Your work is both diverse and diversely inspired — from soap bubbles, spider webs, and chocolate milk foam, to astronomical constellations, dust particles, and clouds. But can we say that your main artistic obsession is the flying city?
Yes. If we could extend the word “clouds” to “galactic clouds” and to what this term includes, from the origin of the universe to the theory of multiple parallel universes, then – yes — I would say this is my main project, as it includes everything.
When did you start dreaming of it, and what inspired you to do this in the first place?
Every time I go out at night and watch the stars, I get inspired.
You were born in Argentina, spent your childhood in Italy, and have traveled extensively throughout your life. Which cities do you like the most, and why?
I like all cities combined, and in each one I like something specific. Ultimately, I like that big city that we call Planet Earth. When people ask me where I am from, I say “Planet Earth”, and I’d like to hear this answer from more people. If we keep considering ourselves as belonging to just one part of this much bigger and nicer ecosystem, we might not be able to survive.
Your main studio was in Frankfurt until a few weeks ago. Now you’ve moved to Berlin. What is your connection with this city and what do you think about the overwhelming hype surrounding it?
I don’t know about the hype. I have good friends who live here, and I’m partially here for them. One of them, Ólafur Elíasson, gave me a call and asked me, “Tomás, I’m moving out of my studio. Do you want it?” And there were other reasons: they were tearing down the building where I have my Frankfurt studio, and the people working with me wanted to come to Berlin. But I don’t think that the hype was a real factor. At least not for me.
You are an architect by education. How and why did you transition to art?
First of all, I don’t know what I am, architect or artist. If I were to know what being an artist truly is, I wouldn’t be one anymore. I think art is about titles but also about dealing with a lot of questions between what you do and do not know. It’s like rephrasing the same question, but you never know what you are answering.
But, of course, in your life you make decisions based on what you feel more comfortable with and with whom you want to discuss things. When I was studying and applying for scholarships, for instance, I was more drawn to schools, like the IUAV in Venice, that mix art and architecture. I felt that talking about architecture in artistic environments was more comfortable for me, and this guided me in my choices.
I’m not interested in what’s the difference between architecture and art, or other disciplines, but what their common ground is, what brings them together.
Who are your favorite personalities in art, architecture or urban planning today?
I just came back from a residency at MIT, where I met an artist called Trevor Paglen…Of course Ólafur Elíasson, and other friends of mine. It could be a very long list.
Recently I’ve been following a group of architects who call themselves “Architecture for Humanity”. I saw interesting work in that same direction at the recent Design Biennale in Istanbul, curated by Joseph Grima.
A book that we’ve mentioned at Falling Walls Space with Daniel Libeskind is “Architecture without Architects” by Bernard Rudofsky.
How did you meet Ólafur Elíasson?
Initially through courses in Venice. Then he was my professor. Then I worked with him, and now we are friends.
How was your residency at MIT and do you think it will produce new projects and collaborations?
It was great, and yes, I hope so. We’re now deepening and continuing the conversation with many people from different backgrounds.
Your mother is a biologist. Perhaps this explains the important role of your collaborations with researchers from various fields: engineers, chemists, botanists, astrophysicists, and of course biologists. How do you find and choose them?
It comes from very different sources. When you read a newspaper, you don’t just read a section of it. It’s interesting to find the connections within it that are not always so evident. Sometimes, it comes from simply talking to people.
Your latest works are inspired by the M-theory, the theory of parallel universes. At “On Space Time Foam” at Hangar Bicocca, the weight and movement of one visitor affects the experience of all the others, because they are walking above one another on different layers. Tell us a little about this theory and how you have included it in your work.
The M-theory is one of the elements of that work, but it also has to do with the fact that people are sharing the same air, and that the air that visitors are breathing is what keeps them suspended and determines their space. This is clearly quite connected with what’s happening in the world.
Your works have been shown in some of the most important international institutions. The Venice Biennale, the Musée d’Art Moderne in Luxembourg, Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. What do you think about the art industry in large cities and of its influence on their inhabitants?
I’m not sure what “art industry” would mean, and I’m not really interested in knowing. Let’s say that most of my work is about how people can be involved in the construction of a city. That’s what’s happening at Hangar Bicocca with my work. It’s a way for the institution to engage people in the discourse of how space is built, to give them back the feeling that they can be part of the construction of the city. It is like Linux, or Wikipedia, a participatory way of creating. But I hate the expression “art industry”. I don’t understand what that is about. When we do something, sometimes it works for an art institution and sometimes for another type of space.
If you could choose, would you rather have a solo show at the MoMA or plan a new city with no limits of budget?
You know the answer already. But actually the idea of “constructing a city” is arrogant; it is pretentious to think that you would be able to do it alone. Let’s rather think about a project like Museo Aero Solar, in which the people that contribute and interact determine the context, not the art institution. But you know: one thing doesn’t exclude the other. Maybe we will make the MoMA fly in the future.
What is your next big project?
We’re working with the Port of Rotterdam on a possible flying plaza.
Interview: Marcello Pisu