Events

Origination Point

June 13, 2015 5 Arts

Origination Point, the interactive projection installation, was part of the collective exhibit “Entre, Dentro, Fuera/Between, Inside, Outside” at the 12th Havana Biennial in Havana Cuba. The concept began to brew in December after I received the invitation from curator, Dannys Montes de Oca. I decided on the series I was currently exploring called Projecting Particles that involved doing a 2-week research stay at CERN in Geneva Switzerland. The question I was exploring in the residency was how can these understandings of space and the origins of matter transform the way we perceive the world around us and more specifically, as artists how we visualize and create. As the concept evolved so did the collaboration of individuals that came together to design and realize the installation for the inauguration on May 22, 2015 at the Pabellon Cuba. Visual artist and coder, Marcel Schwittlick, who designed the generative code, sound designer, Robert Schirmer who engineered fantastical sounds for the interactive rocks, and my graduate student assistants from the University of New Mexico Fine Arts Department, Abbey Hepner, Julianne Aguilar and Adrian Pijoan, with Cristine Posner taking the lead. They were magicians when it came to installing the piece on site in Cuba. Thanks to all of you!

The piece is a projection of self-generating “rocks” (a visual metaphor for the particle nature of matter)  transformed through
mesmerizing movements in rhythm with an interactive soundtrack (representing the wave nature of matter). Audio was created with sounds recorded by NASA from outer space and with real nature sounds. To interact with the piece, participants move the three “rocks” in and out of the circle on the floor, adding layers of sound designed to shift your perception of and emotional response to the visuals.

In response to the theme of the exhibit, Entre, Dentro, Fuera/Between, Inside, Outside”,  I contemplate both my origins as a Cuban American and humanity’s shared ‘subatomic’ origins to express that we are more than the physical bodies and socio-cultural identities we construct.

Impressions of Havana

June 12, 2015 Arts
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Lorraine Monteagut, contributing blogger

It’s been a couple weeks since we’ve returned from Havana, and still we are processing all the rich interactions in our short time there. I had the opportunity to take a broad perspective of the Biennial, as I observed the pARTicles team set up and inaugurate their installation, and I also spent much time walking the streets of Havana on my own.

As a Cuban American, I felt both like an insider and an outsider. I had easy conversations with the many strangers who approached me and made a few friends who showed me around. We talked about our shared culture and our hopes for the future of U.S.-Cuba relations. We shared photos of our families. And still, it was clear that there was much we could never share, that I was outside their experience and always would be, as their political and economic situation is like none other in the world.

To keep with the spirit of the exhibit’s theme–“Between, Inside, Outside”–I’ll share three of the many interactions I had in my ten days in Havana that illustrate the shifting nature of place and identity I felt as I “returned” to a homeland I’d never physically known.

An Impromptu Guide

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Many Cubans take to the streets in hopes of meeting tourists to escort around town. They are sometimes tipped by establishments for bringing in tourist business. I didn’t know any of this when I ran into this man while making my way toward Old Havana on the Malecon. He asked me where I was from (the typical first line to getting a tourist’s attention), and when I started speaking spanish, he asked me where I was “really” from. This would become the model of questioning over the following week. My place of birth marked me as an American, yet my language linked me to this country that was at once alien and familiar.

My impromptu guide redirected me to interior streets that would take me through Centro Havana, where I could find nice cigars, and ultimately to my destination in Old Havana. As we walked, he showed me a faded photo of his daughter and told me about the ration cards (the “libretas”) that provided each Cuban with items such as rice, beans and bread for the month (I’d later see these ration cards in person, people lining city blocks for their daily bread).

My guide said it wasn’t enough, that they could get more ration cards if they brought business in, and he asked me if I’d go with him to one such establishment where cigar “cooperatives” were selling top cigars at half price, for just this one day. At this point, my spidey sense went off, as I’d heard of such schemes when preparing for my trip. I felt conflicted, because this man was both sincere and wiley–one of the many paradoxes I found in Havana. I realized that as friendly as he was, as much as we connected with the language, I was still a tourist to him. I declined and excused myself, opting to take my chances on my own.

