Saraceno Builds Berlin Bubbles

Before getting an inside view of Tomas Saraceno’s playful new artwork in Berlin, visitors must remove jewelry, shoes and belts and empty their pockets of keys and mobile phones. Sometimes, enthusiastic members of Art Kabinett collector network must get undressed for art {c.f. AK File: "Israelis Strip for Spencer Tunick," 21 Sept 2011}. The work is a bubble, and bubbles have a tendency to burst. After shedding anything hard or sharp, you climb a rickety ladder to enter a transparent plastic ball suspended above the floor of the Hamburger Bahnhof museum for contemporary art. It is held up by what look like spider webs, and anchored to earth by bubbles filled with water. Art critics at the press preview of the show, called “Cloud Cities,” stepped gingerly from the top of the step ladder onto the billowing layer of plastic in the middle of the bubble. It’s like a bouncy castle, though not as firm -- you can’t walk on it, only sit, lie or crawl. The air pressure inside is different from the museum’s. The acoustics are too -- everything inside sounds more immediate and the outside world is cut off. The ball is completely transparent, so you can see right across the museum hall, and are visible to everyone below (skirts are a bad idea.) Two people can enter at once. One person’s weight will raise the altitude of the other by lifting the plastic -- to remind us, the artist says, of how we are all interdependent. Pressure Drop In another, larger bubble-biosphere covered with plants, visitors can enter either the upper level via a stepladder, or the lower through a door at the bottom. Opening the door reduces the air pressure and causes the upper sheet of plastic to sink suddenly. Visitors caught unawares may get a shock. The bubbles look beautiful, shining in shafts of sunlight streaming through skylights of the museum’s hall. In addition to the two walk-in bubbles, there is a cluster of smaller balls at the entrance with different-colored plastic, creating a prism- like effect. As you walk underneath and look up, the layers of plastic realign to create new colors and patterns. Other bubbles contain plant life, as though part of a botanical space experiment; one is just a sphere of spider webs. The interactive element distinguishes the project from the usual art museum experience. Visitors are taken out of their comfort zone, floating on shifting layers of plastic and confronting a naked drop beneath. Born in Argentina in 1973, Saraceno, who now lives in Frankfurt, told critics at the preview that his project “should be fun,” though also thought-provoking. His resume says he “lives and works between and beyond the planet Earth.” Utopian Vision He dreams of a cloud-city utopia that floats high in the sky. Castles in the air spring to mind -- especially after making the bouncy-castle connection. Still, it is fun for sure - - a worthy follow-up to last year’s equally spectacular and playful installation by Carsten Hoeller in the same space. Hoeller attempted to create the mystic, elusive elixir soma with 12 reindeer, 24 canaries, eight mice and two flies. The adventurous could even spend the night in the museum -- on a platform just above the reindeer enclosure. Saraceno’s work, with a similar combination of science, nature and fantasy, is likely to be equally popular with kids (though they must be accompanied by an adult, and very small children may be denied entry.) Tomas Saraceno’s “Cloud Cities” is showing at the Hamburger Bahnhof museum through Jan. 15 next year. For more information, go to