Black Cube blog

A tale of a nomadic art museum

An Interview with Joel Swanson

She/He | to Be | is Being — Written by Stephanie Edwards

February 14.18

Welcome Joel, it is a pleasure to speak with you again for Black Cube’s blog. Black Cube is producing your new work, Conjugation of Being, as an alumni project. This text-based artwork displays rotating statements with different conjugations of the verb “to be” on a construction traffic sign. During your time as a Black Cube Fellow you created a piece for Personal Structures, an approved satellite exhibition at the Venice Biennale. How did your experience as a Black Cube Fellow influence Conjugation of Being?

Being in Venice made me think on a larger scale. So much of the artwork in the Venice Biennale is big (literally and figuratively) and that got me thinking about ways that I could take my interest in language into different venues and vernaculars.


I’ve always been fascinated by traffic signs (every time I am stopped in traffic I make videos on my phone of these blinking road signs). They are a symbol — perhaps a symptom — of urban life and car culture, but they also make me think of the ways that power and control is exercised on people in direct ways.


The work that you made for Personal Structures was constructed out of neon that you chose to fabricate in Venice. You are currently in a residency program in Banff, Canada. Is Conjugation of Being something that you prepared long distance as well? If so, can you talk about the logistical aspect of producing work remotely and how your experience as a Black Cube Fellow prepared you to work this way?
I started planning this piece back in the Fall while in Denver. I met with the sign rental company and then tested my text on the sign. There are certain limitations of the sign software, which I had to work with, including limited font options, as well as a limited number of messages that can be pre-programmed. I always look at the limitations within technologies as opportunities for creativity. I find it easier to be creative within parameters and limitations. And yes, I’m currently at an art residency in Banff (current temp 1 degree Fahrenheit), so I programmed the sign remotely.


In a statement about Conjugation of Being you mentioned both public signage and Martin Heidegger’s Introduction to Metaphysics as influences. Can you describe how these seemingly disparate influences converge in this piece?
“Introduction to Metaphysics” is this phenomenal text that asks the seemingly simple question, “Why are there Beings instead of nothing.” In this book, Heidegger interrogates this question philosophically and linguistically. He is specifically focused on the verb “being” as this complicated, problematic, yet fundamental verb. I resonate with work that opens up seemingly simple things to show their innate complexity. I wanted to explore conjugated statements with the verb “to be” in a traffic sign because it creates this indistinct speaker/subject. Who is saying “I AM” and who is the “WE” referring to? The sign references authority and anonymity at the same time.


This piece will premier as a part of RedLine’s 10x - 10th Anniversary Retrospective Resident Artist Exhibition. Do you see a connection between using a traffic message board as a material for this piece and the relationship between RedLine and the RiNo/Five Points neighborhood where it is located?
I live in RiNo/Five Points neighborhood and have witnessed drastic changes over the past five years. There is so much construction and gentrification. It is affecting residents as well as artistic and cultural institutions. It is impossible to drive through the neighborhood without being detoured by one of these construction signs. For the last year I’ve been tempted to “hijack” one of these signs and turn into an enigmatic artwork that makes people question the roles that these signs play in directing our bodies and patterns of movement. I am thrilled that RedLine and Black Cube gave me this opportunity.


You have had a lot of significant opportunities in the Denver area in the last few years between your representation at David B. Smith Gallery, solo exhibition at MCA Denver, and being both a RedLine and Black Cube alumni. What would your advice be to other artists about how to create a sustainable artistic practice in Denver?

This past week the Denver art community lost one of our own, and this loss is a reminder to focus on what is truly important. Getting shows, commission, and grants is great, but fundamentally being an artist is about being part of a community. It is the people, and the joy of making artwork itself that has to be central to any successful artistic practice. Denver has such a strong art community and I am so proud to be a part of it.


In terms of getting work shown, we have to understand the art world isn’t fair. You could have the most amazing work ever, but that doesn’t mean that curators and gallerists will see it and decide to show it. So you have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. You have to place yourself in situations where you can make connections. You have to promote yourself and your work. As an introvert, I hate this part of being an artist, but if you don’t push to get your work shown, nobody is going to do it for you. Some tips:


- Become a part of the art community. Go to openings. Meet other artists. Meet curators. Meet gallery owners. Be a nice person. Be genuine.

- Get a studio. I realize that getting a studio is cost prohibitive for many (especially in today’s economy), but if you can swing it get a studio space. A studio space that isn’t your bedroom communicates that you take yourself seriously as an artist. And if you can, become part of a studio collective, which helps with point number one.

