Tomás Saraceno, Flying Green House, 2008

Fig. 1: Tomás Saraceno, Flying Greenhouse, 2008 ©Alexander Godschalk

The sky is the limit? Not according to Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno (1973). His Flying Green House (fig. 1) is perhaps the most ambitious project of Sonsbeek 2008. Saraceno already made similar floating balloon installations before, but never before with a diameter of ten metres. In addition, his Flying Green House the first to be installed outdoors. Both Saraceno and the Sonsbeek 2008 production team that assist him are a little nervous working on the piece during the preparations. The result is a fine piece of technology that visitors can experience after a short climb. 

Flying Green House
consists of thirty-two transparent balloons held together by a hand-woven net. The net is attached to surrounding trees using large construction cranes, allowing it to hang in the air (fig. 2). With the exception of the middle balloon, in which you can sit, all balloons are filled with helium. The air pressure in the balloons remains the same via an ingenious pipe system, so that the pressure between the work and the trees also remain stable. One week after the opening, nature seems to throw a spanner in the works when Arnhem is hit by a heavy hail storm in broad daylight. Flying Green House is slightly damaged, but fortunately several top balloon can be restored.              

Fig. 2: Installing Flying Green House ©Alexander Godschalk

During the exhibition, a team of supervisors is present every day to guide visitors as they climb the work. For safety reasons, only a few people are allowed to climb at a time, and shoes must be left downstairs. In total, no less than ten thousand people enter the installation. Among them are not only many parents with children, but also mayors, priests, blind people, and a pregnant women. Even Queen Beatrix, who opens the exhibition, goes up the stairs. Finally, there are ninety-three requests from people who would like to spend a night inside the work. Obviously this was not possible, but it still touches on Saraceno's dream.                                                                        

Flying Green House
 is site-specific, but Saraceno actually strives for balloon installations that float endlessly in the air, which are inhabited by people. His idea for the future are houses in the air, which ensure that people are no longer bound by the ground and fixed national borders. In his earlier balloon installations, Saraceno also grows plants that do not need soil, because they can get all their nutrition from the air (this turns out to be undoable for Flying Green House . Saraceno's project for Sonsbeek 2008 sits between utopia and reality. It encourages us to think about the new needs of people in the future, and the role that art can play to accomodate these needs.[1]

[1] This text is based on a conversation with Alexander Godschalk, head of production Sonsbeek 2008.