Since 2006, Tomás Saraceno has been articulating a shift in focus, to unfold arachnid research from the perspective of the web. According to numerous studies that have argued that the web is an extension of the spider’s sensory and also cognitive systems - our approach is not to consider the web as separate to the web-building spider, but a living material assemblage we think of in terms of the conjunctive neologism: the spider/web.
Through this interest in the form, function and possibilities of invertebrate architectures, Studio Tomás Saraceno has carefully built a series of spider/web archives, that allow insights into the various spider/web typologies that exist, and allow us to imagine new ways to interpret and understand these living architectures and assemblages, through the lens of multiple disciplines of thought.
Through this website, these archives are made available to the interested public, to advance understanding and possibilities for thinking with the spider/web. Just like the spider/web, these archives are not static but dynamic, and continue to grow and change shape. We ask for your collaboration as we seek to expand these archives, in a collective effort to raise awareness of our invertebrate kin.
At present, the archives include:
- The Archive of Spider/Web Typologies
- 2-Dimensional Archive of Spider/Web Prints
- 3-Dimensional Physical Archive of Spider/Web Typologies
- 3-Dimensional Digital Archive of Spider/Web Typologies
- The Archive of Spider/Web Vibrations
- Mapping against extinction: The Archive of Spider/Web Ecologies
Spiders spin tiny Universes. Formed of complex interwoven networks suspended in air, the Hybrid Webs unique architectures originate from inter-specific encounters between unrelated solitary, social and semi-social spider species. As different spiders from different species weave in the same space, bridging the architectures of each other’s webs, each one of them tells a story of hybrid relationships, entangling not only different arachnid webbed ecosystems, but also human and more-than-human worlds. In this series, floating galaxies made of different silk and web types collide, challenging gravity and fostering the emergence of new kinds of vibrational environments. There, sensory worlds and lines of communication merge and connect, the web being considered an extension of the spider’s sensorial and cognitive systems.
The works’ titles feature the names, genus and species of the spider collaborators who came together to tune their strings, and the amount of time needed to shape and compose their three-dimensional webs.
From these encounters, emerges a space where multitudes observe themselves in the very act of becoming a community: a spatial condition of physical immersion in an environment where stories of co-existence between humans and other species materialize. Engaging in those collaborative relationships and creative dynamics – the web sometimes becoming a musical instrument – is a way of attuning to others’ Umwelten, towards novel ways of living together. As Eben Kirskey puts it, “emergent dynamics can destroy the existing order”, but they “can also figure into collective hopes.”
“Life is not just about matter and how it immediately interacts with itself but also how that matter interacts in interconnected systems that include organisms in their separately perceiving worlds – worlds that are necessarily incomplete, even for scientists and philosophers who, like there objects of study, form only a tiny part of the giant perhaps infinite universe they observe”
(Dorian Sagan, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, with a Theory of Meaning, 1934)
“Spiders, we now understand, have given us a model of which the present is a simulacrum, though not just the technocratic, seemingly intangible future-present of life online but also the real-world urgency of environmental relationships and their fragility.”
(David Toop, Filament Drums: the Endless Instrument, in Cosmic Jive: The Spider Sessions, 2014)
“Forget about spider man and his meek two-dimensional webs! Even though spider webs have been around for at least 140 million years, we have never managed to preserve, measure and display their webs in a three dimensional form. Tomás Saraceno has opened our eyes to the intricate geometry of spider webs with his newly invented scanning instrument that digitized for the first time a three-dimensional web. In fact, there is no single museum in the world with a collection of this kind. His spider web sculptures are a breakthrough in both science and art, and thanks to his methods and technique he has enabled much needed comparative studies in mathematics, engineering and arachnology, opening new fields of studies.”
(Peter Jäger, Head of Arachnology, Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt am Main, and co-author of the World Spider Catalog, 2015)
Tomás Saraceno: We are trying to learn about spiders’ behavior and net making and we would like to learn more about the origin of the uni-verse…But maybe you could start by explaining the project first and also this analogy between the cosmic filaments and a spider web.
