Matera 2019

Tomás Saraceno, Life(s) of Webs, arachnophobias, arachnophilias, and other stories. Courtesy the artist. Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno. 

Together with The National Museum of Matera, we are delighted to present Life(s) of Webs, arachnophobias, arachnophilias, and other stories, a permanent installation at Chiesa Madonna del Carmine, Palazzo Lanfranchi by Tomás Saraceno, from 25th November, 2023.

The artwork serves as the opening to collaborative research that fits within this syncretic, Arachnophilia project, culminating with the launch of an artist book which will bring together a diverse network of material from philosophers, artists, writers and arachnologists.

In 2023, in the Chiesa Madonna del Carmine in Matera at Palazzo Lanfranchi - National Museum of Matera, Saraceno’s artwork—a Catholic confessional box—is found, in which spider/webs emerge in the place of the priest, with the intention to share their ancestral wisdom. It’s a call to humanity, one to listen closely to: “we have lived on Earth for more than 380 million years, while most of you humans, merely 200 thousand years… we invertebrates represent 95% of all animals on planet Earth, yet we are threatened by extinction, something that would endanger all lives on earth. We ask you to care for the rights of our webs of life. Can we join forces and weave together ways of living, with lifestyles that do not affect climates, for more just, eco-social inter- intra-species societies for all?”

It is through a  new syncretic ensemble of myths, beliefs, liturgies, ceremonies, histories of divination, rituals, food practices, songs & dances, that Lives of webs responds to this call. “We invite you to join us in this movement for new collective multispecies futures. Come closer, sense wisely, feel the vibrations. Every contribution matters. These are times to act and to be part of something larger, and infinitely smaller, than yourself”.

On the 24th November, Tomás Saraceno will be in conversation with philologist, translator and playwright Gianni Garrera, writer and researcher Claudia Attimonelli and anthropologist and researcher Salvatore Bevilacqua.  On 25th November, students from Matera's high schools will be invited to learn more about Saraceno's thought and work, through a viewing of one of his films, Fly with Pacha, into the Aerocene (2017-2023 ongoing).

“With the work of artist Tomás Saraceno, we complete the path of Matera European Capital of Culture 2019 and open a focus, through contemporary art, on one of the themes at the center of the new programming, that of the environment. The invaluable collaboration with the National Museum of Matera has made it possible to welcome a site-specific work that remains with the city on a permanent basis, so that we can develop around it a long-lasting programming, linked to the main emergencies of contemporaneity.”


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Life(s) of Webs, arachnophobias, arachnophilias, and other stories
National Museum of Matera - Palazzo Lanfranchi, Chiesa della Madonna del Carmine
Piazzetta Pascoli 1, Matera - Italy
Opening hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. - last admission 7 p.m.
Closing: Tuesday 09:00 - 14:00


Life(s) of webs
arachnophobias, arachnophilias, and other stories 

Amongst Maya Peoples, the spider/web represents the placenta of Ix Chel, the Maya goddess of childbirth and patron saint of weavers, and for whom the spider creates the thread of life from within itself. For the ancient civilisation of the Nazca, the spider was imaged in their geoglyphs–engraved directly onto the ground of the Nazca Desert in southern Peru–as schematic-geometric figures that span a length of nearly 50 meters. In Peru, a special class of pre-Inca Chavín diviners (known as pacchacatic) once consulted the spider as deity and oracle, divining their future based upon its falling movements. In late pre-Hispanic times, and still today in regions of modern highland Peru, spiders are observed to predict rainfall and other other climate events.

During the origins of the Qixi festival in China, a celebration derived from the myth of cloud-weaving goddess Zhinü, it was customary on the “Seventh Night” for young girls who practiced needlework to observe house spiders of the court (xizi), storing them until dawn in hopes to reveal their fortune. If the spider had spun a tightly-woven web, it was a positive omen and read as a reflection of the young woman’s skills. If the web was sparse or unbuilt, the opposite was true.

In Christianity, we encounter the tale of Saint Felix di Nola who, upon being persecuted due to his preaching, slipped through a narrow gap in a nearby ruinous house in order to conceal himself. Once inside, by God's command, spiders spun a protective web across the opening, tricking his persecutors into believing no one could have traversed the space, who then continued on their path. The spider-as-trickster appears myriad: in North America for the Cheyenne Peoples as Veeho, for the Lakota as Iktómi; in West Africa as Kwaku Anansi—a rogue, arachnid folk hero whose cunning, unpredictable and liminal figure mediates between the gods of the sky and earth-bound humans.

