From Taos to Havana

Agnes Chávez builds a bridge of pARTicles to ancestor’s land

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Agnes Chávez is busy preparing the installation she will take to the 12th Havana Biennial, where she has been invited to participate in a collective exhibit called “Entre, Dentro, Fuera/Between, Inside, Outside.”

The Taos-based artist has strong ties to the nation of Cuba, where both her parents were raised. Though she grew up in New York and has lived in Taos for many years, Chávez has always felt a desire to connect with the island. She visited it for the first time in 2012 in the company of her father and is excited to go back.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for me,” she said. “I’ve always searched for my own origins and I will finally be connecting with my parents’ past in Cuba. And I’m doing so within the context of my current project called ‘Projecting Particles’ which explores new concepts about the space around us, and our subatomic origins; how matter was created after the big bang through the newly discovered Higgs field.”

An artist and an educator, Chávez is constantly looking for new ways to bring youth into her projects.

“In 2009 I started exploring data visualization and projection art through a piece called the ‘(x)trees’ which mined data live from the Internet to create dynamically generating trees,” she said. “During this time I also developed the STEMarts Lab to engage youth in projects like mine, led by new media artists working with STEM (an acronym for Science Technology Engineering Math).”

There was a nationwide call at the time to find innovative ways to improve student engagement and scores in STEM subjects. Chávez created the STEMarts Lab to add the arts to that equation as a way to motivate youth, while preserving the arts in the schools.

In 2012 she was invited to bring her “(x)trees” installation and the STEMarts educational program to ISEA 2012, an international electronic arts festival that came to Albuquerque. A curator from the Havana Biennial saw her project and invited Chávez to participate in the 12th Havana Biennial.

“The exhibition ‘Entre, Dentro, Fuera/Between, Inside, Outside’ was conceived by two curators — one from Cuba and the other from the United States — in order to explore how the cultural contexts for the production of art connect, differ, overlap and inform one another,” Chávez said. “Looking at technology, emotion, history and process, the curators hope to encourage participation and reflection on the part of Biennial visitors, as Cuba and the United States embark on a revitalized relationship with one another.”

Chávez’s interactive installation is called “Origination Point” and mixes a variety of sounds, like water flowing and the vibrating noise the Earth produces in space, as recorded by NASA systems, with forms that resemble growing and duplicating cells, particles and rocks floating in space.

“The installation is a black and white projection of ‘generative’ forms representing the birth of matter,” she said. “The ‘rocks’ are visual metaphors for the particle nature of matter, juxtaposed with movements and water sounds that represent the wave nature of matter.”

As planning for this project, Chávez participated in a research stay at the ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS) Experiment at CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), home of the largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.

“Through conversations with physicists I was able to deepen my understanding of the science concepts which informed and inspired this series,” she said.

Chávez is as excited about her interactive indoor installation for the exhibit as she is about teaching the youth workshop. “Students in the Projecting pARTicles workshop will have the unique experience of an art/science exploration,” she said. “In collaboration with Markus Dorninger, developer of the Tagtool App for iPads, they create physics-inspired projection art and engage the public in a series of projection interventions in the streets of Havana for the opening event.”

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) will be attending both the opening ceremony of the 12th Havana Biennial and the Artists’ Dinner, at the invitation of the curators. In a letter addressed to Chávez, he noted that Projecting pARTicles is pertinent to the “critical time in the history of US Cuba relations” which “will serve as an important educational, scientific, and cultural exchange that can potentially strengthen relations between the United States, the Cuban people, and other participating nations.”

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