A Forthcoming Taxi Driver

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As a Floridian, I’m no stranger to beautiful coastlines, so I almost passed on the beach trip. I’m glad I didn’t, as I met a lovely cab driver named Usmael, who dropped me off at Santa Maria del Mar, one of the closest beaches to Havana. On the way there, he talked freely about the changes happening and his hopes for the future of his family. He said he would like to see his sister and father again one day, who escaped to Florida years ago. He helped me distinguish between police and military, pointed out the propaganda on the streets, and showed me the spot on the beach where his friends attempted to escape, most of whom drowned or were caught. He was nice enough to schedule a time to pick me up, since I’d probably have to wait long for a ride back, but he made me promise I wouldn’t leave him stranded. When I got back into his backseat, rosy and sandy, he glanced at the bottle of Anejo in the crook of my arm. “Make sure you hide that when you get back out. You have the face of a child.”

A Hospitable Family

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One of the highlights of my trip was my stint as a translator for a German-American architect who was interested in a recent renovation in Old Havana. We met with the Cuban man who acted as an informal project manager, the go-between for Swiss investors and the Office of the City Historian, run by Eusebio Leal, who is in charge of historical preservation. We were invited into the apartment homes of one of the families impacted by this renovation. The matriarch of the family was supremely hospitable, ushering us in to sit and chat. Her daughters were home and equally friendly. One, a 27-year-old and a new mother, told me how grateful she was for their new home, which now housed three generations of her family.

The renovation took decades to complete (our guide said he often had to take things into his own hands in order to get them done, as the government would have had them wait even longer). When the renovation began, the daughters were young girls. They were relocated to mass housing outside the city center in the meantime, and their future was uncertain. Now, their own children can enjoy a stable home all their lives. I asked the daughter if she ever thought about leaving Havana, and she said she would never dream of it. She heard that people in the United States worked too much and weren’t as inclined to come together and help each other.

I couldn’t argue with her there.

Indeed, I felt an immediate contradiction between the joy and drive of the Cuban people and the hard conditions of their lives. At any given time, I couldn’t tell if I was in heaven or in hell. Some parts of town look like living ruins, people living en masse in crumbling homes. Yet the Cuban people are welcoming and full of life, making the best of everything. I did not feel a hint of despair. I couldn’t help comparing Havana to my home in Florida, where I know many people who feel stuck in their jobs, who struggle to keep a level of material wealth they aren’t sure they want or need, who rely on prescription medication to fight back depression and stagnation every day.

As I look to the future of Cuba-U.S. relations, I wonder just how Cuba will change, and I wonder which way is better. I think the answer rests somewhere in between our worlds…

Lorraine Monteagut is a Ph.D. candidate in Communication at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Follow her summer travels: roguegeographer.wordpress.com

Projecting Particles Youth Workshop in Havana

June 3, 2015 Arts
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The Projecting Particles youth workshop combines particle physics concepts and projection art to inform students on the latest particle physics concepts while encouraging them to visualize and express their understandings through a Tagtool iPad app designed to create projection art.

For the Havana workshop students sat in on a presentation at La Escuela Secundaria de Havana, by Mexican physicist, Dr. Luis Flores Castillo whose visit was sponsored by ATLAS Experiment at CERN. Students explored the question, What is space?” which, following the interests of the participants, related to the big bang theory, spacetime and other symmetries, the Higgs field, the discovery of the Higgs boson, the search for Dark Matter and Supersymmetry, and the idea of Dark Energy.

Then, in an open air workshop at the Parque Trillo in Centro Habana, students continued a physics chat with Luis followed by Tagtool  instruction from Markus Dorninger, Austrian artist and developer of the Tagtool app. Students learned how to paint and animate their ideas in real time as the images projected on to the side of a building. The public was encouraged to listen in and ask questions and try out the app.

Malu Tavares, Abbey Hepner and Adrian Pijoan documented the workshop and event which will be available this year as part of a short documentary video.

Touring the Biennial with Senator Udall and Jill Udall

June 1, 2015 Arts
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One of the highlights of my journey to the Havana Biennial was getting to visit with Senator Udall and Jill Udall who came to show their support, along with congressmen, Grijalva, Franken and Larson. They came to the Pabellon Cuba exhibit hall for a preview of our exhibit, Between, Inside, Outside, and gave a little talk to the public. Then the electricity went out in the entire hall and they were not able to see my installation and other electronic pieces. In the Cuban spirit that we came to know after just a week in Havana, the curators continued unwavering with the tour. Each artist gave a lively talk about the work as best we could and the Udall’s will have the opportunity to see my installation when it comes back to New Mexico.

