Image source:

Photography: Ela Bialkowska, OKNO Studio 2020


Aria exhibition by Tomás Saraceno

Palazzo Strozzi, Florence  

“Our movement influences how fast or slow particles drift through the air. Reducing our movement and slowing the particles will help everyone to stay safe. In solidarity with Palazzo Strozzi, Italy and the World, let’s move differently for better times”. Tomás Saraceno (2020) 

Words Eleanor Stephenson

On Thursday 20th February, I braved the cold winds of Florence to join the celebration of Tomás Saraceno’s exhibition Aria, at Palazzo Strozzi. The evening was inspiring, filled with beautiful walks and conversations through Sacareno’s magical world. Unbeknown to everyone, those same magnificently overbearing fifteenth-century doors would close for the foreseeable future, just a few weeks later. However, thanks to a campaign spearheaded by the ever-innovative director and curator, Arturo Galansin, Saraceno’s work has been able to reach the public throughout the lockdown period with a renowned sense of urgency. Like many in the art world, Galansin has taken to the virtual stage to continue the debate surrounding Saraceno’s marvellous imagination. Through daily blog posts on the Palazzo Strozzi website, Galansin has provided us with the opportunity to immerse ourselves in Sacareno’s oeuvre, allowing us to interact with Aria from the comfort of our own homes.  

Tomas Saraceno (b.1973) is an Argentinian multidisciplinary artist who grew up in Italy and now works and lives in Berlin, Germany. He studied architecture at Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires in Argentina from 1992 to 1999 and received postgraduate degrees from Escuela Superior de Bellas Ares de la Nación Ernesto de la Carcova, Buenos Aires (2000) and Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste - Städelschule-Frankfurt am Main (2003). In 2009 Saraceno attended the International Space Studies Program at NASA Center Ames in Silicon Valley, CA, and in 2014 he undertook an artist’s residency at the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (National Centre for Space Studies - CNES) in France. Among his many accomplishments is the ongoing project Aerocene, the emblem of his ambition for human symbiosis with the Earth, free from borders and fossil fuels.  


Aria (air in Italian) was inspired in part by the illustrations in Italo Calvino’s 1977 novel, Invisible Cities, particularly the imaginary city of Octavia, known as the floating ‘spider-city’. Palazzo Strozzi curator Ludovica Sebregondi references Saraceno’s admiration for Calvino’s work, comparing their imagination of alternative, utopian, dystopian futures and abstract realities.   

“Take life lightly, because lightness is not superficiality, but gliding on things from above, not having boulders on the heart” Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (1988).  

Another fundamental inspiration for this exhibition came from the ancient practice of divination known as Nggám, used by the Mambila people of Cameroon and Nigeria, who use spiders and cobwebs to produce prophesies. Saraceno has divided the exhibition into ten different sections, to reflect the symbolisms on each of his Arachnomancy Cards. For example, Card No.1 is titled Multiverse and is inscribed with the following message: “Gravitational waves resounding the cosmic web, yet to be felt. Infinite sensing of the world, lifeforms weave constellations. Close your eyes, cover your ears, I will still sense your felt vibrations."  

Aria begins in the symmetry of the Renaissance courtyard of Palazzo Strozzi, with the site-specific installation Thermodynamic Constellation. While undertaking the residency at the Centre National d’Études Spatiales, Saraceno investigated the specific materials used by aerospace engineering. Thermodynamic Constellation is a manifestation of this intellectual exploration and a manifesto for the future. Despite their weighted appearance, these spheres are floating through their mutual tension. These towering spheres made from reflective material, are prototypes of aerosolar balloons capable of floating into the atmosphere – free from fossil fuels. What appears to be signature Saraceno, is in fact fundamental to the balloon’s aeromechanics: the upper mirror reflecting the sun’s radiation, preventing overheating during flight, while the lower part ensures the temperature inside the capsule is stable during night flight by absorbing the heat of the planet that provides the aerostatic thrust.

Thermodynamic Constellation represents Saraceno’s ongoing project Aerocene, defined as an interdisciplinary artistic community that seeks ethical collaboration with the environment and the atmosphere. Beyond this, Saraceno proposes a new generation of man, Homo Flotans, who survive on the rhythm of the planets and the atmosphere. Though utopian, Saraceno’s quest for balance between humans and the Earth, is an idea which has been hurtled into orbit for the world to see. As governments around the world lockdown their citizens, in some extremes by imposing prison sanctions, how can we possibly imagine ourselves floating in the atmosphere. Perhaps it is this very contrast between our reality and those posed in Aria, that brings to bear the importance of this exhibition. As we adapt, we must also shed the shackles of our previous lives, rid ourselves of outdated ideas and ways of working. Just as Saraceno conceives of the rich freedom and harmony Homo Flotans would experience, we must strive for a lighter, airier and ultimately, more balanced existence in order to physically and mentally survive.