Ars Electronica Festival 2019, Out of the Box reflections

I just completed the four-day presentation of Quantum Logos (vision serpent) at Ars Electronica Deep Space 8k theater. It was quite a ride, with my colleagues in arms Ina ConradiBianka Hofmann, and Bob Kastner. Full of the requisite stress that comes with big efforts. Although I produced and animated all of the visuals myself, I received a much needed musical score from Tate Egon Chavez. Other consultation came from Rupert Ursin, deputy director at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. I’m an artist/animator and not trained in Quantum Theory or cultural archetype and metaphor, though these are interesting subjects to study.

Mandala sequence ©Mark Chavez, Photo: Wolfgang Simlinger

I started this project in earnest this past January, though my research on the topic started much earlier when I began reading books like James Maffie’s Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion, and Alexus McLeod’s Philosophy of the Ancient Maya: Lords of Time. These books offer a great view of the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical wisdom of the Mexica and Maya civilizations. Taking these ideas without expropriating direct cultural imagery as well as studying other great cultures and the essence of their creation myths and themes provided a rich template from which to derive design inspiration.

Sun sequence ©Mark Chavez, Photo: Wolfgang Simlinger

I didn’t exclusively use these designs themes, however. I studied the work of numerous quantum physicists of various subject fields. Only with the generosity of scientists who publish talks online could I possibly begin to understand, in a most minor way, the complexity of the subject. I attended talks at the UCLA ArtSci Center helmed by artist Professor Victoria Vesna and scientist Dr. James Gimzewski including talks by professors from the California NanoScience Institute, and other casual discussions on the subject with academics in the field. I also studiously reviewed lectures from the World Festival of Science and other sources on quantum physics, gravity, time and biology. 

To get a better understanding of indigenous American ideas, aside from studying the books aforementioned, I began to study Nahuatl, a Uto-Aztecan language spoken by a subset of indigenous people of Mexico. This helped in understanding the nature and depth of the culture though from a contemporary view. In particular, it helped me understand the emotive pathos expressed in metaphor in their poetry and prose.

The project was comprised of a 10-minute real-time movie. Then after a 30-second pause with an introduction to the idea of becoming a source of energy in a quantum field the wall and floor transitioned into an interactive interlude. It is designed as a field of quantum energy with it’s rippling interactive reaction. Designed to resemble the depths of a sacred Mayan cenote, the audience could enter the quantum world and ripple the fields around them.

Sacred pool sequence ©Mark Chavez, Photo: Wolfgang Simlinger

Everything was authored in Derivative Touchdesigner. The short is essentially comprised of 2D compositions though I have two 3D scenes, one comprised of 3D tree models, and another generated with GLSL shaders. I reworked numerous shaders, morphed and mixed them together, and animated parts of them based on the effect I was working for. Abstract animation is difficult to understand, using it to describe quantum physics proved a big challenge. I like to make images that remind the viewer of primal things (like water, fire desert, mountains, and trees), that way I can use their intuitive interpretation in the messaging of the various ideas and concepts I’m trying to express.

Sacred pool sequence ©Mark Chavez, Photo: Wolfgang Simlinger

This research is ongoing and I am excited about further developing the work. 

This work is mentioned on the Austrian Academy of Sciences website: https://www.iqoqi-vienna.at/news-events/events/news-detail/article/scientists-and-artists-co-create-visual-and-sonic-narratives-to-communicate-quantum-technology/