Tomás Saraceno’s Fossil Fuel-Free Flights at Art Basel Miami Beach

Audemars Piguet taps the conceptual artist's Aerocene community for an oceanside exhibit

To understand the work of Tomás Saraceno, one must replace the word “concept”—in the definition of conceptual art—with the word “cause.” For “Albedo,” his Audemars Piguet-commissioned large-scale installation during Art Basel Miami Beach, the artist’s message reverberates in the very particles of the oceanside space. We are destroying Earth with our addiction to fossil fuels. And while this subject matter grazes the shoulders of last year’s commission on the same site, Lars Jan’s “Slow-Moving Luminaries,”  Saraceno surpasses it on a philosophical and interdisciplinary level.

You may wonder what this all means. It’s difficult for viewers—and deservedly so—to grasp it all upon first glance. A step into “Albedo,” which translates to whiteness (as in, to reflect all color brightly, like snow in the sunlight on a hill), reveals 40 metallic satellites (out-turned umbrellas) of various sizes and shapes, all pointed in different directions. They encircle a patch of sand and a stationary bike that holds a basket and a weathervane. Photos may lead one to believe this is the installation. It isn’t. These are tools.

When the winds calm and the Miami sun shines with power, a rider hops on the bike to spin the wheels and channel air into a large balloon—one of Saraceno’s Aerocene Explorer solar sculptures. From there, the heat reflected off the umbrellas creates a hemispherical sundial and the sculpture rises with the aid of solar radiation. Is the act then the art? Is the patience while waiting for the weather to be just right the exhibit? Is every moment standing inside the site the artwork, as it has been manipulated because of an artist’s vision? For Saraceno, it’s more than this. It’s the intention—and much like Carte Blanche, his record-breaking show at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo, it’s about confrontation.

“It’s all of it,” he explains to us. “I try to discover every day. I try to push the borders of what art could be and what I can do.” That often means calling on the help of others, be it the Aerocene community, collaborators and even those passing by the show. Saraceno’s exhibit offers 10 Aerocene Explorer backpacks for attendees to borrow and fill themselves. The goal is to spread the knowledge that anyone can harness solar energy and, in gaining this power, they can sever ties with fossil fuels.

If confrontation is Saraceno’s tornado on the sandlot, food and music are components that have been picked up along the way. A major component of the sustainable pavilion is solar cooking done in partnership with The Wynwood Yard. This takes place on a slow-cooker behind the scene and in cans floating off of fishing poles among the umbrellas. Here, Saraceno wonders, “Can we serve food that is not cooked in the moment there is no sun?” In critical thinking about the way we cook, we may discover answers that will release us from what he refers to as our “entanglement with the environment.”

Leaving the installation, one is left in admiration of the pure aesthetic beauty of it—and the whimsy of a balloon “flying on an ocean of air,” as Saraceno calls it. But questions abound. During a preview even Saraceno himself, walking among his creation, asks how he can justify such an experience—when he has worked so hard at minimizing his own carbon footprint—knowing that people would be flying in from around the world and damaging the planet in the process. His point is sound, but the conversation he initiates on this subject will travel the world without fossil fuel and perhaps off-set what he fears.


“Albedo” will be on view through 9 December. Whether or not the Aerocene Explorer flies depends on the weather. On this, Saraceno explains, “I can’t wrap my head around the idea of bad weather. There’s good weather and weather for indoor activities.” He adds, “It’s always positive… You can wait—wait with joy, with passion, for the right time, in the right moment.”

Installation views and Aerocene performances on the occasion of ‘Audemars Piguet presents Tomas Saraceno for Aerocene’ at Art Basel Miami, 2018. Courtesy Aerocene Foundation. Image by Aerocene Foundation licensed under the open source Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0