“There are more microbial species on Earth than stars in the galaxy.”
“Thanks to DNA sequencing we are now able to “see” them and understand how they too are in peril.“
Agnes Chavez is an artist and educator of Cuban origin, based in Taos. Her work – a meeting between Art and Science – has long focused on data visualization, light, sound and space, and her collaborations with artists, scientists and youth to “create sensorial experiences that explore our relationship with art, science, technology and nature as a process and tool for personal, social and environmental change,” have catapulted her into a much broader arena than the High Desert of Northern New Mexico.
She is a founding member of The PASEO Festival, an outdoor participatory art festival that happens annually in Taos, whose mission is to transform community through art and art through community.
In 2009 she founded the STEMarts LAB a Research and Innovation project that applies the latest arts, science and technological innovations to youth programming through interdisciplinary artist-led collaborations and online platforms such as the STEMarts@PASEO Youth Program and the newly forming BioSTEAM Lab at the Taos Land Trust.
As a curriculum developer she created the SUBE, a multisensory language curriculum for teaching Spanish and English to kids through art, music and games now in its 23rd year. Sci-art installations and STEMarts LAB youth workshops are available for contracting or commission.
But for Agnes, 2019 will be remembered as the year she dived deeper into new waters with BIOTA, 516 ARTS ALBUQUERQUE NEW MEXICO: SPECIES IN PERIL ALONG THE RIO GRANDE which opened in September and runs through the end of this month, at the same time as she flew back and forth from Taos to Switzerland, completing what will be a permanent installation; Fluidic Data, at the CERN Data Centre, Geneva, Switzerland.
This is a huge honor for this remarkable woman and extraordinary artist, who accomplished much of the aforementioned work as a working mother in Taos, where she has lived for many years with her husband, architect Joaquin Karcher. The couple spend part of each year in Berlin where Joaquin is from, and time in Europe has clearly informed and broadened the scope of Agnes’ work.
Her current focus and obsession, BIOTA is once again, a data visualization installation that explores biodiversity loss through the micro-macro lens of new sensing technologies. From DNA sequencing to satellite remote sensing to micro algae production, she has been investigating data and imagery from these new methods of scientific exploration.
In collaboration with local environmental organizations, biology labs and field scientists, the team she works with used DNA sequencing technologies to analyze DNA strands of one water sample collected from the Rio Fernando which feeds into the Rio Grande. The DNA results showed 700 microbial species and their abundance level.
This bio-data was used to generate an algorithmic pattern of growing circles visualizing the diversity of species collected from the Rio Fernando. The algorithm is projected into the liquid bubbles which contain live freshwater microalgae to highlight their role as a bio tool for climate change mitigation and restoring biodiversity in water.
Microalgae produces approximately half of the atmospheric oxygen while using carbon dioxide to grow photoautotrophically. The BIOTA project has also led to ongoing collaborations with scientists and citizen science projects at the Rio Fernando Park, including a new partnership with the Museum of Southwestern Biology:
This sampling is important for many reasons, but mostly because not much is known about the bacterial biodiversity of river systems, especially threatened dryland waterways in the Southwest. These water samples, DNA extractions and sequencing results, collected as repeat samples over time, will be archived at the Museum of Southwestern Biology Division of Genomic Resources to provide baseline data and samples to support future research on river systems threatened by climate change, overuse and loss of biodiversity.
As if she were not busy enough in 2019, Agnes was also invited to attend the GLOW festival at Eindhoven in the Netherlands. “Through one of my STEAM presentations organized by the US Embassy in Lisbon last year (https://beyondtaos.com/taos-artists-go-international/) I met the Directors of the Lumina Festival (https://www.lumina.pt/enfestival). They have a new Association of Festivals(ILO- 25 festivals) that meet annually and invited me to attend their annual conference at this festival.” She told me when we spoke recently. “In my new advisory role to The PASEO Festival,” she told me.
Her proposal for the NM- Lisbon exchange project has been approved and funded since we spoke and she will start it in April of 2020.
Along with all of the above, Agnes has been contracted by the Santa Fe public school district to deliver a district wide professional development training to Santa Fe art and science teachers to share the STEMarts model.
“This is part of my expansion to Santa Fe,” she explained, “ and will focus on STEAM and biocultural diversity.”
There’s no stopping this powerhouse of a woman, and as we head into 2020, and taoStyle moves in a new direction, it seems fitting that Agnes Chavez takes a big bite out of December’s cake, on the blog.
When I started taoStyle five years ago, I nominated Paul O’Connor as my informal “Man of the Year,” well this year I have not one, but two remarkable Taos women I’m shining the spotlight on as 2019 draws to a close, and Agnes Chavez is one of them. The work she continues to do elevates Taos above and beyond the ordinary, into something quite extraordinary.
For much more on Agnes and all she has done and continues to do in the realm of the Arts and Sciences, please visit her site linked below.
And I’ll be back on Monday with my other pick and some news about taoStyle.
Top photo of Agnes Chavez by Zoe Zimmerman, other images thanks to Agnes Chavez