- “Pitch” your practice. At openings and other events you will be asked to describe your practice in a few sentences, so develop a concise elevator pitch of your work, then practice it.

- Get on Instagram. It is a great way to get connected to the larger art world, and get your practice out there. Follow artists you love and galleries where you want to show. It is amazing that we can a sense of what is going on in the art world internationally on our phones.

- Develop rituals around your practice. Artists get rejected—a lot. It is important to understand that getting rejected means that you are putting yourself out there. I know some people who keep every rejection letter as an archive of their practice. Whenever I get a rejection that particularly stings, I treat myself to a fancy martini (vodka, dry with a twist). I call them #rejectiontinis. It is a silly practice, but it reminds me that getting rejected is part of being an artist, and is worth celebrating.

Joel Swanson, "Conjugation of Being," 2018, Alumni Project Joel Swanson, "Conjugation of Being," 2018, Alumni Project Joel Swanson, "Conjugation of Being," 2018, Alumni Project

About the Vehicles in Drive-In

Don, Chrissy, Graham, and Theresa on their relationship with their vehicle — Written by Black Cube

December 15.17

As we prepare for ‘Drive-In’ this Saturday, we asked some of our artists to give insight into the vehicle they are using for the exhibition by answering the question “What is your relationship to the car you are exhibiting?” The artists’ responses show the significance of their vehicle and the feelings it can elicit.


Join us for Drive-In: Car Culture on Saturday, December 16 (from 6:30-10pm) and use these responses as your guide to better understand the story behind each work.


Graham Eschen on his ‘88 Dodge Shadow

My car is my office, my first impression, my emotional sponge, and an extension of my body itself. It is a physical place that allows my thoughts to manifest outside my mind and where I can speak them aloud. The dodge shadow has sufficient heat, comfortable seating, and a tape deck radio to allow traveling companions and I a safe and open space. It has many moving parts, character, and an aging 2.2 liter turbocharged engine to tinker and distract by exercising my brain. It is my therapist and sparring partner.


Don Fodness on his 70's Indian ME 100 Motorcycle

My relationship to the vehicle I am using for my piece is one of a gift, from my father, and one of personal and family history. It was given to me upon my birth and it was something that my dad hoped would teach me how to ride a motorcycle, introduce me to the basic combustion engine, and become a bonding tool for the two of us. The motorcycle is a rare small (100 cc) Indian two stroke from the mid 1970's. It has never run in my lifetime as it has always needed a specific part. I lived with my father on his farm in Minnesota during the summers (and would live with my mom in Colorado during the school year). One summer as a boy, I started taking it apart to repair it but never completed the job, so it sat all year in one of my dad's Quonsets. The next summer I was not able to pick up where I left off, and as time went on, I lost interest in the project and it continued to sit in the Quonset. Year after year my dad often reminded me about it, and while I always maintained an affection for the motorcycle as a form, and as a gift, I never really had the same desire to completely repair and restore it as he did. As an adult I decided I would keep it around as a form and maybe end up using it as materials in art as a way to exercise my ownership of the gift, and my independence from my father's desires for how I live my life. I have ended up using parts of this bike in my sculpture, and kept other parts in the studio as talisman to protect my creative space. My dad is currently dying of bone cancer and as I come to terms with his mortality, I will dismantle the motorcycle entirely and separate out the parts that I want to continue to keep, or use in my art, and shed the rest.


Chrissy Espinoza on her ‘07 Hyundai Sonata

My relationship to my car is a love, hate relationship. One of my sole reasons for having a car is for transportation to and from work, which is very stressful to me as I am stuck in traffic for 2 hours a day, sometimes longer, just traveling from my home to my job and vice versa. I try not to drive at all on the weekends as this is my time to try and relax, and I associate some of my stress with driving my car. I also have a heavy presence of death while I drive my car, like a ghost that floats above me. The only sense of freedom and retreat that I get from my car is when I go on road trips and she accompanies me on my adventures to new and amazing places that inspire me to create artwork. My car is an object that causes me stress but it is also a tool that reliefs my stress through escapism; it's like I am in a state of cognitive dissonance about my car.


Theresa Anderson on her ‘12 Toyota Rav4

Raised in a very strict, misogynistic, Roman Catholic family, my vehicle has always been a source of freedom, power, and escape. My first car was a 1976 Plymouth Fury- 440 engine, dual exhaust, with a choke on the dashboard. I bought it with money I scraped together from legal and illegal jobs. That gas-guzzler was always breaking down but it allowed me to work in the city as a teenager and move out of my parent’s house at seventeen.