That evening, the curators Royce Smith and Dannys Montes De Oca, held a wonderful dinner in old Havana for the artists and congressional delegation. The food was excellent and it was a wonderful celebration of our successful inauguration. The next morning Senator Udall and Jill invited us to see some art with them and we had the pleasure of joining them for a tour of the Zona Franca exhibit at the Morro-Cabaña, one of my favorites site at the Biennial. If anyone is planning a trip to the Havana Biennial this is not to be missed, along with our exhibit, of course, Between, Inside, Outside in the Pabellon Cuba.

Thanks again to the Udall’s for always being there to support local artists and in particular for this unique cultural exchange between US and Cuba at such a pivotal time in our history.

About Marcel Schwittlick

May 30, 2015 Arts
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marcel berlin

For the projection installation, Origination Point, which was presented at the Havana Biennial, I collaborated with Marcel Schwittlick, a young German visual artist that incorporates programming and technology into his work. We started working together in Berlin just 8 weeks before show time. Check out his website for more about this cool new artist.

Apart from his creativity and skill, he demonstrated his ultimate dedication to his work when he climbed in through a window at 1am to get into the exhibit hall to make some final edits to the piece. He almost got arrested if not for Roberto, his Chilean friend who was able to speak in Spanish and explain. Thanks Marcel and Roberto!

In his personal work he is examining new possibilities of modern technology. He is interested in digital culture and its inclinations on society and is working in strong connection to various fields in the arts, forging a connection between physical and digital media. He’s experimenting with a variety of media ranging from digital images, physical and interactive installations, videos to physical acrylic paintings. The play with media is a basic property of his work challenging the spectator to see his work outside of the context of one specific media and immerse into the underlying story. This story will often be communicated and transformed with his technological thinking, putting the future onto display. His main objective is to make virtual and digital aspects of life more tangible and emphasize the necessity for critical but open examination of tendencies in this ever changing point in time.

For those that wanted to know more about the technical creation of the installation, Marcel shares his process below:

For the visual part of the piece, it was essential that a generative approach be chosen. Generative in this context means that the visual output is slightly different every time the application is run, but still within certain boundaries, which I expressed in code. The visuals in it’s entirety are generated in real-time.
For developing the software for the piece I used the collaboratively developed creative coding framework OpenFrameworks. OpenFrameworks is not a ‘program’, it’s essentially a set of tools for creating experimental media based applications.

The entire piece is constructed of generative and static elements. The nature of the generative approach is to let the computer have a certain degree of freedom in the creation of the piece. Many of the generative elements in this piece are using Perlin noise (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perlin_noise) in all it’s varieties.blank
In Act One, the texture of the stone wall is generated with a two-dimension noise field, the shapes and margins between the individual, small rocks are governed by a smoothed voronoi diagram. The vector field is animated in relation to a three-dimensional noise field. The walking stones are animated with the concept of a random walk, which is essentially governed by random, the brother of noise.

In Act two, the texture of the rock is created via a combination of generative and static elements. In order to create the texture, many image of brush strokes are used, which are arranged randomly in relation to the shape of the rock. The shape of the rock is generated through an underlying voronoi diagram, which is slightly adjusted in order to create a big, organic and centered cell.
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For act three, all layers that are introduced in this act are variations of the growing rock from Act 2 being layered over each other with different transparencies.

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Thanks again to my sponsors!

May 30, 2015 Arts
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As the dust settles from the whirlwind journey to the Havana Biennial 2015 and back, I wanted to take a minute to thank again the people and organizations that helped make this possible through their generous contributions. For sponsors that are expecting their rewards, I am planning to have them delivered by the end of June.

Mil gracias!!!

UNM CFA Office of the Dean
ATLAS Experiment at CERN
Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, Republic of Austria
Social Media Workgroup/Americorps VISTA
OMAi GmbH
 (Markus Dorninger and Malu Tavares for generous contribution of equipment and time)
Josh and Kate Comfort
Andrea Szekeres
Mary H. Burns
Barney and Ursula Berkowitz
Matt Thomas and Richard Spera
Mark Speight
Shelli Bergmann
Magda Chavez
Mary Calas

That’s a wrap!

