Particular Matter(s)









The Shed, New York

The Shed presents Particular Matter(s), Saraceno’s largest exhibition in the US to date.


The exhibition features Free the Air: How to hear the universe in a spider/web, a spider/web concert in four movements commissioned by The Shed. Consisting of two levels of wire netting and custom-made shakers vibrating to haptic languages, the 39 meter-diameter sculpture has participants’ bodies vibrate with the rhythms of spiders and others, engaging with the non-audible in the name of inter- and intraspecies dialogue in affirmation of invertebrate rights. An expansive survey exhibition of the artist’s works and projects proposes a situated knowledge of climate justice and non-dominant perspectives of human and nonhuman lifeforms, such as the air, spiders and their webs, and communities impacted by inequitable environmental policies and practices.


Curated by Emma Enderby.

Saraceno is “a polymath on a mission. …His overarching goal might be summed up simply as getting humans to live right. This means getting them to understand that they are not the top of a pyramid of power in what is called the Anthropocene era, but exist on a horizontal plane with all non-humans, to which they should be sensitized and from which they have plenty to learn. And they exist in what Saraceno prefers to call the Aerocene era in which interspecies-cooperation and clean air are required.”

– Roberta Smith, New York Times

Free the Air: How to hear the universe in a spider web

a concert in four movements


The players: Vibrations by Cyrtophora citricola, Trichonephila clavipes, Habronattus dossenus, Stegodyphus dumicola, Nephila inaurata, the Earth and cosmic web; divination by Heteroscroda crassipes interpreted by Bollo Pierre Tadios, and sonifed motion of the Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5). 

Length: 8 minutes


Commissioned by The Shed, the installation Free the Air: How to hear the universe in a spider/web contains a multisensory performance within The McCourt. Inside a 39 meter-diameter sculpture floats two levels of wire mesh netting upon which visitors can venture for a concert of terrestrial and cosmic vibrations, reproduced by shakers that emit these inaudible frequencies.


In 1947, Bell Labs broke ground on a highly specialized anechoic, or echo-free, sound chamber for advanced psychoacoustic research at the company’s headquarters in Murray Hill, New Jersey. In 1949, Helen Keller visited this anechoic chamber. Moved by her experience, she wrote:


Language has no equivalent for the absolute physical silence that burst upon me in that fantastic, baffling chamber. […] I have known many kinds of silence—the silence of early morning, the silence of remote mountain summits, the silence of gently falling snow. […] Shut in by floor, ceiling, and walls of fiberglass, I throbbed with the silence of the dead and the silence that covers buried peoples and ages without a history. [1]


In the vibratory umwelt of spiders/webs, where the body is inseparable from the web, the world becomes an “evolving instrument without distinct boundaries,” [2] a cosmic/web resistant to the blockages imposed on sense-perception by the Capitalocene. Indeed, there are many kinds of silence, and it is time that those who perpetuate a lifestyle of consumption attune themselves to this web of history that is beyond language.


Many of the artworks exhibited in the galleries comprise parts of the installation’s sonic composition of Free the Air: How to hear the universe in a spider/web, a concert in four movements. 


First Movement 

The concert opens with the plucking of a Nephila senegalensis reverberating through a spherical chamber on the expanding pulse of the universe. The concert is transmitted through vibrations, planetary movements, celestial winds, and spider/webs signals that evoke myths rich in many cultures wherein the spider weaves the universe. Rhythms of the stars recorded by Wanda Díaz-Merced, among others European Gravitational Observatory, recall the novel method of this sonic astrophysicist who, after losing her sight, developed a revelatory way to hear the stars. Haptic perceptions of these various instruments play together on a stage silenced since widespread changes in capitalocinus activity due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Records of 2020 seismic noise produced the longest and most prominent global anthropogenic seismic noise reduction on record, with levels reduced by up to 50%. A quiet period of meditation and centering, the first movement of the concert provides an opportunity to detect subtle signals from subsurface seismic sources that would have been concealed in noisier times.
Second Movement
Communicating through thumps, scrapes, and buzzes by beating its abdomen against the ground, you feel the distinct seismic backbeat of Habronattus dossenus. The earth takes the shape of a broader web of life as signals and warnings are sent -as during courtship. For Habronattus dossenus, in this expanded, symphonic web of interspecies collaboration, the earth itself becomes an instrument vibrating across time, space, and species.