On the flip side, as a woman, I’ve always worried about my safety. When I’m on the road my survival is dependant upon the fitness of my vehicle. There was one night coming home from work that a guy in a huge truck followed me to parents house and was threatening me. He left when my Dad came out in his boxers with his shotgun. I was lucky to make it home. I’ve had to hitchhike in the dark after vehicles have broken down. Drive fast away from weird gas stations in small blip-towns when I’m driving cross-country delivering artwork.


Measuring tape and Consumer Reports in hand, I chose my current car as a tool to transport artwork. How versatile is the back end? Can I take out or flip flat the seats? How does the back door swing out? How reliable is the make and model?


I’ve been debating the space for the performance, some kind of cuddle/ site conditioner/ cats meowing on end, for over a year. This work is based on a historical story about Catholic Nuns from “middle age France who collectively went out into the surrounding village and meowed as cats, both as both a signal of distress and of cathartic release from the daily constraints they experienced. Their parents had forced them into the convent with compulsory celibacy, vows of poverty, and demanding physical labor. During this time, it was widely believed that certain animals, such as wolves, could possess humans.


In France, cats were particularly despised, as they were considered familiar with the Devil. The surrounding Christian neighborhood heard, with equal chagrin and astonishment, this daily cat-concert, which did not cease until all the nuns were informed that a company of soldiers were placed by the police before the entrance of the convent, and that they were provided with rods, and would continue whipping them until they promised not to meow any more. Even though it has a sad ending, I love and relate to this story about power and disruption.


When Cortney Stell invited me to create an experimental artwork for Drive-In Car Culture, I finally understood that the site for cats meowing on end is my vehicle somewhere on the road.


Venture out. Be powerful.

Image: Don Fodness in his studio Photo: Corey Jones, Colorado Public Radio

Reflections on Venice

with Joel Swanson & Laura Shill — Written by Cortney lane Stell

November 03.17

Personal Structures was the first major international exhibition for both of you. What was it like to have your work exhibited on this global platform?

Laura Shill: It was a terrifying honor to have such an opportunity. Initially, it was intimidating to think about whether my work would translate across cultures, but once we got there and started working, I remembered that people, at their cores, are essentially the same everywhere—motivated by similar desires and fears. After spending some time with the works in the other venues of the Biennale and recognizing some recurring themes—like abuse of power, our humanity being challenged by a lack of empathy, fears about the future—it seems like many of us are worried about the same things right now— that our works about spectacle and slippery constructs are in this same conversation.

Joel Swanson: To say the least, it was an honor to exhibit work on the international stage. The sheer volume and scope of the Venice Biennale proper—not to mention all the satellite shows and exhibitions—was overwhelming. But my biggest take away is that no matter where you are, there is still going to be strong work and not-so-strong work. In retrospect, I think I had a concern that my work wouldn’t be “good enough,” but I think Laura and I represented Black Cube and the Colorado art scene successfully. Seeing the Biennale was also immensely valuable for my personal art practice. Getting a sense of what is catching the eye of international curators, and thinking through how my work might resonate with, and differentiate itself from, that work conceptually and aesthetically was so useful.


What were some of the challenges exhibiting internationally? Did you have to make any adjustments to your work?

LS: Shipping was the biggest challenge for me. Figuring out how to get materials overseas, through customs, picked up from the airport in Venice, put onto a boat to be delivered to the Palazzo Bembo, and then having the contents unpacked at the bottom of the stairs to be carried individually two floors up to our gallery was tough to wrap my head around, especially considering that I don’t speak Italian. I was grateful to have help from people with much more experience than me.

JS: Fabricating, shipping, and installing neon is always a challenge given the temperamental and delicate nature of the material. I had the work fabricated just outside Venice instead of shipping it internationally, and I am very happy I did so. During the week of the opening, one of the letters broke during install, but the fabricator happened to be on site installing a Joseph Kosuth piece, so he was able to prefabricate the letter in 24 hours. The larger lesson learned is to always have a backup plan: think through everything that could go wrong during installation and make sure you have a plan B.


Laura, you have had exhibitions since Personal Structures opened last May. Did your experience in Venice impact your work?

