The Pollinator Concentrator project started in 2019, inspired by a conversation between Juniper Manley, director of the Harwood Museum, who was working there at the time, and Kristina Ortez, the executive director at the Taos Land Trust. The conversation they had led to Agnes Chavez being invited to submit a proposal for an art installation and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) program at the Río Fernando Park.
She proposed a BioSTEAM Youth Program. The goal was to invite an artist to beautify the park with a site-specific installation that would at the same time educate both students and the community on environmental issues through a free, online curriculum platform.
"The intention was that this would increase visitation to the park as a place to feel wonder and respect for nature, and to highlight the unique restoration strategies at the park as a model for other communities," Chavez told Tempo.
Chavez, an artist and educator of Cuban origin has long been based in Taos. Her work is focused on data visualization, light, sound and space. Her collaborations with artists, scientists and youth have earned her recognition and acclaim internationally.
A founding member of The PASEO festival, whose mission is "to transform community through art and art through community," she is perhaps best known locally as a curriculum developer, who created the SUBE, a multisensory language curriculum for teaching Spanish and English to kids through art, music and games, which is now in its 23rd year.
She is also the founder of the STEMarts LAB, a research and innovation project that applies art, science and technological innovations to youth programming through interdisciplinary artist-led collaborations and online platforms such as the STEMarts@PASEO Youth Program and BioSTEAM Lab at the Taos Land Trust.
In 2019, before the pandemic hit, Chavez traveled back and forth from Taos to Switzerland, completing a permanent installation, "Fluidic Data," at the CERN Data Centre, Geneva, Switzerland.
Once the Taos Land Trust concept was clear, artist Ana MacArthur was selected, and invited to come to the park to design an installation that responded to the site and the restoration work happening on the Taos Pueblo land at Río Fernando Park.
She collaborated with Ben Wright, the Land Trust's Education and Land Projects coordinator, for site selection and land integration. The installation also integrates a bat detector on the land, which tracks and visualizes the movement of bats living at the park. Approximately 20 bat species have been identified by bat biologist, Mark Balistreri.
"What was exciting to see, looking back two years later," Chavez observed, "is how the artist's design was inspired by the land restoration which has lead to the return of species diversity at the park, as well as native plants.
"It was also wonderful to see how Ben and the TLT team were in turn inspired to plant a field of wildflowers devoted to pollinators encircling the installation."
Members of TLT's New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps worked hard to prepare the site and helped install the piece.
"This project brought together my passion for art and the environment," said Harwood's Manley.
"This piece not only adds intrigue on your walk but is the anchor to a robust curriculum that integrates art and science in a meaningful way and hopefully can inspire your youth to think of solutions for our challenging future," she said.
The project is a collaboration with Taos Pueblo elder Henrietta Gomez, Tiana Suazo, executive director at Red Willow, and Bettina Sandoval, director of Taos Pueblo Education and Training Division, as curriculum advisors. Through a series of Zoom interviews, each individual shares their traditional ecological knowledge around the topic of biodiversity, pollinators and food sovereignty, and the history of the Taos Pueblo land that is now Río Fernando Park.
"The Taos Pueblo Education and Training Division is dedicated to any and all innovative curricula that respectfully incorporates the histories and stories of our Taos Pueblo community. BioSTEAM has a unique design and is also dedicated to telling all sides of the story when creating their projects. We have so far partnered in a few different ways and all experiences have been very fruitful. We are excited to be participating in this program," said Sandoval.
What is BioSTEAM?
The BioSTEAM mission is to inspire youth to connect to and design with nature and imagine a better world. We do this through our interdisciplinary and intercultural BioSTEAM projects, which revolve around the work of select artists who inherently integrate art, science and technology with a focus on nature.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal
The BioSTEAM Curriculum Tool designs to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which address current global challenges. Through this partnership students know that they are working on meaningful solutions toward building a sustainable future for all. The Sustainable Development Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. The 17 goals were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which set out a 15-year plan to achieve the goals. The BioSTEAM program addresses the following sustainable development goals.
