Narcissism Under Threat
Tomás Saraceno, Webs of At-tent(s)ion (2022). Installation view at Tomás Saraceno: Oceans of Air, Mona, Hobart, 17 December 2022–24 July 2023. Courtesy Mona

Following Welch’s dramatic and spectacularly orgasmic collapse under the influence of Tomás’s new Spider and its Web he had been rushed still unconscious to the Hospital Ángel C. Padilla the public hospital in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán where Tomás was born and where his studio is based. Welch was in a coma for over 24hrs.

His breathing has been laboured but he hasn’t needed ventilation, otherwise his observations have been normal apart from the occurrence of random mild myoclonic spasms affecting his arms and legs. His laboratory tests have also been normal apart from a very highly elevated C-Reactive Protein, a non-specific marker for inflammation and/or cell breakdown, and a massive proteinuria that threatened to compromise his renal function. His CXR is also, remarkably we might think, normal, no signs of the previously extensive signs of tumour, of which the doctors are of course unaware.

After two days Welch opens his eyes to see the white ceiling tiles, tubes and electronic paraphernalia of a hospital ward, only then does he turn his head and manage to focus on the anxious faces of his wife Kirsha, his gambling syndicate partner Zeljko, and Tomás. He tries to sit up but can’t. Hi, he says almost inaudibly, What’s all this, where am I? Looking at Zeljko he says What are you doing here. Zeljko just smiles back. Tomás calls a nurse over. Kirsha, tearful, let’s out a sob and holds his hand. Oh David, thank god, we’ve been so worried about you. The doctors haven’t told us anything. Tomás says you just suddenly collapsed at the studio. Tomás just nods. Welch’s thoughts come slowly to him, he can’t really remember, his head feels fuzzy as if somebody has stuffed it with felt. Zeljko walks around to hold his other hand. It’s ok mate, you’re ok. Tomás holds back, uncertain of his role and aware that Welch’s wife and best mate Zeljko have no idea about what did actually happen. What can you remember David? Tomás asks tentatively. He was frightened, badly, by Welch’s reaction let alone the Spiders extreme agitation. He’s not sure how much to reveal at this stage, not wanting to create undue alarm over the new Spider’s propensities, and unsure of the significance of Welch’s reaction. Since the drama Tomás has forbidden anyone to enter The Spider’s room which he has kept locked.

Dr Smallwood in Hobart stares incomprehensibly at Welch’s chest radiograph and brain scan. Turning to Welch slowly, So, tell me again what happened. Welch, sitting almost primly smiles and holds up his hands in a shrug, No idea really doc. One minute I was chatting with Tomás in his studio, the next minute out for the count, apparently. I can’t remember anything else, just waking up in hospital. Well this takes the biscuit mate. One for the record books I’d say. He peers at the scans then turns back to Welch, looking and sounding bemused. We’ll have to keep a close eye on you. Strewth, staring intently through his thick spectacles at Welch, as if Welch were somehow guilty of something. I’ve known cancers regress, sure, pretty rarely but they can, but never ever when they’ve been as advanced as yours. Well doc it’s a mystery to me too but I’m sure as hell not complaining. Welch is cagey, he doesn’t want to tell Smallwood the whole story at this stage, best keep to a need to know basis. OK well terrific. This would make one incredible case history report for the New England Journal of Medicine, mm, he runs his chin thoughtfully, There again methinks maybe a bit too incredible. He begins to take the scans down. We’ll make you another scan appointment in a month or so, make sure this is all kosher. Just take it easy in the meantime. Smallwood thinks he could, in theory, write this up, but, in practice, if he did he was pretty sure those miserable fuckers at the College, those snobby bastards would just relish the opportunity to put him down and accuse him of fraud. He’d made plenty of enemies there with his forthright manner and inability to tolerate entitled arrogant fools. Fuck ‘em all he says. He won’t give them the opportunity and takes the last scan and radiographs off the screen.

Welch touches his penis as he lays in bed, … nothing, no more erections not a flicker, he closes his eyes and fantasizes about being touched, or watching someone else being touched … still nothing. Ah well, what the hell, he sighs. He can see Krisha, several years younger than him, slim, lithe, athletic, getting out of the bath. Normally this would have aroused him and his usually excitable and generous organ but now zilch.

