Counter Currents: Tomás Saraceno on Buckminster Fuller

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Dread Scott to Experimental Jetset and Lucky Dragons—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here artist Tomás Saraceno links the work of R. Buckminster Fuller with Aerocene, his “series of air-fueled sculptures that will achieve the longest, emission-free journey around the world: becoming buoyant only by the heat of the Sun and infrared radiation from the surface of Earth.”

This is a memory of a story about the construction of a telescope. The first day we built a telescope of small dimensions, we looked through it and could not see anything. Then we built a bigger telescope, four times as big. We looked again and… nothing. So we built an even bigger telescope and we kept going… The telescope got bigger and bigger. Still… nothing. There is a moment when the telescope gets so big that others can see our telescope first, rather than, through it, us seeing them.

US Pavilion for Expo 67, designed by R. Buckminster Fuller and Shoi Sdao, erupts in flames. Montreal, May 20, 1976

“Welcome aboard Spaceship Earth!” R. Buckminster Fuller said while looking up to the sky and downward to the ground. He noted, “We are all pilots.” Astronaut Don Pettit, aboard of the International Space Station, could have easily replied to him, “From my orbital perspective, I am sitting still and Earth is moving. I sit above the grandest of all globes spinning below my feet, and watch the world speed by at an amazing eight kilometers per second. The globe is equally divided into day and night by the shadow line, but being 400 kilometers up, we travel a significant distance over the nighttime earth while the station remains in full sunlight. During those times, as viewed from Earth, we are brightly lit against a dark sky. This is a special period that makes it possible for people on the ground to observe space station pass overhead as a large, bright, moving point of light… Ironically, when earthlings can see us, we cannot see them. The glare from the full sun effectively turns our windows into mirrors that return our own ghostly reflection.”

Telescopes turn into microscopes, and all universe fits into it. From where I stand, I found the Universe in a spider web, its harmonic rhythms in the cosmic vibration of a silky string; I found my dreams of flying cities in used plastic bags. The options are infinite. Today I feel the urgency to sense the atmosphere, and I want you to feel it too, because, in the end, we are all already on-board.


Fifty years ago, Fuller’s Spaceship Earth was a clever and sensitive metaphor. Today, this metaphor is a reality, concrete as the particles floating in the universe: the Earth is a Spaceship, with an endless journey and limited resources. And the geological Era we live in, the Anthropocene (critically renamed Capitalocene by Jason W. Moore), by privileging the endless accumulation of capital over all other biological, geological and meteorological forms of life—demands us to re-invent our resources. This is where Bucky Fuller would have comforted us with his ability to change perspective: “There’s no energy crisis; there’s a crisis of ignorance.” To which Marshall McLuhan could have added, “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.” This is “the paradoxical message that Aerocene bears: up from the sky it calls the necessity to be on earth, well-grounded.”1

When I look up, I see an Open Source Space Agency; I see Aerocene­—the opportunity to “de- and re-engineer the hydrocarbon and intellectual property infrastructures that envelop our world,”2 and to reinvent existing methods of flying in ways that do not harm the Earth. It is a new epoch without fossil fuels, engines, helium, or batteries… I want all of us to learn how to fly a 3000 m3 lighter-than-air vehicles that use only solar thermodynamics to become buoyant. We do not need to be all astronauts to explore the overview effect, because we are all pilots. By “all,” I mean it: to change the planet we can only Do-It-Together.

Tomás Saraceno, Aerocene 10.4 & 15.3 During UN COP21 Climate Summit, installation view at Grand Palais, Paris, 2015, Courtesy the artist; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; Andersen's Contemporary, Copenhagen; Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa; Esther Schipper, Berlin. © Tomás Saraceno, 2015


1. Michelon, Olivier. “I bind the Sun’s Throne with a burning zone” in Tomás Saraceno (Ed.) Aerocene. Berlin: 2015.

2. Shapiro, Nicholas. “Alter-Engineered Worlds” in Tomás Saraceno (Ed.) Aerocene. Berlin: 2015.

About dmf

alienist @ large, mostly on foot
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