene, and why?” and “It feels frankly preposterous, not to mention criminally self-indulgent, that we are still observing, documenting, recording – still bearing witness, though what we are mostly bearing witness to is our own profound denial. Is another artistic project, no matter how spectacular, really what we need at this stage?”

Jayne Wilkinson, independent curator and Managing Editor at Canadian Art, concluded her review of Canada’s recent Anthropocene exhibit with strong words: “It is dangerous to continue to uphold the aesthetics of destruction.”

An increasing number of scientific and arts/cultural organizations are calling on artists to help “change the narrative” about climate change and planetary destruction by creating positive stories that offer a compelling vision of a post-carbon world we want to live in. I am personally interested in forward-looking stories that focus on solutions. Stories that invite audiences to ask themselves “How do we get there from here?”

Tomás Saraceno shows us how to get there: by daring to imagine, by embracing the impossible.

No more looking backward. No more dystopic discourse. It is time to focus all our creative energy on collectively imagining a post-carbon, post-Anthropocene future of clean abundance and endless opportunity. We can not build that which we cannot imagine.

(Top image: Screenshot from ArtNet website)

This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.


Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to keep our eyes on the prize – a 100% clean energy economy in our lifetimes. Joan is currently working on a documentary film and book project about Canada’s energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on ElloTwitter and Visura.

4 thoughts on “Aerosolar Sculptures

  1. I found this article interesting and positive. However I believe it is important for artists to show viscerally the dystopia that climate change will bring in every single town and city in the world. Showing this dystopia in microcosm – rather than say macrocosm such as fires in California and flooding in Bangladesh is critical.

    Quite frankly unless voters see and experience first hand what will happen to their particular house and school and community, they will not elect the politicians who will create the necessary changes to stop it. Let me say this loud and clear – if we as artists do not move people to elect politicians who support radical anti-fossil fuel policies, then our imagined dystopias will merely come to pass.

    I am a science fiction writer who recently published a book called The Burning Years. It is part of a three or four book series. I avoid descriptions of dystopia, however in books one, two, three and four of the series, I imagine a world which is post climate change.

    This world depends very much on living architecture and proto-cells. The science in my books has been well researched and it is entirely possible and within reach. While I use ET intervention to demonstrate versions of clean energy to the inhabitants of earth who remain (Dyson sphere), I believe we can get there ourselves.

    Imagine buildings that are alive and regenerate – they exist. Additionally my post climate change communities and multi-generational space ship has been designed based on Dr. Rachel Armstrong’s ideas of what living architecture can accomplish.

    The problem however as we writers of fiction know only too well is human nature, and my question is will it change substantially? Will we become less violent and greedy? Well you’ll have to read the series to find out what I think. I’ll give you a clue – only when we understand that the consciousness that animates our biological bodies and brains is a whole lot bigger and more intelligent than us. Do we live in a simulation – I don’t think so, but I think we do live in a brilliantly complex mathematical universe. We are designed to be the observers of our world (double slit experiment) and thus I believe we create our own consensus based reality. My question is, when and if we will ever really understand that, and based on that understanding, create the post anthropocene world we artists like the ones you describe so well in your article have the skills to envision?

    • Thank you very much Felicity for your thoughtful comments. I am a huge fan of Rachel Armstrong, and I had already planned to write about her and her living architecture research later this year on this platform. Perhaps I should include a review of your fascinating book series in that same post? I am no expert on human psychology, but I agree with Yale’s Anthony Leiserowitz (see this interview that “we have predominantly focused on conveying dystopic visions of the world that we want to avoid, and there has been far less attention to describing and envisioning the world we want to live in.” If there is a silver lining to the dark climate change cloud, it is this: climate change is so complex, and the solutions to climate change are so numerous, that artists like yourself can choose to open whatever door you feel most passionate about (architecture, agriculture, transport, ocean plastic, energy transition, etc.) to help change the narrative. Myself, I have chosen the energy transition door: I have dedicated my second 50 years to becoming an expert in this one aspect of the climate change conversation, and to using my cameras to shine a light on forward-thinking solutions. I think if each artist focuses on the one thing s/he is truly passionate about and then flies with it, taking it to new heights and finding ways to make that topic resonate with the larger public, then collectively we will be able to move mountains. As artists, we don’t have to individually take on the whole climate change story (it will only lead to burnout); instead, we must trust that other artists will step in and fill in the gaps. Everyone has a role to play here. Allons-y!

      • Thanks Joan emphasizing political action again as the solution. My first book is called The Burning Years. Other two being edited for publication now. So glad you are also a fan of Rachel Armstrong. Have you seen today’s Washington post story on UFOS and the kind of energy they use to travel? Perhaps my ET intervention isn’t so far out after all! Cheers and keep up the great work!

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