by John Biscello ~
main photo by Sabrina Barrios ~
Wherever You Go…
You are here. It could be the geographical prelude to a Choose Your Own Adventure storybook. Or the initial directive in an X-centric treasure hunt. Perhaps it is a second-person referencing in an existential quest to find your primary self.
You could argue that in the case of THE PASEO, all of the above are valid explanations, with theoretical room to spare. A 21st-century art crawl meets carnival, this event, in its expansive scope, can be experienced as, A) a mutable feast for the senses, B) an art-empowered playground for all ages, C) a community-conscious raising of “there’s no place like home” D) a new-fashioned midway between dreaming and waking, E) “Come one, come all,” whip-cracked the invitation of the steam-punk carny barker.
YOU ARE HERE, THE PASEO’S mantra and magnetic needle-point, will once again fix upon the downtown heart of Taos, this Sept. 23 and 24. Proceed with flair.
Mapping It Out
The PASEO, which debuted in 2014, is the brainchild of J. Mathew Thomas, local creative dynamo whose resume reads like a Renaissance profile: Architect, designer, artist, founder of Studio Taos (interdisciplinary design and research firm), organizer of Pecha Kucha Night Taos, and culinary catalyst behind the recently discontinued Matt’s Quinoa Qookies. He teamed with Agnes Chavez, an interdisciplinary artist and founder of stemartslab.com (which generates a collaborative exchange between the arts and STEM: science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Chavez is now co-director of the project. Thomas explained, “The PASEO was sparked in the discovery that the Taos Fall Arts Festival would need to leave its long-held space at the convention center on Civic Plaza Drive. Being an architect and urban designer, I thought of some sort of outdoor event that could tie the indoor events together … and THE PASEO was born.”
“When Matt approached me with this idea,” Chavez said, “I was excited about being able to use this new art genre and venue as a springboard for STEAM youth workshops that would engage kids in the art-making process to become part of the festival.” The spirit of community fuels THE PASEO. From fundraising to volunteers to droves of engaged participants, it is a festival that shatters isolation bubbles and brings an “ol’ neighborhood” feel to the streets of Taos. In hearkening back to my own Brooklyn-based days of youth, I am reminded of that beloved summer tradition, the “block party,” when the street would be closed off from traffic, stoops and porches were turned into grill-pits and picnic areas, summer-sticky kids were cooled down by geyser-blasts from uncapped Johnny Pumps (fire hydrants), and general revelry abounded. In that sense, THE PASEO is like a high-desert “block party,” with lots and lots of really cool stuff. Or, in the words of Thomas himself, “THE PASEO strives to create a space for the community to gather around the celebration of art. It is 100 percent free and offers access to our community to work that can’t be hung on the walls—new media work—and that isn’t always available for viewing in Taos. The PASEO offers access to international, cutting-edge art; work that is participatory.”
Art, as part of the collective social fabric, is constantly changing and in flux, and Thomas views Taos as a vital breeding ground for cross-pollination: “Taos has a tradition of art, but it also has a tradition of being a type of crossroads in the changing climate of art and art-making. Taos has a wealth of diversity and cultural traditions. It’s not uncommon to find a huge variety of incredibly patterned pottery shards in the ground beneath us, from centuries of trading between the Native peoples of this area. The cultures and traditions of Mexico and greater Spain made their way to our area, influencing a number of art-making practices. Along came the Taos Society of Artists, the Taos Moderns, and the list continues … THE PASEO rides on the tradition of a community that inspires the artist. It is also a community that isn’t afraid of art … THE PASEO actually hosts a number of local artists that don’t show their work locally. We are providing a space for the large-scale installations, the night-time light and projection pieces, and performance art.”
“As a rural arts community, people traditionally come here to escape the modern, fast-paced life, including to some extent, technology,” Chavez said, “I am thrilled that PASEO introduces Taos to magical experiences that combine art, science, and technology. As a new media artist, I believe that this art can change our attitudes about technology and how it can be used in a positive way, to empower and transform communities.”