The youth program: Taos teachers and students make it happen
The BioSTEAM Curriculum Tool is an online platform for teachers to integrate the Pollinator Concentrator project into their curriculum designed for fourth- to 12th-grade students. Ten schools and 18 teachers from the Taos Public School district received a professional development training through the Taos Municipal School Administration and are ready to start implementing in the fall. Students will create pollinator-inspired designs informed by the artists’ biomimicry methodology. Kaila Dickey, teacher at Anansi Charter School, ran an online fourweek summer workshop to pilot the curriculum at Upward Bound Math and Science. She said: “The most impactful component of the Pollinator Concentrator project was pulling in various perspectives from around the community. Kids were able to see the widespread implications that one issue creates within their own backyard. Answering the most important question: But what does this have to do with me?”
About STEMarts Lab
STEMarts Lab, founded in 2009 by artist Agnes Chavez, integrates art, science and technology through artist-led interdisciplinary collaborations to empower our youth leaders. STEMarts Lab applies the latest science research and technological innovations to arts and education through innovative real world experiences for schools, art/ science organizations and festivals.
BioSTEAM after COVID
With COVID-19, many things had to shift. The guided field trips to visit the installation have become self-guided tours coupled with a series of video interviews to meet the artist and other members of the team. Live ZOOM visits with artist and team are available for teachers upon request.
What’s next? This eco-focused project started before COVID and now it is more urgent than ever for youth to be informed and inspired to respond to the complex challenges of the 21st century such as climate change, biodiversity loss and the recent rise of pandemic diseases. With travel restrictions causing the cancellation of international school trips abroad, in 2021 students will have the opportunity to use the online platform to collaborate with students in partner countries through a new international exchange program called BioSTEAM International. Through a partnership with the U.S. embassy in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Consulate General of Guadalajara, Mexico, schools, teachers and students will have the opportunity to communicate and collaborate across borders, encouraging intercultural respect, creative expression and scientific literacy around a new BioSTEAM project called BIOTA Exchange. More cities and countries will be added as it evolves. For more visit stemarts.com/biosteam.
Tell our readers a little about yourself, and the art you make.
I have followed a consistent thread in my artmaking and research, with both my passion to understand and explore light’s role in life, and my commitment to bring environmental awareness since the mid ‘70s. I am an artist who makes work to wake up consciousness and thinks about context and critical issues of the times, yet with what is coming in the future, which often places my work in unusual situations. Starting early on in the late ‘70s, I discovered the thrill of working with scientists on problems I needed to solve and along with my light interest this took me deeply into technology. In 1983 I was introduced to holography while living in New York City, and this commenced a long chapter of becoming one of the few pioneers in dichromate holography, and connected me to other work in the field of photonics. This expanded my interest in technologies and breakthrough understandings that are can provide solutions to our problems. As the environmental predicaments and species extinction became magnified, my work has put more emphasis on working directly within biology and living systems, that I was already engaged with earlier. I have considered part of my eco-activism teaching youth environmental thinking via art and biomimicry, starting in 2007 with my first workshop in Manaus, Brazil, while there working on a large art project. I am a believer in the possibility that, given enough thought, art can catalyze change.
How did you come to be involved in this project at the Río Fernando Park?
I was asked by artist Agnes Chavez to be the first artist in her STEMArts/Biosteam program at the park, due to my history of working with technology and environmental issues. She also knew of my own youth STEAM education work. The idea was to have the artist design an outdoor installation that would engage youth in part of the process of making it and simultaneously teach them the concepts of the artwork and STEAM thinking, via a workshop that I did with TISA middle school students. The Taos Land Trust engaged Agnes as they knew of her STEMarts program and they wanted to involve youth in the environmental mission of their park.
Can you describe your installation for us?