Tarantism, a phenomenon originally believed to be caused by a bite from the Lycosa tarantula or Latrodectus tredecimguttatus, is a form of ‘hysterical’ behavior—and accompanying dancing mania—originating in Southern Italy. The tarantella dance, a series of folk dances with roots in Calabria (Sonu a ballu), Campania (tammurriata) and Puglia (pizzica), evolved as a speculative therapy—a type of musical exorcism—for the ‘victims’ of such spider bites: it is said that such convulsion-invoking rhythms, performed publicly, often for days on end, were used to revive and heal those who had succumbed to the spider’s venom.

In North America, the Hopi and Navajo Peoples count on their Mujer Araña as both a powerful spirit and ally, whose magical agency of the Earth would teach them to weave; for other Californian tribes, she is an avenging spirit that punishes evil. In Greek mythology, the figure of Arachne is entangled within a ‘web of resistance’ with goddess Athena, revealing another tale of mediation: of two women who use embroidery as a performative textuality, confronting and defending the social order.

Mediation across lines of species and language continues today: the historic ŋgam dù spider divination, as practiced by the Mambila People in the borderlands of Cameroon and Nigeria, brings its diviners and consultees into acute relation, awareness and sensitivity to a spider’s oracular capacities. During a consultation, a set of binary questions is presented to a ground-dwelling spider. Cards placed at the entrance to its burrow, made from stiff plant leaves and featuring cut-out shapes (ŋgèe) with specific symbolic meanings, are rearranged by the spider whose response is then interpreted by the diviner.


Myths for syncretic belief

Starting from an object like the confessional, and from a nature like that of the spider/webs, Tomás Saraceno’s idea is to conceive and devise a new liturgy and set up a ritual for a festive day, as if for the public it was not only a matter of visiting an exhibition, but of sanctifying (or making meaningful, important, profound) a day through participation in a ritual.

Liturgy is a science and an art, made of objects, gestures, signs, words, because it is a concrete and beautiful action that—through contact with sensible elements and postures—makes known a greater reality (a truth): there are no spontaneous gestures in it. The arachnophilia project which Saraceno will conceive, includes readings (prayers, lessons, music from the various traditions and in accordance with various converging liturgies concerning an attention and reverence for Nature) objects (the confessional), mysteries (the spider/webs) and ritual gestures or attitudes (greetings, ablutions, etc.) so that the audience is no longer the absolute and spontaneous master of its own movements (because of the erasure of the self and anonymity that flow from the liturgy). The resulting catalog, too, will be like a small breviary or lectionary containing the readings, the stories of this ceremony and its cosmological correspondences.

It is not a matter of simulating a liturgy, but of actually setting it: the pacing and reflection up to the confessional, the kneeling, the participation in the mystery contained therein. For Saraceno, the Confessional recapitulates all the secrets of tradition: it is also a chapel—like those chapels one encounters on street corners—treasure chest. Inside, there is, as Nietzsche wrote, a God-spider weaving, just as a weaving is every ceremony. Saraceno's purpose is also to restore a liturgical sensibility to people (solemn repetition of a gesture, cyclical ceremonies and fixed readings).

Logically, all the paraphernalia that will be used and all the gestures and operations that will be carried out—as is typical of a liturgy—refer back to a meaning: liturgy is not choreography, but every position refers back to such signification. If, for example, one conceives of man’s relationship with Nature still as unequal, in order to convey the mystery of the equality of humans and animals, certain gestures will have to ritually make one understand the hidden meaning to which one is referring—and as already written: we confess to Nature, we confess our ecological guilt against Nature: man—through the confessional—asks forgiveness from the Cosmos, therefore Saraceno's rite is first and foremost a non-sacrificial rite...and its profound function is precisely to revoke all the sacrificial rites of the past for a new mode of reconciliation through the liturgy of art. Gianni Garrera


Tomás Saraceno

Tomás Saraceno (b. 1973, he/him/his) is an Argentina-born, Berlin-based artist whose projects dialogue with forms of life and life-forming, rethinking dominant threads of knowledge and recognizing how diverse modes of being engage a multiplicity of vibrations on the Web of Life. For more than two decades, Saraceno has worked with local communities, scientific researchers, and institutions around the world, and has activated open-source, interdisciplinary, collective projects, including Museo Aero Solar (2007–), the Aerocene Foundation (2015–),  and Arachnophilia, towards a society free from carbon emissions, for intra and interspecies climate justice.