May 27, 2015 Arts
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Contributing blogger, Juliane Aguilar, UNM art student assistant

And we’re back in the USA!

Our trip concluded with the student Tagtool performances, which went off without a hitch… that is, until it started pouring rain! It ended up being a cathartic end to a crazy 9 days in Havana, in which we dealt with delays, reschedules, denials of permission for the workshop by the government (really!), but in the end succeeded in accomplishing nearly everything we set out to do.

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The students’ Tagtool drawings projected onto a building in Havana

The students were naturals with Tagtool. Speaking to the immense kindness and generosity we had experienced so far from nearly every Cuban we’d met, some kind people allowed us to use their home’s electricity to power the projector and a stereo. Salsa blared and the students lit up the night with awesome drawings and animations. They were so talented with the app, and did awesome things that drew a pretty big crowd from the park we were in!

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It was such a privilege to be allowed into Cuba to see the amazing city of Havana, and to work beside so many people who were so kind and helpful. These have been 9 days we will never forget. As Cuba begins to open up to the outside world, Havana will no doubt begin to change, and fast. Developers will move in and change the face of the city. Residents will experience gentrification. Modernity will arrive, but at what cost? We are so lucky to have been able to experience the country while it is standing at the threshold between past and future, and to have met so many people and heard so many stories.

Projecting pARTicles will be on view for the next month at the Pabellon Cuba as part of the Bienal de la Habana. We are all so proud of the work we accomplished, and if you can, please go experience this installation and the rest of the festival. There’s no better way to experience Havana than to simply go outside and start walking, and this festival is perfect for just that.

We have to thank Agnes for putting her trust in us to accomplish her vision, and we also have to thank the University of New Mexico, The Department of Art and Art History Dean Kymberly Pinder, and The Department of Art and Art History Chair Mary Tsiongas for funding and supporting our trip. It was a trip of a lifetime, and something special and unique that so few have been able to experience.

I also must thank my fellow grad students for all their hard work. Cristine was invaluable as the installation leader and head translator. Abbey went above and beyond the call of duty manning the cameras and photographing and filming everything! Adrian took care of the sound recording for the videos, and was our secondary translator and all-around jack of all trades. These three are beyond awesome, and it was a honor to work with them.

To see our work, check out our websites!

Cristine Posner: http://www.cristineposner.com
Abbey Hepner: http://www.abbey-hepner.com
Adrian Pijoan: http://www.adrianpijoan.net
Julianne Aguilar: http://www.hykul.org

I’ve had a great time writing this blog, but must now sign off.

Dr. Flores Castillo and Agnes talking with students during the final workshop

Dr. Luis Flores Castillo, CERN physicst explaining physics concepts to students during the final Projecting Particles workshop.

Success! “We” did it.

May 26, 2015 Arts
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“The Havana Biennial was established in 1984 and is one of the longest-standing biennial art exhibitions. “Entre, Dentro, Fuera / Between, Inside, Outside” marks the first time in the history of the Havana Biennial in which a Cuban and U.S. curator have closely worked together on a project.” This article provides a little background information on the co-curators Royce Smith and Dannys Montes de Oca, as well as the exhibit.

Everyone worked together as a team to realize this exhibit. From the curators who had to navigate the organizational hurdles on a minute by minute basis, to the construction team and custodians working with limited resources to build the structures, to the artists who had to adapt and invent in response to a constantly changing panorama. This was Cuba, where we got to experience in one week what Cubans experience every day in their lives. So what is my lasting impression as I write from Miami just one day after leaving Havana?

As a Cuban-American I am no stranger to the positive and inventive nature of the Cuban people. Yet I was still marveled at how they maintained this outlook and approach to life in the face of systemic curve balls being hurled on a daily basis. Vacationing in Cuba is not the same as ‘working’ in Cuba and participating in the Biennial as an artist provided this unique and unforgettable opportunity. Whenever we encountered one of those curve balls the Cuban people would always respond with ‘Todo es posible!’ or ‘Vamos a encontrar manera’ ‘We will find a way’, and they did. Even if it meant taking the shirt off their back, or in my case, offering me their personal fan. After Cristine, our UNM art student assistant, spent all day trying to buy a fan for my space, our Cuban assistant offered to bring hers from home. We experienced this on a regular basis and this was what left a lasting impression.