As I had already been working for a series of years with insects, I more recently have reflected on the loss of pollinators and the significance of that loss. I realized that the topic of pollinators would be an ideal subject for engaging an interspecies understanding, which I think is vital to the process of enlisting a broad spectrum of activism, encouraging us to live more considerately, acknowledging that we humans share this world with many precious nonhumans. Many can engage in helping to bring the pollinators back, and one can think of it daily as our food depends on it. One-third of the food we eat comes from pollinators, and 90 percent of the plants in the world exist due to pollinators. Land use and loss of ecosystems is a large contributing factor to pollinator and species decline, thus the educational workshop I did, connected with the artwork and the thinking inherent in the tiles were imbued with teachings around this topic. This site-specific installation consists of a 10-foot diameter parabolic dish submerged in the ground yet surrounded by a raised mound. In the center of the parabolic is a pole, a sundial, with the height reaching to the exact focal point of that parabolic, and a blue glass dish at the top that will collect rainwater and encourage pollinators to drink at the focal point. The parabolic is lined with tiles in varying shades of blue and representing nine species of pollinators from the butterfly, moth, wasp, bee, hummingbird and bat families. The parabolic with focal point speaks of a “concentrator of light” or bringing pollinators into focus, and references a satellite dish as if transferring pollinator DNA to preserve in faraway places. Around the circumference of the parabolic is a ring of ultraviolet lights that when turned on for certain evening events have a subtle undulation and attract insects for study in warmer seasons. At the top of the pole is a set of LED lights that fluctuate when they are triggered by the ultrasonic sound of the bats flying over and with the addition of a hand-held bat monitor. In April 2019, not long after I started this project, I learned from a bat biologist working at TLT that the property had 20 species of bats. I had already integrated the bat as pollinator into the tile work and the lessons taught at TISA. Even if the TLT bats are not the pollinator type, the number of species is impressive and they thus represent the bats that do pollinate, mostly found in southern New Mexico. My own evolution with the artwork wove in a more significant focus on the bats when I heard there were 20 species, as I was intrigued by the idea that UV light, important to many pollinators, is just at the edge of human visible range with a lot of it being invisible to humans. Similarly the ultrasonic sounds of bats are sound wise invisible to us humans, thus the two ends of the visible and audible spectrum (relative to human sensing) are in communication. The communication and overlapping of human to nonhuman sensing is of interest to me. Then, of course, almost a year later the issue arose with the pandemic, and suddenly bats were getting a lot of attention. A key design element of the work was to make the tiles very accessible to youth as a way to get them more engaged in identification, as the tiles are derived from the exact morphology of the specimens. In the youth workshop the students made tiles of differing pollinator species, which taught them the morphology of the species. All the cement tiles in the final artwork I made and stained blue by hand. In the end the entire class of students were able to place one of the tiles I made, but the same species they had worked with in their class, in a specific position on the outer edge of the parabolic and in final they can memorize their tile as it is marked by the time of day/the shadow/sundial crossing through it. The cement parabolic dish was a very significant feat to accomplish and was done so with the help of Mark Goldman, Taos University of New Mexico CNST Technology Department, and three of his students – Daniel Torres, Jesse Riggs and Stephen Herrera. There were skilled contributions from various members of the Taos community to bring the piece to its final conclusion, and the Youth Conservation Core who did a lot of hard labor to prepare the ground and the first layer of landscaping. As the parabolic dish acts as a large collector of water (rain or snowmelt) there is a drain in the bottom and the water is piped underground, feeding a pumice wick buried well below a nearby arc pollinator garden. This water savings design feeds a rich variety of native plants in the garden with each plant in the garden having a corresponding tile/species that pollinates the plant. There are gravel pathways circumnavigating the work with steps on two side up to the viewing rim, all which guide viewers and especially assist in seeing where to walk when night viewing.
The garden is an evolving organism that will certainly change the way art is perceived. How do you see the two integrating?
I don’t see the pollinator garden as a separate entity, as it was designed in the original plan. It appears aerially as another concentric circle radiating out from the center pole inspired by wave fronts of light undulating out from a center. The garden has a specific shape and is to be maintained by TLT, but with the flexibility that they are allowed to change out or add in other native plants as they please, with the only restriction being that any plant added has to be pollinated by one of the species represented in the tiles. I think it is important to have an element in the artwork that gives the caretakers the pleasure of participating from their own incentive. Most of the plants won’t be that tall and the changes through the seasons may be more about flower color shifts. The official gardener/landscaper of TLT, Ben Wright, is planning on planting an entire field of wildflowers surrounding the work, so next spring it should look spectacular. The living, changing aspect of the garden is a nice counterpoise to the formal aspects of the rest of the work, and I am sure when the plants mature and flower there will be more pollinators flying around to witness, and some being attracted to the UV light at night. Go to anamacarthur.com.
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