'Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment. ... Humanity is in ‘final exam’ as to whether or not it qualifies for continuance in Universe.'
– Buckminster Fuller
Tensegrity – and Other Contradictory Complicities
In 1948 the young student Kenneth Snelson attended the summer institute at Black Mountain College. Influenced by Richard Buckminster Fuller’s visions he created the first sculptures based on a very simple, but seemingly magical principle: Tensegrity (portmanteau of tension and integrity). Giving the impression of a cluster of struts floating in the air, tensegrity structures are composed by a set of compression components suspended within a continuous tension network. This results in a structure where ‘compression elements become small islands in a sea of tension’ (Buckminster Fuller 1961).
While Snelson examined this principle in his sculptures, Buckminster Fuller and David Georges Emmerich explored its applications to architecture and engineering. Thirty years later, Donald E. Ingber, professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School discovered tensegrity structures in biology (carbon atoms, water molecules, proteins, viruses and other living creatures). Tensegrity proved to be a universal principle corresponding to a particular field of forces in a stable equilibrium under a precise distribution of elements. Recently it has been proposed that not only the human skeleton but also the central nervous system function as tensegrity structures, where some elements are continuously pulling and others are discontinuously pushing.
Since the advent of the Internet, with its explosive cross pollination of knowledge, ideas and discoveries, tensegrity has become a key principle across many disciplines. Research is being conducted in biotensegrity to examine the architecture of cells and viruses to invent revolutionary treatment. New ways of geometric, responsive structures are being developed in design and engineering and anatomical research has led to new ways of understanding the structure of the human body. Very few researchers, though, have elaborated on social, political or theoretical approaches to tensegrity.
This symposium takes tensegrity as a starting point to examine whether ‘tensional integrity’ is something other than just a spatial structure of struts and strings. Where do we recognise forms of push and pull strategies, tension- pressure relationships and stability-flexibility structures within our fields of research and interests? In the face of he current political climate with social shifts, systemic ruptures and collective upheaval, notions around fragility, tension and dynamic relations become more and more important. With regard to philosophical approaches, tensegrity can be understood as moments of ‘discontinuities installed within the continuity of time’. (Ignasi Solà-Morales 1996). While Solà-Morales refers in his essay ‘Difference’ to built elements of the city within the continuity of time, how can we apply this notion of ‘contradictory complicity’ to other disciplines such as language, performance, history, politics and sociology?
Can tensegrity serve as a mental model to investigate these issues? To what extent is it valuable as point of departure to re-evaluate force fields within contemporary arts? Could this idea also be applied poetologically, as an artistic approach, allowing new forms of artistic practice? Tensegrity is seemingly precarious, but proves to be a stable force in nature. Facing the challenges of the current era, it may become clear that issues around tension, resilience and integrity are at the core of the ultimate task to save our ‘spaceship earth’. If art is supposed to address these questions, could tensegrity become one of the new guiding principles?
This symposium brings together artists, curators, writers, critics and other voices to explore how tensegrity could be defined in relation to their practices, whether through their working methods, concepts fabricated around tension/pressure or challenging space-time relations. The concept might be quite new to the field of art theory, but stems from an established practice we can draw from, thus allowing us to continually test our ideas in the making.
MORE INFO AND PROGRAMME: http://www.tenderpixel.com/exhibitions/tensegrity