This summer, Phoenix Art Museum presents Methuselah by Cuban artist Reynier Leyva Novo, a digital artwork that follows a butterfly avatar along its journey from Mexico, across the United States and into southern Canada as part of the species’ annual reproductive cycle.
On-site visitors will experience the monarch’s movements and behaviors in a shared environment using a holographic device. Additionally, Methuselah is hosted and reproduced in real-time on a dedicated website so that users across the world with internet access can experience the work at any time.
The mixed-reality exhibit was installed May 6 in the Museum’s Katz Wing for Modern Art. It is presented in conjunction with Juan Francisco Elso: Por América, the first retrospective since 1992 to explore the career of the late Cuban artist Juan Francisco Elso.
Admission is free for Museum Members; youth aged 5 and younger; and Maricopa County Community Colleges students. Entrance into the exhibition is included in general admission for the public.
Visitors may also enjoy reduced admission to the exhibition during voluntary-donation times on Wednesdays from 3 to 9 pm, made possible by SRP and supported in part through the generosity of the Angela and Leonard Singer Endowment for Performing Arts. For a full breakdown of general-admission prices and hours, see phxart.org/visit.
Monarch butterflies weigh less than one gram each and live only two to six weeks, requiring four generations of offspring to complete their annual migration. Methuselah refers to the fourth generation of monarchs who are born at the northernmost point of the migration pattern and live longer than the other generations.
In late summer and fall, the methuselah generation begins a two-month, 6,000-mile journey from southern Canada and the northern United States to Mexico, where they stop to hibernate in the remote oyamel fir forests. In February and March, they awaken and begin the return home, laying millions of eggs along the way before dying.
Methuselah was created by Cuban artist Reynier Leyva Novo in collaboration with butterfly experts, taxidermists, animators, computer modelers and software designers, translating an analog specimen into a digital animation, or virtual avatar.
The open-distribution model of the artwork, which allows for observation 24 hours a day, draws upon data points related to actual conditions the monarch experiences during migration, including inclement weather and rough terrain.
Any person with an internet connection can access the work via methuselahmonarch.com. The artwork can also be individually accessed on mobile devices via a free app on the App Store.
This summer, Methuselah will also be accessible at other Valley venues, including at the ASU Art Museum in Tempe, where ASU students and museum visitors can experience Methuselah in a mixed-reality setting in the Museum’s Artists’ Workshop space; the ASU Media and Immersive eXperience Center (MIX) in Mesa, which will live stream Methuselah’s flight path north on its 80-foot exterior jumbo screen; and Desert Botanical Garden, which will host a public conversation with artist Reynier Leyva Novo and Garden pollinator experts, followed by a tour of the Garden’s renowned Cohn Family Butterfly Pavilion.
Each institution will release more programming information as it becomes available.
“The soft diplomacy of the monarch, as well as its perseverance, offers a critical metaphor for 21st-century existence related both to migration and our impending climate crisis,” said Phoenix Art Museum curator Olga Viso.
“That Novo created this work during his own migration out of Cuba and that the monarch was recently categorized as an endangered species makes it all the more poignant. This interest and exploration of transnationalism and the fragility of existence pays tribute to Juan Francisco Elso’s own fascination with those topics, demonstrating how Elso’s influence on new generations of Cuban artists such as Novo lives on.”
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