Volker Springel: … The cosmic web, that’s how we astronomers talk about the big picture, how the universe as a whole presents itself and how galaxies are arranged on large scales. I can show you a flight through the universe. As we think it is. The stuff that is colorful here is actually matter which you can’t really see. On the computer we can paint it and we can illuminate it. What is visible a little bit here is that the backbone of structure of the universe consists of these filament-like structures, which are part of the cosmic web, and along these we find galaxies that are arranged like pearls on a string…We hope to find evidence for unknown elementary particles that we think make up most of the matter in the universe. All of this stuff that is red and yellow here are particles we have not discovered yet on earth.
(Excerpts from a conversation with Volker Springel at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Munich, Germany, on February 17, 2009)
Museological collections tend to focus on the spider in isolation of its web. We argue for the importance of attending to the material architectures (webs) that connect the spider to the world, and which also might propose different stories about evolution and niche adaptation, for instance.
In response to this, and in collaboration with people and institutions across knowledge fields, Studio Tomás Saraceno hosts the only existing archive of physical three-dimensional spider/webs. This archive includes both representative webs from major web typologies, and also Hybrid Spider/Webs - the multispecies material encounters conceived and realised by Saraceno, which weaves together the unique web architectures of several unrelated species of spider, exhibiting varying degrees of sociality.
This web archive will act as a shared resource for scientific and artistic inquiry - eventually, we hope, articulating a different classification or understanding of spider speciation that emerges from the web itself. In addition, the physical archive will be gradually complemented by a growing 3D archive of spider/webs, at present containing 3D models of complex Cyrtophora citricola and Latrodectus mactans spider/webs.
Over more than a decade of interspecies collaboration, Studio Tomás Saraceno has worked with myriad spider/web species from a wide geographic distribution, and which fall under seven major web typologies: orb, tent, space, sheet, lace, underwater and hybrid spider/webs. The form of these webs drifts from planar, two-dimensional structures to complex, three-dimensional architectures. Spider/webs also differ according to their sociality: with only ca. 25 of the 48,141 known spider species exhibiting some degree of social behaviour. The spider/webs with whom the Studio collaborates includes a number of social (Parawixia bistriata, which build joined orb web colonies in their juvenile stage and Philoponella alata, a territorial permanent -social spider), and semi-social species (including Cyrtophora citricola, Holocnemus pluchei).
The orb web is the most easily recognised spider/web typology: a circular, spiral web built on a single plane, with a clearly detectable mesh and hub at the centre. Orb weavers comprise about a quarter of the web-building spider species (ca. 4,600 species), or about 10% of all known spider species. Our 3D archive includes examples of the classic orb webs built by Araneus diadematus (Berlin); Araniella cucurbitina (Berlin); Argiope anasuja (SE-Asia); Argiope bruennichi (Berlin); Argiope lobata (Croatia); Cyclosa conica (Berlin); Larinioides sclopetarius (Berlin); Nephilingis cruentata (tropical Africa); Parawixia bistriata (Argentina), as well as coloured orb webs built by Nephila clavipes (S-America); Nephila edulis (Germany, originally from Australia); Nephila inaurata/ kenianensis (UK, originally from Africa); Nephila senegalensis (Germany, donated by Jutta Schneider. Originally from Africa); reduced orb webs built by Zygiella x-notata (Berlin); and cribellate orb webs built by Philoponella alata (China, donated by Peter Jäger), Uloborus plumipes (Berlin).
This web typology is described by a complex, modified orb web with a very fine rectangular mesh, including a horizontally aligned ‘tent’ built with non-sticky silk, with a network of supporting threads suspended above . Our archive includes tent web examples built by semisocial Cyrtophora citricola (Croatia/United States, some donated by Angela Chuang) or Cyrtophora moluccensis (China, donated by Peter Jäger) spiders. This web architecture was also the inspiration for Frei Otto’s 1972 Olympic Munich Pavilion.
Space webs are three-dimensional web structures, which can be based on orb, sheet or tangle web architectures, and may or may not include gum-foot threads extending down from the web. Our 3-D physical archive includes examples of a number of subtypes: cobweb or gum-footed webs built by Enoplognatha ovata (Berlin); Latrodectus mactans (Germany, originally from N-America); Latrodectus geometricus (Germany, originally from N-Africa); Parasteatoda tepidariorum (Berlin); Steatoda grossa (Berlin); Steatoda nobilis (Europe); Steatoda triangulosa (Berlin); Theridiidae sp, (Berlin / China, some donated by Peter Jager); irregular space webs built by Holocnemus pluchei (Paris/Croatia/Berlin); Pholcus phalangioides (Berlin); Viridasius sp. (Madagascar); tangle webs (communal, irregular space web of social living spiders) built by Anelosimus exilis; Anelosimus studiosus.