The Future, At Present
Last year’s PASEO saw spontaneous boogie-downs beneath a giant industrial spider; tarot readings and folk-gypsy flair inside the Wheel of Fortune tent; storybook escapes into a world of illuminated cut-outs; and typewritten love-letters orally dispatched from the top of a ladder.
What to expect this year? “We here at THE PASEO team are excited to announce some exciting developments for PASEO 2016,” Thomas said. “We get to see from past events, what are the most successful pieces, and work to enhance those types of pieces for the future. In addition to more participatory pieces, we are excited to bring new categories of work, including ‘mobile’ pieces and cutting-edge projection work.”
Matt and Agnes have been visiting festivals, reaching out to artists both locally and internationally, and, as Chavez said, “While in Geneva, scouting artists at the Geneva Mapping Festival, I discovered a new artist collective called Mysquare. Self-described as ‘techno-gypsies,’ they combine the latest video mapping technology with psychedelic visualizations in a 35-foot immersive dome. We are so excited to bring this mind-blowing work to Taos!”
Three other internationally renowned artists have been confirmed for PASEO 2016, and each exemplifies the festival’s spirit of cultural diversity and working with youth. Bert Bernally (a Diné artist from the Navajo Nation, presently living in New York City) will feature, in creative collaboration with Taos Pueblo students, “Techno Sand Painting,” a motion-responsive piece that fuses traditional sand painting with LED lights and sound.
Cie. Willi Dorner, a dance/performance group from Vienna, Austria will perform “bodies in urban spaces,” with members of Taos Youth Ballet and participants from the general public. The piece has been described by the company as “a moving trail, choreographed for a group of dancers. The performers lead the audience through selected parts of public and semi-public spaces. A chain of physical ‘interventions,’ set up very quickly, existing temporarily, allows viewers to perceive the place in a new and different way—on the run.”Alexandra Gelis, a Colombian-Venezuelan artist presently living in Toronto, will present “Raspao” (Spanish slang for vendor carts used throughout Latin America to sell snow cones). Hybrid vehicle, food cart, and moving sound sculpture, Gelis will work with students from VISTA High School, using the vehicle to create their own sound compositions.
“These are truly internationally-accomplished artists who have installed and performed their pieces in other settings around the globe,” Thomas said. “But, the very nature and history of Taos will alter and interact with the elements to make works not viewable anywhere else.”
With plans to expand upon and surpass last year’s event, which drew more than 10,000 locals and visitors, another 15 to 20 artists are expected to be brought in. The pre- and post-festival agenda will include artist workshops, discussions and gallery exhibitions, and a rollicking after-party at Taos Mesa Brewery on Saturday (Sept. 24). A special Pecha Kucha event is scheduled for Sunday the 25th, when a number of PASEO artists will showcase their work with elliptical ingenuity.
Since THE PASEO is an event that wears the future on its sleeve, I asked Thomas and Chavez to share their thoughts on Taos as a 21st century art colony.
“For the future, I see Taos always seeking a new path, defining its own way, while continuing to attract people from all over the globe, inspiring them in the authenticity that is the landscape of Northern New Mexico,” Thomas answered. “With PASEO I hope that we can continue to provide a space for the community to gather as one, in the celebration and curiosity of art. I hope that PASEO continues the tradition of bringing artists from all over the world to its light-filled landscapes to inspire new work, while inspiring the community. And, I hope PASEO sends a message to all the communities out there; that art can bring a community together, and that we must begin to address how to create a more inclusive society where people of all backgrounds can come together to inhabit their town in beauty and joy.”
“In my dual role as education director of the STEMarts LAB youth program, students work with our PASEO artists and get hands-on access to the latest technological and scientific innovations,” Chavez responded. “I imagine that we are helping to prepare a new generation of youth for the 21st-century mindset and workplace so that they can contribute and thrive in this new world.”
PASEO 2016, Sept. 23 and 24 (in conjunction with the 42nd annual Taos Fall Arts Festival), spanning the historic downtown district. Maps for the event will be available at local shops and businesses. For more information, visit paseotaos.org.
For more coverage of PASEO and the Taos Fall Arts Festival, pick up a copy of Taos Magazine at locations all over Taos County, or subscribe to Taos Magazine.
TAOS MAGAZINE | SEPTEMBER 2016