This doesn’t mean that the Cuban people accept the broken systems that often lead to chaos. They are always looking for ways to improve things and I also saw a lot of hope that changes will come. My wonderful Cuban assistant Viviana shared a story that the new US-Cuba relationship was announced on December 17th, a special saints day for San Lazaro, the healer, which for the Cuban people is known as the day of miracles. We are all hoping for the miracle that the transition will be a positive one for all.

Thanks to Dannys  and Royce for inviting me and taking on this challenge and congratulations to their success! The exhibit “Entre, Dentro, Fuera / Between, Inside, Outside” will be up in the Pabellon until June 25, 2015. Please go to Havana to see it.

Bienal time!

May 24, 2015 Arts
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Contributing blogger, Julianne Aguilar, UNM art student assistant

 Contributing blogger, Julianne Aguilar, UNM art student assistant

It’s finally here – the Bienal opening weekend! Last night was the inauguration party, and when I say party, I mean PARTY! The Bienal knows how to throw a good one. There was an awesome variety of music from Cuba and all over the world, and the biggest dance floor I’ve ever seen was full of revellers having a great time and busting a move despite of the sticky heat.

Entre, Dentro, Fuera (Between, Inside, Outside), where Projecting pARTicles is installed, was packed to the brim today as the official celebrations got underway. IMG_20150523_133448But, as this is Cuba, after all, a minor complication arose when we needed a ladder. However, the Bienal staff came through, as always, and a ladder materialized out of nowhere, and all was well. The afternoon started with a short talk by Agnes and us four students to a group from the University of New Mexico about the piece and what it was like to undertake such an endeavor in a country with such limitations. We all agreed that learning to stay on your toes and adapt to changes, delays and other challenges at the drop of a hat is key. Also, have awesome fabricators who can make magic happen no matter what the problem is! Heat and sun are no deterrent for the many Bienal-goers, and the city is full of people from all over the world here to experience this unique event.

IMG_20150522_133027Walking around we heard a dozen or more languages being spoken, which really gives you the feeling that Cuba is opening up to the world at last. We really get the idea that we’re here at a unique moment, and we are so grateful to be welcomed here to experience this amazing place. Tomorrow is the Tagtool projection performance with Markus and the local school kids, which is a great way to spend our last day in Cuba. Abbey, Markus and director Malu Tavares have done a great job documenting everything that has been happening, and you can look forward to their documentary about this experience. It’s been an exhausting week, but one that we’ll never, ever forget!

Higgs and beyond!

May 22, 2015 Arts
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Contributing blogger, Julianne Aguilar, UNM art student assistant

It’s done!

Projecting pARTicles is up and running, and what an experience it’s been. Neither heat nor humidity could stop us! With the Bienal opening today we didn’t finish a moment too soon.

We had a moment of scariness when we were told all our equipment had to go through customs, but we made it through.

Focuses have shifted to the student workshop, where Agnes is teaching the Tagtool app. But that’s not the most exciting part! The Bienal has graciously and awesomely invited Dr. Luis Roberto Flores Castillo to come to Havana and be a part of the workshop. Luis isn’t just any physicist – he was a part of the CERN team that discovered the Higgs Particle! He is also a professor at the University of Hong Kong. The Atlas Experiment at CERN is sponsoring Luis to help make this possible.

Luis will do a presentation to the scientific community on Saturday at 5pm at the Salon de Mayo in the Pabellon building. Needless to say it is an extreme honor to have him here with us. As part of the workshop, he is teaching the kids about the Higgs and other tenets of particle physics. I can’t think of a better person to do it!

Tomorrow we’ll all be giving a presentation about Projecting pARTicles, and today the final, final, final finishing touches are going into the installation. It’s been a crazy ride but it’s all coming together in a pretty great way!

The Biennal fabrication team could not have been more helpful, understanding and cool, and we could not have done any of this without them. Cheers to them!