Sheet webs are two-dimensional webs with little or no symmetry, containing a dense sheet with tangle threads extending from the top of the sheet that provide attachment points to a substrate. They are associated with the Linyphiidae or Hahniidae spider families. While all Linyphiidae webs are interwoven sheets, the shapes vary with the species--platforms, bowls, domes. Our 3-D physical archive includes examples of funnel-shaped sheet webs built by Agelena labyrinthica (Berlin); Eratigena atrica (Berlin); Ischnothele caudata; Stegodyphus dufouri; Stegodyphus dumicola (W-Africa); Stromatopelma sp; Tegenaria domestica (Berlin); Tegenaria ferruginea (Europe); horizontal sheet webs built by Fecenia spp. (China, donated by Peter Jäger); and hammock sheet webs built by Frontinella sp.; Linyphia triangularis (Berlin); Linyphiidae sp. (Berlin/Croatia); Neriene clathrata (Berlin)
Lace webs are spider/web architectures made not from ‘sticky’ silk, but from cribellate or wooly silk that ensnares prey by snagging. These webs are usually constructed in a pattern of ladder-like sections with zigzagging steps, and may include a funnel-shaped retreat. Our 3-D physical archive of lace webs include those built by Badumna longinqua (Argentina, originally from Australia, donated by Martin Ramirez); Psechrus jaegeri (China, donated by Peter Jäger) and Kukulcania hibernalis (N-America).
This bell or dome-shaped spider/web typology can emerge from irregular forms of either a ‘space web’ (commonly built by Pholcid spiders) or a ‘sheet web’ typology (commonly built by Linyphiidae spiders). Built on a horizontal plane, the web is a fine dome, often with an inverted-cup shaped retreat. The Arachnophilia spider/web archive includes examples built by Pholcus phalangioides or cellar spider, which is often found cohabiting with humans in domestic spaces.
Hybrid Spider / Webs are a novel kind of web typology conceived and realised by Saraceno with the assistance of multitudes of arachnid kin. A hybrid web is one built by two or more different spider species, each of which build unique and typologically distinct webs. According to the sociality of the spiders building these webs (whether a solitary but tolerant orb web-building spider from the Nephila family, or a semi-social tent web-building Cyrtophora spider), the spider might adapt part of the existing web structure that it encounters when building its own web, or destroy part or all of the existing web and build anew. The spider species building each individual Hybrid Spider/Web are often sourced from geographically remote locations, and thus would not be encountered outside of this laboratory setting.
Hybrid Spider/Webs are constructed in an open frame carbon fibre structure (Spider Web Frame), conceived and designed by Saraceno, which provides attachment points for the webs, and allows for observation of the web-building process and display of the completed hybrid web sculpture.
Each Hybrid Spider/Web is also an experimental architecture for studying spider social behaviour. In that context, Saraceno refers to them as ‘multispecies instruments’ – because they are woven by multiple species of spider, but also because of their perceived potential for opening up channels of communication across species barriers, becoming the vehicle and substrate for acoustic (vibrational) dialogues between spiders and humans. Each Hybrid Spider Web is thus figured as a unique musical instrument, whose complex networked architecture performs as an apparatus for interspecies communication, cooperation, mediation and sensing.
A spider/web begins with a single thread of silk cast into the ether: loose and undulating until pulled taut by the wind. Each thread of silk is thus a web in becoming, adrift on air until it meets a surface that becomes an attachment point, and establishes a productive tension: the seed of a bigger assemblage. Each thread of silk marks an arc of movement: where the spider’s first aerial threads are forays into an imagined future, and the tensioned threads of the assembled web mark the axes along which the spider has already travelled. The spider/web is thus a living trace of movements and temporalities in tension: past, present and future.
Tomás Saraceno’s Spider/Web Prints offer a different way to read and interpret the architecture of the spider/web: as a topological map of movements and temporalities that trace the intricate complexities of these silken sculptures. Each Spider/Web Print is a 2-dimensional manifestation of a 3-Dimensional web, whose threads have been treated with a lightweight combination of ink and cosmic dust, and fixed to archival paper. These prints retain the structural complexity and depth of the spider/web, while offering new insights into the assemblage of fine silken threads of which it is composed.