Third Movement
We return to the solo Trichonephila clavipes, however this time the web’s vibrations are disrupted by the violent rumbling of freight trucks and contaminating vehicles of the Capitalocene. When black carbon clings to a spider’s web, it gradually alters and damages the spider over time, demonstrating how all beings endure the effects of anthropogenic air pollution. Many of us are resistant to exit an epoch that resonates through black carbon PM2.5, a particle that knows no borders and no frontiers. Only in the aftermath of the Capitalocene will the vibrations of the spiders/webs re-emerge to the sounds of those who have learned how to communicate with them. 
Fourth Movement
The concert culminates in a moment of situated knowledge indicating interspecies communication with spiders. Practiced in Cameroon, ŋggam dù is a method of spider divination in which a set of binary questions is asked of a ground-dwelling spider, Heteroscroda crassipes, whose responses are interpreted by the community of spider diviners, in this instance Bollo Pierre Tadios. Blending with the percussive performance of the drumming spider, Stegodyphus dumicola, a colony of social spiders, these rhythms expand points of accessing and understanding the importance of “articulated collectives”. Formed out of this entanglement of scales, a new togetherness emerges, inspiring hope for the future. By experiencing the vibrations of the universe differently, slowly, a shift is mounted from arachnophobia to Arachnophilia.
[1] Letter from Helen Keller, Westport, CT, to Oliver E. Buckley in appreciation of her visit to the Bell Telephone Laboratories, Summit, NJ, June 17, 1949.
[2] Toop, David. “Filament Drums,” 57.


To get a digital sneak peak of the concert, grab a pair of headphones, turn on your phone’s vibration setting and download the Arachnomancy app.

In the main exhibition space Particular Matter(s) brings together

artworks that invite participants to consider more closely the world they co-inhabit—or have been excluded from, or suffered harm from— channeling funds and attention toward groups that enable a discovery of the interwoven rhythms of the planet. It argues for a freedom of knowledge from capitalist interests, advocating instead for the cultivation of situated knowledge—or the recognition of knowledge as context-dependent, defined by the specific position and perspective of a knower—across space, time, and species. 


The beings to whom Saraceno turns our attention, including spiders and their webs, have been disregarded by the humans of the Capitalocene, a name for the era of Earth’s existence characterized by the destructive effects of capitalism on the environment. In a call for environmental justice, Saraceno collaborates with and contributes to  communities and species that have been impacted by these negative effects in solidarity with Earth, the air, and the cosmos, particularly as part of the open-source community projects Aerocene and Arachnophilia.



“Here the showstopper was “Particular Matter(s)” (2021), the Shed exhibition’s title work, in which a beam of light shining in a darkened room reveals the omnipresent dust particles endlessly floating through the air we breathe. Some of it is cosmic dust, and some is human-made dust. Then there are the PM 2.5 particles, which include black carbon emissions from burned fossil fuels. Measuring 2.5 microns or less in diameter, they can be absorbed into the lungs and bloodstream. (A micron is about one-thousandth of a millimeter.) The luminescent column of light sparkles with glittering specks. “People come to me and say, ‘What did you put in the air?’” Saraceno remarked. “They can’t believe it is just the dust” that already exists all around us.”

– Arthur Lubow, T Magazine of the New York Times

In partnership with Columbia University’s Climate School and Studio Tomás Saraceno, The Shed presents a series of six moderated conversations

to explore key issues around climate change and environmental justice, while identifying connections with artworks in the exhibition.

Access the conversations offered both in person at The Shed and online for free here!


