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Maf’j Alvarez imagines entering a surrealist painting using VR in her piece Eva Quantica, a dreamlike bubble of lockdown Brighton as an open world to explore the various simultaneous selves of Eve. Hands for hills, a cupcake pavilion, platforms, statues, depictions of people and the glowing lifeforce surging through everything.

Image: Screenshot of 'Eva Quantica' by Maf'j Alvarez

Maf’j’s piece is about female power, patriarchy, immigration, tradition and obligation. She explores technology as an agent of power for women and its consequences and wants to challenge the rules that always apply. The commission is experimental and explores embodiment with motion capture, she says “As a recently divorced mother of two teenage sons I am also transitioning with a new set of perspectives and tools as I question my own gender and sexuality. My ability to be creatively, financially and technologically independent is both liberating and frightening due to the obligation like Eve, to do something with it that is meaningful and impactful whilst nourishing and protecting myself and my family."

A review of 'Eva Quantica' 

by Gabrielle de la Puente

I have spent the last year in other people’s worlds. I’ve been everywhere, done everything — I haven’t stopped once. To start with, I took a job as a fire lookout in a national park in Wyoming. I took a boat to the kingdom of elves after that and then left for other ancient realms. I swam through a poisoned sea in space, and back on Earth I rode my horse across forbidden lands. I was a postman in the apocalypse for a very long time, where rainbows hung upside down in the sky. I ran a cat café for a few days, that was fun. And last week I spent my evenings in the Swiss Alps, trying to make a deal with the Devil. I’ve played video games non-stop this whole time. It’s been a year of going everywhere and nowhere at all.

The thing is, I had to play. I needed to. I’ve been on the run. For me, the pandemic brought with it a soap opera of problems. When it began, I lived with my Nan. She had carers coming in four times a day and once at night. I had to have conversations with the girls about taking on their responsibilities if they got sick and couldn’t make it to us. It made my head spin. And because we couldn’t truly lock the house down, doors opening and closing all day, we thought we were going to die. I found a priest online who spoke prayers to my Nan over FaceTime. Hard memories, and so recent too. I saw my boyfriend at a 2-metre distance a handful of times over the first 116 days. Then, I moved out of that house and into my own space when it was time to go back to work. Liverpool went into quarantine before everywhere else at the end of that strange summer, and even though I was in my flat the whole time, somehow I still got COVID. It was the sickest I’d ever been. And to continue the drama of the soap opera storyline, it stuck around. It became long COVID and I haven’t been the same since.

On the run, coping, here and somewhere else; in playing back-to-back video games, I’ve been in two places at once. But when I came up against Eva Quantica by Maf’j Alvarez, I finally had to stop. I couldn’t get away this time because the pandemic was everywhere I looked, there in the design, the symbols, the atmosphere.

Alvarez has built a shrunken world trapped under the light grey dome of a bubble. There are trees, houses, rocks and water — but there are also nonsensical assets between them. Huge legs wave through the air like giants have gotten stuck headfirst in the ground; a massive ribcage arches over the sea; and a bright red branch twists its way through the whole scene like a hot vein. The red spreads out into blood clots and thin roots, and comes together in a central tower that holds the rooms of the houses in the air like some alien tree of life. There’s nothing to do here. There’s no weather either but the light comes and goes and the days pass anyway. I had nothing to do myself. I used to lie on my bed and watch the sunset with my legs up on the windowsill, listening out, waiting for the door to go so I could greet the carers downstairs and help give my Nan her dinner.

Small world, small lives. Under Alvarez’s bubble, a few avatars are repeated across the space. They dance outside, sit at the table with their laptops, and perch on the edge of a tiny boat inside a bathtub. We see them at the different stages of their day all at once, going through the motions and moving on a loop in their new stuck life. Lockdown routine is its own choreography and we are our only audience, the only company we have in the room and the mirror. The virtual reality here presented a jigsaw of metaphors, a tight space in which to process everything that has gone on so far. I saw a circle of girls in pale blue uniforms dancing with their shadows around an oversized teacup. They looked like nurses, cleaners or carers. I thought of the work everybody has done and I thought of a fairground teacup ride and the dizzying sickness it brings on.

There was nothing to do but bear witness to the space and the performances of the avatars — motion-captured ballerinas in disguise. Eva Quantica was something between a stage, a game and a painting. I read into it what I needed to take out. The ‘quantica’ in the title alludes to quantum theory and to particles existing in multiple places at once. This whole year, I’ve been here but I haven’t. And suddenly I felt the inverse happening, felt my body and mind snapping back together, becoming present. A magnetic reckoning, multiple selves folding back into one. I’ve been on the run for so long. I think it was about time I stopped.