He hasn’t stopped thinking about his miraculous remission and his encounter with Tomás’s Giant Argentinian Cave Spider. Tomás was right that beastie had been full of surprises. He rings Tomás to arrange another encounter with what Welch now thinks of as The Mother Spider, or simply The Giant. He tells Tomás about the complete remission of his cancer, and his suspicion thatThe Mother Spider cured his cancer. David, Tomàs asks tentatively, What can you actually remember? Bright lights flashing in different colors, a really loud humming vibration and to be honest getting incredibly aroused. Well that’s it David, I haven’t told anyone but you absolutely came, you’d pulled out your, er, thing, had a massive boner and you ejaculated everywhere and the Spider was going completely nuts. Bloody hell, is that right? Well there’s not much of a boner for me now, I seem to have been left high and dry on that front. There was a pause. Probably best if we keep this to ourselves for now eh? For sure, listen, I have colleagues who’ve been working on something called Beta Attenuation Monitoring and SpiderWeb Photogrammatic technologies to capture spider web transmissions, and I know of scientists working on web genetics. Do you think we can get them to have a look at The Giant? Welch hesitates, he doesn’t want too many outsiders involved too early before he’s has a chance to find out more. but why not, Sure, ok, let’s see what they come up with. Look, he says, why don’t we see if this Cure can be repeated on some more people and then if it can we should set up a limited company devoted to The Mother, gather experts, all to sign Non Disclosure Agreements to keep this under wraps, and I’ll sound out a few likely investors who might take a chance on this one. But first I want to see The Mother again, see what she tries this time. I’m a bit surprised you’d take the chance David. Tomás is not sure this is a good idea. David, don’t be crazy, you could die next time! Well, I like a punt and I bet you She will just love me to bits next time. The truth is Welch can’t get The Mother out of his mind, he wants to know what she wants – Che Vuoi? – how he can please Her.

With this in mind Welch tells Tomás he is also keen to meet with the practitioners of Nggám dú in Cameroon. Tomás has worked on a project with them and tells Welch that he would find the spider diviners ‘interesting’. They claim to be able to consult spider oracles, for a donation, and the last time I met with them they seemed agitated, said that The Mother would appear and wreak havoc on the world, provoke chaos and rupture humanity, all veiled in a web of deceit. Welch is intrigued and wants to know if the diviners will agree to consult with Tomás’s Giant, Tomás too is enthusiastic and promises to set something up. Welch is convinced The Mother Spider has the answer to humanity’s destiny and now sees his own destiny as one with the spider’s, determined to be the spiders No. 1 agent-provocateur, no matter what the final outcome. And he believes the diviners may hold the key to The Mother Spider’s intentions and desires.

In 2021, the durational community project Nggàm dù was launched as part of the Berliner Festspiele’s Immersion programme. Described as “a web portal by, with and for the spider diviners of Somié, Cameroon”,Nggàm dù invites audiences to learn about the historic, trans-generational practice of ŋgam dù divination that is practiced across the borderlands of Cameroon and Nigeria, consult with the spider oracle for an agreed donation, and in turn support locally-run projects throughout the village.

Festspiele, Berliner. “Tomás Saraceno: Nggàm dù – Immersion”. Retrieved 2022-01-21.

For Welch, His will no longer matters. He has no will of his own. There is no ‘his own’. He no longer exists as a partially autonomous ‘he’ as such. He has become or is now literally The Will of The Mother Spider: Let her will be done: The Eradication of Cancer in its Entirety!

He is aware of the loss of his life-long anxiety and its replacement by an almost surreal even ruthless calmness and singularity of purpose. He is relieved, no longer compelled to impose his will on others, to constantly battle to beat others into submission through the sheer weight of irresistible oppression and bullying. So much simpler to be just The Enforcer when the rules are so simple, so clear … and so right. To enforce this rule as much as possible. Now he had to find out more, to truly grasp the essence of The Mother Spider’s will.

But, such single minded ruthlessness may give us pause for thought , we too should take a moment and think … what of such certainty, and rigorous righteousness: where will this Mother Spider lead us? Maybe Hegel had some useful psychological insights in his Spirit of Christianity into a rule-devotional mindset. A ‘juridical’ mindset so fixed on its obedience to inflexible rules that any possibility of disobedience, of considering possible even unintended harms to others, even of the possibility of love itself, is utterly expunged from the mind, creating a monster.

Hegel is one of the few philosophers to devote systematic attention to phenomena that can be called pathologies of juridicism. Hegel claims that the law fundamentally contaminates the way in which we relate to ourselves, to others and to the world so that our (inter-) subjectivity becomes ethically deformed, distorted, or deficient

Tomàs was excited and nervous to meet with Welch again. Welch’s bizarre eroticised and almost fatal response to the Giant Argentinian Cave Spider had shocked him to his core at the time, but Welch’s subsequent total and ‘impossible’ cancer regression had also opened up dramatic new possibilities. And, Welch had also made Tomàs aware of his complete loss of sexual interest or indeed function.