LS: YES. Not only is Venice a culturally and architecturally beautiful city that has such a dedicated place for art to exist, but it is a confluence of tourism, capitalism, immigration, and the place that first started commercially producing the glass that would become the lenses in our spectacles, our mirrors, the lenses of our cameras, and now our cell phones—inventions that have transformed society and positioned the self at the center of it. What really struck me on our walks from our apartment to the exhibition venue each day was the overwhelming volume of cell phone photos and selfies being made, and how unabashed people are about it. It occurred to me that this is how our species is evolving—experiences become images—and our relationships to our phones, to images, and to each other is changing so quickly. For instance, not too long ago, most people would have been embarrassed about making out with their partner on public transportation within inches of a stranger while recording the experience with a selfie stick (based on a true story), so our attitudes about this are changing quickly as well. It also occurred to me that there are these strange contradictions inherent in this way of engaging the world, that we are both mitigating and perpetuating our own loneliness, being both visible and invisible to each other, and existing as both present and absent simultaneously. We seem to have reached a moment where all of these things have converged into a grand spectacle that has destroyed our understanding of truth. So, I came home with a body of work that I wanted to make and a course of research that I’m currently pursuing.


Outside of the exhibition, what did you enjoy most about your time in Venice? 

LS: It’s hard to narrow it down to one thing. I loved the absence of cars, walking every day, people watching, looking at art, riding the vaporetto. But my favorite part of the whole experience was probably the night where we managed to outrun a dramatic thunderstorm by seconds—we could see it coming in our direction while we were on the vaporetto headed back to the apartment, and we made it inside just before a torrential downpour. Then, we went to dinner together and talked about art and life. Getting to know Cortney and Joel better was a lasting gift of the experience. Oh, and also I loved all the cute dogs.

JS: Definitely hanging out with Cortney, Laura, and Jessy! Even though we were busy, there was ample downtime to sit at cafés, drink spritzes, and chat about art. Those are my best memories from the trip.


After exhibiting in Venice with Black Cube, what’s next for you? Any current or future exhibitions? 

LS: That is always the looming question! Well, one of the sculptures that I conceived of in Venice is currently on view in the project space at David B. Smith Gallery until November 11. It’s titled Separation Perfected, after the first chapter in Guy Debord’s 1967 text Society of the Spectacle, which seems to have predicted our current moment. I’m also currently working on making a series of artist books from my Absent Lovers cyanotype series. The content that Absent Lovers draws from are Harlequin Romance novels, so I want to bring it back into book form to highlight the volume of materials that are essentially about fantasy and loneliness. And, I’m also starting to think about a potential solo exhibition next fall and some new sculptures that I’d like to make for it and some new skills I want to learn to make them.

JS: A solo show, Sticks & Stones, at David B. Smith Gallery just came down. Currently, I’m working on a solo show at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, Colorado, which opens December 5. Then, in the new year, I will be off to Banff Canada for a winter residency.

photo credit: Venice Documentation Project

Why donate?

The Institute Gives Back — Written by Cortney Lane Stell

September 13.17

We understand that the Institute is donating 50% of the Avalanche water sales to a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to this decision and what it means to you?


In the last few weeks of production, the air around this project has thickened with the weight of climate change. It’s hard not to read Avalanche’s critique of capitalism and feedback loop of ecological disaster—or to watch the weary faces of drenched performers braving a man-made storm—without thinking of the grief and destruction that’s happening down south and around the world.

As artists often funded by cultural organizations and foundations, we are accustomed to asking the question: where does the money come from? We’re interested in the philanthropic gesture as corporate PR / posturing and as a way of affecting real change. As humans, we feel deeply committed to the possibility of helping people in need through this fund. As the Institute, we acknowledge the contradictions of the “charitable donation” as a residual effect of a for-profit endeavor, the ways in which it can become a marketing strategy for a consumer product. Our interest here is not to solve an environmental problem but to begin to unpack the complexities and contradictions that entangle it.


*Global Giving is the largest crowdfunding organization and their vetted Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund is being used to provide shelter, water, food, diapers, foster care for pets, free fuel, and other services to hurricane victims. An organization that rates the quality of charities, Charity Navigator, rated Global Giving a 96 out of 100 in financial health, transparency, and accountability.

All the Feels with

The Institute for New Feeling — Written by Cortney Lane Stell

September 05.17

How did you meet? What made you decide to become an artist collective?

