Rounded triangular geometric shapes in muted primary colors mounted on to a white ceiling with rounding lights in between.

Cuando las nubes eran las olas (When the clouds were waves)

Ana Navas

Cuando las nubes eran las olas is a forthcoming artwork by Venezuelan-Ecuadorian artist Ana Navas (b. 1984, Quito). It will be scored by Venezuelan composer Mirtru Escalona Mijares (b. 1972, San Felix) and is in its early stages of development at EMPAC. 

Cuando las nubes eran las olas is an expansive work created for, and in response to, the Aula Magna, the Central University of Venezuela’s main auditorium. The building was designed by architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva in 1953 and lies at the heart of his University City campus in Caracas. The Aula Magna houses Alexander Calder’s sculptural Acoustic Ceiling, completed in 1953 and known locally as “Nubes” (clouds) or “Platillos voladores” (flying saucers). The work was commissioned by Villanueva to be suspended above the audience in order to correct the acoustics of the hall. Although designed in consultation with pioneering American acoustic engineering firm Bolt Beranek & Newman, the ceiling was fabricated in Caracas by local artists, artisans, and technicians. Some of those involved in its fabrication included skilled boat builders who migrated from Portugal to Venezuela, attracted to the country’s oil-fueled mid-twentieth century construction boom, while the current economic collapse of the country has produced a marked reversal of migration. 

Deeply embedded in the afterlives of iconic modernist artworks, Navas’ sculptures, installations, and performances often trace the use and misuse of such works over time as they are circulated as reproductions and appropriated, away from the site and context of their original making. For Cuando las nubes eran las olas, Navas’ research focuses attention on the production history of the Aula Magna and its Acoustic Ceiling, interweaving analysis of its material and architectural properties with its social and sonic history in an exploration of the psychoacoustic potential of sculpture. 

Alexander Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling (1953) in the Aula Magna, Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas. Photo: Vic Brooks/EMPAC.


When the Clouds Were Waves: Ana Navas in conversation with Vic Brooks. December 2020

Presented By

EMPAC 2019–21



Production Credits

Supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Commissioned in collaboration with the Calder Foundation.


EMPAC Spring 2019 presentations, residencies, and commissions are made possible by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, with continuous support from the New York State Council for the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts; and the Jaffe Fund for Experimental Media and Performing Arts. Additional project support by the National Endowment for the Arts; the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.