An Outlook on Particular Matter(s)

Thursday, February 10

A presentation and contextualization of the exhibition and its goals and themes, featuring artist Tomás Saraceno, the exhibition’s curator Emma Enderby, and The Shed’s Senior Program Advisor Hans Ulrich Obrist.


Environmental Justice and Covid-19

Wednesday, February 16 

Opening with Saraceno’s artwork We Do Not All Breathe the Same Air, a newly commissioned work inspired by the research of Harriet A. Washington, this discussion will be framed by questions of environmental justice within the context of the pandemic. How do these crises intersect? How can we generate the urgency needed to raise awareness and gain traction around environmental crises and their disparate effects on Black, Brown, and lower socioeconomic populations around the world? Featuring Harriet A. Washington, leader in environmental racism discourse; Peggy Shepard, Co-founder and Executive Director of WEACT; Linda Goode Bryant, filmmaker and activist; and moderator Courtney Cogburn, Associate Professor of Social Work, Columbia.


Capitalocene, Aerocene

Wednesday, March 2

An investigation of the role of capitalism and production in the climate crisis. How did we get here? What are the responsibilities of governments, corporations, and individuals? What potentialities for change can we think of with an Aerocene era? Featuring Andreas Malm associate professor of human ecology at Lund University, Sweden;  Jason Moore, environmental historian and historical geographer at Binghamton University; Michael Marder, Ikerbasque Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of the Basque Country; Luisa Palacios, Senior Research Scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy; and moderator Andrew Revkin, Director of Initiative on Communication Innovation and Impact, Columbia Climate School.


From arachnophobia to Arachnophilia

Wednesday, March 16

An exploration of interspecies interconnectedness and interdependence. What can we learn from situated knowledges? Featuring Eric-Paul Riege, artist; David Zeitlyn, Professor of Anthropology at Oxford University; Peggy Hill, Professor Emerita of Biological Science at The University of Tulsa; Markus Beuhler, materials scientist and engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and moderator Cynthia Willett is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Philosophy at Emory University.


Invention, Experimentation, and Radical Imagination

Wednesday, March 30 

A survey of artistic and scientific frameworks for research, experimentation, and theorizing that depend upon interdisciplinary collaboration to unlock meaning and potential paths forward, featuring the Aerocene community and era. How do we imagine possible just and safe futures from these perspectives? Featuring Kate Marvel, Associate Research Scientist at Columbia University; Caroline Jones, Professor in the History, Theory, and Criticism section, Department of Architecture, MIT; Molly Nesbit is a contributing editor at Artforum and a Professor of Art at Vassar College; and moderator Sandra Goldmark, Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Theatre and Director of Campus Sustainability and Climate Action at Barnard College. 


Where Do We Go from Here? Rights of nature: Policy, Activism and Change

Wednesday, April 13 

What are diverse, international approaches in regards to the rights of the air? In Salinas Grandes, Jujuy, Argentina, what are the rights of water? How can community or artistic actions, such as the flight of Aerocene Pacha, support environmentalism over capitalism around the world? Featuring Maristella Svampa, Argentine sociologist and Researcher at the Conicet (National Center for Scientific and Technical Research), Argentina and Professor at the Universidad Nacional de la Plata; Casey Camp-Horinek, a long-time Native rights activist, environmentalist and actress; Alicia Chalabe, community lawyer in Salinas Grandes; and moderator Michael Gerrard, advocate, litigator, teacher, scholar and founder and faculty director of the groundbreaking Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

What is happening to my skin?

Where is that protection that I needed?

Air can hurt you, too; Air can hurt you, too.

It can break your heart …


– Talking Heads, “Air”. 1976. 


