Artist Tomás Saraceno Takes an AR Flight in France

In the French language, the word “degrè” is used for both air temperature and to measure a percentage of alcohol. So is a difference of one or two per cent of alcohol in the production of champagne as important as a few degrees difference in air temperature? It might seem like a question of the vague, or non-tangible, but a collaboration between artist Tomás Saraceno and the world’s oldest champagne house, Ruinart, founded in 1729, proves quite the opposite.

Henri Robert

Tomás Saraceno, towards an Aerocene era, Making of Movement [49.190091, 4.064507] 20.05.2021 Reims, France. Augmented reality Aeroglyphic sculpture formed by a site-specific trajectory made with the Aerocene Backpack. A Movement to free the air from fossil fuels, lifted only the air and sun and moved by the wind. For Maison Ruinart.

Tomás Saraceno, the Berlin-based Argentine artist, has developed a central project in his work, the Aerocene balloon—collaboratively developed aerosolar sculptures that depend on nothing but thermodynamics to fly. Saraceno believes we are living in the Anthropocene era—a geological epoch in which some human activities leave such a significant impact that they profoundly modify terrestrial ecologies. In Reims, France, the champagne house Ruinart has invited the artist and his balloons for a collaboration. These floating sculptures depend on balance: between the air inside and the air outside, between temperatures, between the sun and the wind. They have utopian aspirations, but real working mechanics.

In 2019, Ruinart inaugurated its Countdown program, launched to count down to the 300th anniversary of the house in 2029. First they invited painter and cartoonist David Shrigley, who left his mark on the eight kilometers of limestone galleries that conserve the champagne. Now, they welcome Saraceno to produce a permanent digital work, an installation in Augmented Reality. It is part of the next step in the company’s ecological program, following the “Second Skin” launched in 2020 as an eco-designed alternative to traditional champagne boxes.

The movement of Saraceno’s Aerocene can be recorded with a GPS tracker, and a flight in Reims at the beginning of July will see the AR sculpture act like a “paintbrush to paint the air,” guided by both the human hand and the movements of air. At the end of May, as the artist and his team were testing the project and making preparatory flights, I had the opportunity to witness the impacts of the subtle variations of temperature: a cloud crossing the courtyard of the house making the balloon drop, before a few seconds later resuming its flight up. In these movements, different allegories appear, with the textile structure looking momentarily like a ray, a few seconds later a triangle, a black hat, giving a form to the consequences of climatic changes, making it tangible.

Man in field at sunset

Tomás Saraceno. Photo by Dario Laganà.

As Frédéric Dufour, President of Ruinart, explains, “There is an urgent need to step up actions to nurture biodiversity and mitigate climate change in the Champagne region.” As part of an ecological project to fight against the climate emergency and restore biodiversity, Ruinart is working with Reforest’Action to establish an ambitious biodiversity pilot project in its Taissy vineyard. Between 2021 and 2022, nearly 14,000 trees and shrubs will be planted across 4.4 kilometers of hedges and 800 square meters of islets. Local wood species have been selected to improve biodiversity and to provide habitats for fauna useful for growing vines, such as ladybugs, birds and bats. The idea is to “regenerate the soil and bring back the original fauna and flora to this parcel through these vitiforestry practices, which allow us to re-establish ecological corridors within the historic Taissy vineyard” adds Frédéric Panaïotis, Ruinart’s Cellar Master.

Sensitive to the work of Bruno Latour and the psychoanalyst and philosopher Félix Guattari, and his concept of ecosophy (ecological philosophy), Tomás Saraceno doesn’t offer immersive art, but a process by which we might be immersed in the Earth, and humanity, in a process of sharing through art. From spiders to wine, to humans and the cosmic, if we are determined to keep all the species sharing this planetary journey alive, we’ll have to find a way to stabilize atmospheric temperatures and find new forms of balance and solidarity between all beings.

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