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The travelling butterfly

El Museo del Barrio launches Methuselah, a new digital artwork by Cuban-born artist Reynier Leyva Novo depicting the fascinating 6,000-mile migratory journey of a single monarch butterfly.

Reynier Leyva Novo Methuselah

Image courtesy of Reynier Leyva Novo Methuselah.

Witness and follow the 6,000-mile (9,656 kilometers) transnational migratory journey of a single monarch butterfly across the Americas through an interactive digital artwork by artist Reynier Leyva Novo titled Methuselah

Commissioned by El Museo del Barrio through support from VIA Art Fund, the artwork encapsulates the day in the life of a single monarch butterfly, a phenomenon that until recently was impossible to track. The title of the work, Methuselah, refers to the fourth generation of monarchs in each annual cycle. Monarch butterflies take four generations to complete their annual migration. Born furthest north, the Methuselah generation lives longer than the other travelers born further south. With this extended life span, it is able to complete the epic transcontinental migration each year, allowing for its species’ survival.

Methuselah by Novo can be observed 24 hours a day through its website, starting September 22, coinciding with the fall solstice, when monarchs commence their southern journey. An in-gallery immersive mixed reality installation will be on view at El Museo del Barrio in New York City from October 27, 2022 to March 26, 2023. Visitors can observe and experience the butterfly’s movements and behaviour around them in a gallery space. Along with its flight pattern, visitors will have access to the most up-to-date data on its journey – from exact geographic coordinates to weather. 

To create Methuselah, Novo used a combination of several different technologies, tools and online weather services. Through the span of a year, he worked with butterfly experts, taxidermists, animators, computer modellers and software designers. In tracing the monarch’s flight across the Americas, Methusaleh addresses larger contemporary issues related to migration, climate change and the necessity of transnational cooperation. Calling attention to the false security of borders, the artwork offers a critical metaphor for twenty-first century existence, made all the more poignant by the monarch’s recent categorization as an endangered species.

Novo is one of Cuba’s leading conceptual artists. His multidisciplinary practice includes using mining historical data and official documents. Through art, he transforms his research into sculptures and installations – often challenging ideologies and symbols of power, deconstructing myths and highlighting fragments of reality and position as a way of political activism. He also has a work in the AGO Collection. 

To learn more about the project, artist and digital launch, visit https://www.elmuseo.org/methuselah/. The AGO is a part of the institutional community of partners supporting this project.

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