Tomàs had already been collaborating with scientists using a Beta Attenuation Mass (BAM) monitors to illustrate visually components of the earth’s atmosphere in art works. These appeared to be printouts similar to those produced in say mass chromatography or spectroscopy to determine whether for example certain biomarkers are present.

Saraceno is also known for his interest in spiders and their webs, which led to the formation of the interdisciplinary community Arachnophilia, a research-driven initiative that refines concepts and ideas related to spider/webs across different forms of knowledge and multiple artistic, scientific and theoretical disciplines. Notably, Saraceno collaborated with researchers at the Photogrammetric Institute of TU Darmstadt to develop the Spider/Web Scan, a novel, tomographic technique that allowed, for the first time ever, precise 3D models to be made of complex spider webs

Together with these photogrammetric scientists Tomàs had become especially interested in developing the work of the psychoanalyst Reich on Orgone – a substance identified by Reich in the 1940a as a manifestation of the orgasmic force.

Tomàs had collaborated with Orgone researchers in Germany and used the SpiderWeb Scanner with BAM monitors to try to detect Orgone emanating from individuals having orgasms but so far without success. The original Reich research in the 1940s had been stopped and proscribed, at least as far as the public was concerned, by the US government and Reich had been imprisoned. However, far from the public gaze government scientists in the USA and elsewhere were still working on the Orgone project and the CIA had maintained an archive of Reich’s research findings. Clearly. to detect, identify and measure Orgone, the life-force itself, the Élan Vital, the elixir of life itself, would be both a momentous scientific breakthrough and most crucially for the future of humanity would also provide an extraordinarily powerful political tool for manipulating public sentiment. Following the drama with Welch Tomás had become intrigued by the possibility that his new spider may hold the key to Orgone detection. Spiders are ancient, with hundreds of millions of years of existence on planet earth, mythically reputed to have supernatural powers, to be responsible for weaving the web of the universe itself and one day to be responsible for its demise too. Surely if anything, or any living creature can hold the key to the mystery of the life force it might be this extraordinary beast from Argentina.

So, now both Tomàs and Welch, one the curious young activist artist, the other an eccentric but visionary and brilliant narcissist, have seen Welch’s dramatic and orgasmic response to the Giant Argentinian Cave Spider, his subsequent total loss of libido and the subsequent ‘impossible’ complete regression of his apparently incurable cancer. Both now wanted to see if her SpiderWeb might be used in conjunction with the photogrammetric BAM technology to detect the life-force, Orgone, and possibly detect and eradicate cancer in others, maybe even in advance of symptoms. Could this Spider be the key to The Cure for Cancer, and who knows what else?

Welch and Tomàs meet again at the studio in Argentina. The Spider has been more active since Welch’s previous encounter. Perhaps the Spider has sensed an awakening of her own ancient powers and The Tribulation to come.

It emerges Welch has both funds and political friends in high places who would support setting up a secret laboratory, investment in a Limited Company and a research team to develop the SpiderWeb/BAM technology to detect Orgone, investigate its properties and in the process find The Cure for Cancer, the most powerful political weapon the world has ever seen.

Some politicians of the Far Right and with Christian Evangelical premillinarial tendencies begin to ponder and in private discuss the possibilities of not only The Cure, but also of enforcing universal mass impotence.

Already a growing number of premillinarial cells across the world are anticipating and even provoking civil unrest. They seem to be increasingly persuaded that the Covid pandemic, climactic events, and global warfare were evidence of The Tribulation that would according to their interpretation of The Book of Revelations precede The Rapture and the second coming of Christ.

Even the infamous and brilliant Oppenheimer who led the Manhattan project to develop the atomic bomb believed it was his sacred duty as a scientist to follow The Law of Science to its lethal nuclear end. His quote at the time of the first atomic test illustrates that not only premillinarial Christians but also some Hindu philosophies may follow divine commandments preaching the End Times.

“’Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds’, is literally the world-destroying time,” explains Thompson, adding that Oppenheimer’s Sanskrit teacher chose to translate “world-destroying time” as “death”, a common interpretation. Its meaning is simple: irrespective of what Arjuna does, everything is in the hands of the divine.”

“But Krishna teaches him about a higher philosophy that will enable him to carry out his duties as a warrior irrespective of his personal concerns. This is known as the dharma, or holy duty.”

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