See the universe through spider webs

Argentinian artist Tomas Saraceno's exhibition encourages visitors to think about issues such as nature

Stepping into the darkened gallery on a hot sunny afternoon, it takes some time adjusting to the largely black space.

It is only when your vision settles that you start noticing the incredible spider webs which look every bit like precision engineering feats.

They are part of Berlin-based Argentinian artist Tomas Saraceno's solo exhibition, Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions. It is held at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore.

When Life drops by to meet the artist, a jam session is underway. A spider is jumping around in a dim sum box and a microphone is amplifying the sound being created.

When asked about his fascination with spiders and their intricate webs at this exhibition, the 42-year-old artist recounts his childhood memories.

In old houses, he watched spiders and their webs and recalls how the natural instinct was always to clear them. "It was a great joy looking at them. I have long been intrigued by their complexity and, for almost eight years now, I have been working with them to perhaps filter my own layers of understanding," he says.


Spider webs resemble engineering feats in Tomas Saraceno’s Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

There are several revelations in the show, from the rare opportunity of touching one part of a strong web to learning about what went into the making of this exhibition.

Research into spider webs and producing arachnid-inspired artworks are a key part of his almost 15-year multidisciplinary art practice, which has taken him to the Venice Biennale.

Preparations, the artist says, began more than a year ago with several field trips to nature areas in Singapore, including several early-morning and late-night visits to MacRitchie Reservoir, where he caught some spiders and brought them back to the centre.

Spider species such as the Singapore Psechrus, the Golden Orb Weaver, the Twig-Like Feather-Legged and the St Andrews Cross worked together in a special laboratory space created at the centre's back room space in Malan Road, where they were put in a special setting to weave the webs on display.

While some spiders are still in the space today, the plan is to return them to their natural habitat.

Saraceno says one of the things he tries to do is look at "the amount of interconnectedness in the world. In life, we are dependent on so many invisible factors, we hardly even think about them".

The complexity of detail that you can see in each web gets the viewer reflecting, among other things, on the complexity of life itself.

  • VIEW IT/TOMAS SARACENO: ARACHNID ORCHESTRA. JAM SESSIONS

    WHERE: National Technological University Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Block 43 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks

    WHEN: Till Dec 20, noon to 7pm (Tuesday to Sunday), noon to 9pm (Friday), closed on Mondays, open on public holiday

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: Go to ntu.ccasingapore.org and www.arachnidorchestra.org or call 6460-0300

    JAM SESSION #2: LIVE PERFORMANCE BY ARACHNIDS AND SINGAPORE ARTIST BANI HAYKAL. WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY LEADING SINGAPORE ARACHNOLOGIST, JOSEPH KOH

    WHERE: National Technological University Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Block 43 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks

    WHEN: Nov 7, 4 to 6pm

    ADMISSION: Free

It is also a nod to the artist's multidisciplinary artistic practice, which draws inspiration from many sources, including his training in architecture and his interest in science-fiction and space exploration. For him, arachnology, or the scientific study of spiders, is a a tool for the investigation of the cosmos.

Among the spectacular arachnid- inspired artworks he has produced are complex webs that get the viewer thinking about many issues, including natural habitats and unconventional ways of art-making. For this exhibition, there is a dedicated website (www.arachnidorchestra.org), which serves as a research platform for the show.

Trained as an architect, he attended the International Space Studies Program at the Nasa Center in California in 2009. Often called "an ecological artist", his work in the past has been inspired by the morphology of soap bubbles, spider webs or cloud formations.

In 2009, he was awarded the prestigious Alexander Calder Prize, which is awarded bi-annually to a living artist by the non-profit Calder Foundation. The award recognises exemplary and innovative artistic work. He also exhibited at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009.

Curator Anca Rujoiu, who has co-curated this show with founding director of the centre Ute Meta Bauer, says: "The power of art is that it can draw attention to things we often overlook or take for granted. "Through his art, Tomas is getting us to think about many unexplored things, including nature, natural habitat and, at the same time, getting us to reflect on the origins of the universe."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'See the universe through spider webs'. Print Edition | Subscribe