We met in grad school at Carnegie Mellon University. We had collaborated in pairs on a couple of earlier projects, and after finishing the MFA, we created the Institute as a kind of umbrella that could contain a lot of things we were doing and thinking about. We'd been making time-based experiences that were often very intimate, physical, or even metaphysical in nature. As a group, we started framing these as treatments and therapies, taking on--and thereby problematizing--the authority of health, beauty, and wellness marketing. Over time, the collective has grown and shifted to encompass many different ways of working; from video to virtual reality, sculpture, performance, text… Interests also change over time, with different projects turning to focus on subjects like online privacy, SEO marketing, invasive species, catastrophic weather events, political longing. Our work typically follows thematic trajectories, rather than committing itself to a set process or structure. For this reason, the Institute’s identity is kept intentionally elusive. At times, we’ve called ourselves an art collective, a corporation, a spa, a research institution, a marketing firm, a lobbying group—the only true consistency is flexibility and change.  


Tell us a bit more about the Institute for New feeling (IfNf)? How did you decide on the name?

The name was also designed to contain a degree of ambiguity. In everyday conversation, “feeling” can refer to a physical sensation, an emotional state, a spiritual inclination, even an opinion or belief.  Once, in conversation, a friend described a YouTube video he had just seen as disturbing, funny, and sad at the same time, saying he felt a “new emotion.” This phrase stuck around. It seemed an important demarcation of our time, and a term that could be used to describe the kind of artwork that defies simple interpretation--meaningful, memorable, yet hard to pin down. In this sense, our use of the term “new feeling” was somewhat aspirational. Just as it embraces contradiction and liminality, the term also lends itself to explorations of “feeling” that is altered, filtered through, or enhanced by technology. Although we may market it with a tone of commercial confidence, in reality, we’re interested in “new feeling” as an ongoing field of research.


Can you describe your group dynamics? How do you all stay connected even though you live in different areas?

We don’t have a hierarchy or consistent division of labor--rather, we try to involve all three members in every major decision. At the same time, we’ve rarely all lived in the same city. So, our conversations have become heavily mediated and dependent on technology. It’s not uncommon for us to work all day on Google Hangouts. Our message threads complex, multi-tiered conversations across every platform available--sending images and reference links by text message, What’sApp, Slack; showing each other materials and sketches over Skype or FaceTime, or building a vast archive of Google spreadsheets. There are times when we’re on the phone but not even talking--just working “beside” each other, making lunch or walking the dog. And this virtualization has seeped into our work in significant ways. At times, unintentionally, our projects nearly always take on some aspect of contemporary digital life, often playfully reflecting ways that technology has shaped our physical, intimate, and interpersonal realities.


Tell us a bit more about past products that IfNf has produced?

In 2012, we launched a product line; a body of sculptural work that functions imperfectly as speculative design. To date, our products include: a branded reflexology insole for the foot, a concrete neck pillow, edible earplugs, blinding contact lenses, and an odorless air freshener filled with a neurochemical called Oxytocin, fragrances based on the air quality and psychological state of a community, and a cream that accelerates aging. Each of these products provides an unfamiliar or altered function; instead of meeting an immediate need, they seem to always pose more questions as to who they are meant for and how they should be used.


How does this upcoming project, Avalanche, connect with some of your past works?

Throughout our product line as well as our VR shopping interface Ditherer, we’ve been persistently interested in exploring the myth of the “source” in product advertising. From shampoo to cereal, we are all familiar with the narratives stitched together by copywriters and video producers regarding the quality ingredients, family-owners, sustainable farmers, and authentic recipes that make a product attractive for purchase.

And especially alongside the expansion of organic/local farming, the rise of Whole Foods and trends in responsible consumption, these questions of “where our products come from” seem more relevant than ever. But, who is equipped to answer them? Who should we believe? How far down the rabbit-hole of research must one go in order to call a purchase “responsible”?


The primary question we get asked—with Avalanche, as with many of our other projects—is: Is it real? Is the filtration process depicted and the avalanche that results actually happening? We believe this type of scrutiny could be applied to any bottled water product if consumers dug deeply enough. There is some awareness out there today that most “mountain spring water” is actually filtered tap water; indeed, regulations around bottled water are often less strict and require less frequent testing than municipal water in this country. In this sense, purity is an aesthetic, not a tangible reality.


For Avalanche, we’ve created our own strange mythology—mashing up the pristine mountain spring with the trickle of water across a dirty windshield, the gargle and spit from a teenager’s mouth. And the moment of transformation (i.e., sterilization), of course, occurs via a technological sleight of hand. As the last step of the filtration process involves converting wastewater into sound waves that cause a recurring ecological disaster, Avalanche water initiates an environmental feedback loop that can’t be undone.


How did IfNf develop the enhanced water brand Avalanche?