Alex Poots, Emma Enderby, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jesse Hamerman, Alessandra Gomez, Andreas Malm, Harriet Washington, Vinciane Despret, Filipa Ramos, Michael Marder, Leslie Velasquez and El Puente, Mychal Johnson and South Bronx Unite, Oscar Oliver-Didier, Sarah Johnson at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, WE ACT, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, Robert D. Bullard, Peter Pomponi, Prayok Vongkunthong, Tom Platter, Shaina Shay, Alicat Scientifi, Paul Chappin of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Division of Air Quality, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Air Quality; California Air Resources Board, California Environmental Protection Agency, Monitoring and Laboratory Division; Department of Energy and Environment, Government of the District of Columbia, Air Quality Division; Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Air Resources Management; Georgia Environmental Protection Division, Air Branch; Hawaii Department of Health, Air Quality Monitoring Section; Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality; Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Air Quality; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Air Assessment Branch; Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Air Quality Division; Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Environmental Outcomes Division; Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Air Monitoring Division; Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Environmental Protection, Bureau Of Air Quality Planning; New Mexico Environment Department, Bureau of Air Monitoring; North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Air Quality; Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Air Quality Monitoring Division; South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Air Quality Division; Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Air Pollution Control; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Air Monitoring Section; Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, Air Quality and Climate Division, Nephila inaurata, Cyrtophora citricola, Larinioides sclopetarius, Agelena labyrinthica, Parasteatoda tepidariorum, Holocnemus pluchei, Michael Wörner and his team, Stev Bringmann, Z3rch, Sergio Leiva and Juan Enrique Leiva, Will Lauf, Christoph Hetzer, Alex Brok, Ulrich Reiter, Lugh O’Neill, BerlInklusion, Seilschaft, Sozialpädagogisches Institut Gütersloh e.V. Grenzenlos, Bollo Pierre, David Zeitlyn, the communities of Salinas Grandes, Jujuy, Argentina, Leticia Marqués, DaeHyung Lee, Veronica Fiorito, Maristella Svampa, Joaquin Ezcurra, Maximiliano Laina, Alicia De Arteaga, Christian Just Linde, the band members of BTS: RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V & Jungkook, Eric and Caroline Freymond, Lars Behrendt, Sarah Kisner, Manuela Mazure, Claudia Meléndez, Jillian Meyer, Giulia Albarello, Miriam Aller, Gustavo Alonso Serafin, Duncan Anderson, Mateo Argerich, Fabiola Bierhof, Ally Bisshop, Irina Bogdan, Sascha Boldt, Nicholas Boncardo, Victoria Bosch, Stefan Brüning, Viola Cafuli, Saverio Cantoni, Lucía Cash, Thomas Charil, Tatiana Chaves, Connie Chester, Filippo Corato, Samantha Dearo, Carola Dietrich, Manie Du Plessis, Andrea Familari, Andrea Fax, Meike Fischer, Christian Flemm, Oliver George, Paula Guajardo, Alice Hall, Marina Höxter, Adam Hudec, Jennifer Jordan, Georgi Kazlachev, Nemanja Kordic, Dario J. Laganà, Rosalie Laurin, Vicente Macellari, Lorenzo Malloni, Lucas Mateluna, Olivia Moore, Roland Muehlethaler, Jörg Niemann, Lea Nikou, Jaime Norambuena, Tania Patritti, Martina Pelacchi, Diego Puerto Martínez, Matthew Raven, Patrick Reddy, Francisca Saavedra, Jazmin Schenone, Hans-Martin Schlesier, Anna-Sophie Schmidt,  Aysegul Seyhan, Grace Sparapani, Judith Straßenberger, Ilka Tödt, Alberto Vallejo, Erik Vogler, Philipp Weber and Davide Zucco.


Roberta Smith, 20 February 2022, The New York Times.

10 February 2022, Champ Magazine.

Isabelle Su, Neosha Narayanan, Marcos A. Logrono, Kai Guo, Ally Bisshop, Roland Mühlethaler, Tomás Saraceno, and Markus J. Buehler, 17 August 2021, PNAS.

Laura Zornosa, 18 March 2022, The New York Times

Helen Hernandez, 11 February 2022, Oi Canadian.

Fiona Macdonald, 15 March 2022, BBC.

Celina Chatruc, 20 February 2022, La Nacion.