Saraceno has been the subject of solo exhibitions and permanent installations at museums and institutions internationally, including The Serpentine Gallery, London (2023), The Shed, New York (2022), Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018);  Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires (2017); K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Ständehaus, Dusseldorf (2013); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2012); and Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin (2011). Saraceno has participated in numerous festivals and biennales, including the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale (2020) and the 53rd and 58th Venice Biennales (2009, 2019).


Tomás Saraceno and the city of Matera

The city of Matera, with its peculiar urban ontology, is for Saraceno a territory of choice, already because of the origin, albeit hypothetical, of the city's name, which refers to the Greek Meteoron, starry sky, since the city seen after sunset from the side of the Murgia makes Matera comparable to the night sky dotted with stars. Matera is a kind of network carved into the tuffaceous rock, which one has the impression could connect the whole world. An underground world, inhabited and alive, whose souls were once recorded by the little lights placed on the entrances of a consubstantial and close, but different world: a sort of other dimension.

Saraceno’s repeat visits to Matera, starting nine years ago and culminating in July 2022 with his visit to the National Museum of Matera and to the Church of Carmine—located inside the museum at Palazzo Lanfranchi—fostered inspiration which led to the creation of the Life(s) of Webs, arachnophobias, arachnophilias, and other stories confessional. Saraceno has grasped the intrinsic spiritual value of the city of the Sassi, which is well suited to accommodate the holistic and universal nature of its glass showcases with the hybrid spider webs inside, created through the sequential collaboration of spiders of different species: solitary, semi-social and social. The spider webs are also understood as a sublunar mirror due to their similarity and resemblance to dark matter, the cosmic web that supports galaxies and worlds, visible only through the gravitational lens, which vibrates in astral time, generating the worldly music that the Pythagoreans already told us about and which we now call cosmic background noise.

The sound of worlds vibrates with vibrations similar to those of the spider's web that spiders play, one might venture, as if it were a harp, restoring to those who can and know how to listen the sounds of love, of the hunt, of fear just as the cosmos restores in the chords of dark matter the whirling chirping to perfection of the silence of a pair of black holes merging into one, which took place millions of light years ago. For those of us who only concretely have the category of linear time, through Saraceno's work we seem to have a greater affinity with the idea that our eyes perceive the shimmering of stars that have stopped shining in a distant time that we cannot even imagine.



Saraceno is the founder of Arachnophilia, an interdisciplinary, research-driven community, focusing on the extraordinary architecture of spider webs and their behaviors, which entangle us in various cultural perceptions, myths, and relationships. Through expanding its artistic networks, the Arachnophilia community seeks to invent innovative, playful and engaging platforms for bringing research discourse into the public sphere. At Studio Tomás Saraceno, this consists of research and praxis in the fields of biomateriomics, bioacoustics, ethology and cognitive science, among others, as a way of engaging speculatively, but also sensitively, with the forms of life that exist all around us. 

Together with the Arachnophilia community, Saraceno’s love for spiders and their webs has led to innumerous collaborations with them. Notably, he invented the Spider/Web Scan, a novel, laser-supported tomographic technique that allowed precise 3-D models of complex spider/webs to be made for the first time — this invention resulted in leading research groups around the world, from MIT to Max Planck Institute, coming to learn from this collaboration. 

Another of Arachnophilia’s developments is that of hyper-sensitive microphones that sense the vibrations of spiders through their webs. These methods and technologies, besides becoming artworks in themselves, were also documented and extensively covered in art publications as well by internationally renowned scientific and technological journals, such as Nature, PNAS, MIT and others. Further research areas include an archive of spider/web vibrations recorded on different web types, building upon the biotremological innovations in spider/web recording and sonification devices developed by Studio Tomás Saraceno; an archive of maps of spider/web ecologies, that make visible the ways in which spider and human habitats are intertwined, in sites across the globe. By sharing the content of these archives as well as the tools with which to collaboratively build and enrich them, the Arachnophilia community hopes to empower a broader audience to contribute to an understanding of our relationships with our arachnid kin, and therefore to cultivate renewed perspective on our responsibilities toward the nonhuman creatures with whom we share our environments.