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Resonant Currents by Manuel Báez – an iconic art piece for Hub Ottawa

By François Levesque on May 23, 2013

For the longest time, I’ve been encouraging Vinod and co. to emphasize art at HUB Ottawa. Little did I know they had a major piece of art in the works for the past year. The piece, created by Professor Manuel Báez, is set to be installed this summer at the Hub. I met with Manuel to discuss his passion for art, architecture and the inspiration he takes from natural phenomena.

Architecture and art intertwine seamlessly in Manual Báez’s life. From a young age he knew he wanted to become an architect. A chance encounter with his guidance counselor introduced him to a school in his hometown of New York, Cooper Union, which had an innovative architecture program. “Cooper Union made me change my goals as an architect. It made me see architecture from a very broad perspective. And it’s because of this experience that I’m doing what I do.”

He worked in NYC until receiving his license. Instead of committing to the “corporate architecture”  lifestyle, he decided to get his Master’s degree at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit, which has an architecture program. That’s really where he got interested in replicating natural phenomena and patterns.

After a couple of part-time teaching gigs at Cooper Union and then the Rhode Island School of Design, Báez landed in Ottawa at Carleton University, where he had been invited numerous times for guest lectures. He’s now been in Ottawa for 12 years.

Báez considers art and architecture to be both very different and very similar. “Art allows me to investigate things without the concerns that would be architectural, like “is it going to be able to standup or withstand the weight?”. With architecture, you have to take into account a lot of other components, and there’s a clear purpose beyond art itself.” It’s important for Báez to have the practical outlet. “It’s nice to explore, he says, but eventually you have to put it out there, in a lasting way.”

Báez’ work draws from the natural world. He looks at natural systems to identify patterns that he models physically. It could be something like modeling the action of neurons or weather patterns, natural systems where you’d find natural structures in the way they are organized and function. There are patterns, and what’s interesting is that these patterns are not rigid – they are alive.

Manuel got linked to the HUB through Creative Mornings Ottawa, where he presented in June 2012.  The event was taking place at the HUB, and, following his presentation; HUB leadership approached Manuel to see if he was interested in doing an installation in the space. He came back with an idea two weeks later.

Resonant Currents is a woven structure that recalls a lot of the things you would put under the rubric of Canadian mosaic – aboriginal art, Arabic calligraphy and Celtic knotting come to mind. “It’s not trying to imitate”, qualifies Baez, ‘but in the way it’s put together, it recalls that. “

The 8-inch birch plywood used in the work is very malleable and allows for complex patterns. It will occupy the entire ceiling and include wiremesh highlights at several locations, such as at the central location of the main HUB reception table.Báez has worked with his students as part of his Crossings Workshop to create and build the structure. The students are Kaveh Baradaran, Ming Fu, Melhik Gebremichael, Arron Griffioen, Robin Woollacott, Macy Laporte, Mark Madera, Stephanie Murphy, Mateusz Nowacki, Maria Olmedo Franco, and Aigerim Shakanova.

Funds raised through the Indiegogo campaign will go to paying for materials, towards this amazing structure.