The initial idea for Avalanche came about during the height of the historic drought last year in Southern California. We began with an image of this vertical scaffolding system that uses gravity and live performers to pass a precious stream of water from the top to the bottom. As with many Institute projects, we were thinking about all the “wrong” solutions that an organization like IfNf might propose in the face of such an apocalyptic water crisis caused by the irreversible effects of climate change. So on a very basic level, the project proposes an absurd solution to a very real problem. Running out of tap water? Buy bottled water. Indeed this kind of thinking seems to uncomfortably embrace the Anthropocene, implying that water could be somehow enhanced by humans, rather than simply contaminated; dirty water causes a natural disaster, which in turn provides an absolute source of purity.


On the other hand, any simple critique of the bottled water industry might also be problematized by the fact that bottled water is not only a wasteful product of the upper classes—it actually provides a critical source of clean drinking water to populations at highest risk for contamination. Within this framework, the Avalanche brand appears particularly dark; issuing a kind of heartless corporate let them eat cake.


How does the performance relate to the bottled water brand, Avalanche?  

The performance is essentially an elaborate staging of the filtration and bottling process behind each bottle of Avalanche water. We think of it as a kind of sound installation, a literal concert of bodies manipulating the flow of water through these simple tableaus of everyday usage (hydrating a workout, cleaning a car, watering plants, brushing teeth, etc.). Audience members can sit and listen to the sound of the water melting, dripping, sloshing, and resonating through the performance, interpreting the actions on the scaffolding with a printed diagram, and also purchase a finished bottle from a branded vending machine.  

Car Talk with the Artists from Drive-In

(almost) all of the artists from Drive-In — Written by Cortney Stell & Ruth Bruno

August 17.17

 As we prepare for Drive-In this Saturday we asked some of our artists to give insight into their “personal space” by answering the question “What is your relationship to the car you are exhibiting?” The artists’ responses show the significance of their vehicle and the feelings it can elicit.


Join us for Drive-In on Saturday, August 19 and use these responses as your guide to better understand the story behind each exhibit.


My truck is a 2011 Ford Ranger. This is the last year this truck was manufactured. I use my truck to haul sculptures and sculpture material all around Colorado. I also loan it out to other artists to haul their artwork. My truck is extra special because it was a gift from my father. Amber Cobb


I tend to sentimentalize many things, but I am also a realist so I understand that nothing is forever and objects are just things. This car has a lot of memories to it. My wife bought it before we were married. I brought my first-born home in it. Now it functions as the vehicle I drive when I don't have my kids. My wife and I switch cars based on who is with the little ones. It is mostly a tool at this point, getting me from point A to point B. I value much of my drive time, as it is usually spent as an extension of my studio practice. I like to think about ideas and projects while commuting. Tobias Fike


I don't own a car and so I use a shared car system, car2o, for errands and daily needs. Car2gos are either smart fortwo cars or more recently, Mercedes-Benz sedans. Each car2go has programmed systems in the form of monitor displays, a voice recording, and a controlled "home-area" where they may be parked and picked up by other users. You sign up with a first-time fee of $30 and then you can take a car2go as needed for various rates. While the benefits of using car2go can be great, the freedom becomes strained as you are consistently counting and calculating time versus money on a regular basis. Kate Gonda


I have a funny relationship to my truck named Dimples, which was given to me by my uncle in exchange for one of my paintings. Although I grew up around modified trucks, I never saw myself in one. My association to big trucks is centered on the notion of hypermasculinity, which is not something I’d associate myself with. But, now that I drive a big modified truck, I see the appeal. However, I’m still not down with that macho vibe. Dmitri Obergfell


My car is a 1991 van that is exclusively manufactured for the Japanese Domestic Market as part of a class of cars called kei jidōsha, which means light automobile. These "Kei" cars have size restrictions as well as a maximum engine displacement and power; 660cc's respectively. Owners receive discounts on insurance, taxes, and parking with these very affordable vehicles. I’ve previously owned four American-made vans, so clearly I’ve always been a fan. I've liked their capability to store and move a lot of materials with ease, however their size and fuel economy has always been their downside. I gravitated to this Honda for its quirkiness as well as its practical size and tried and true Honda reliability. Kei cars are very rare in the U.S. due to the 25-year-rule on importing foreign vehicles. In general, cars here require more power for interstate travel, yet I've found this van to be perfect for domestic commuting. Its contrast to the American bravado and lust for size and power is what makes me love driving it, as well as putting a smile on people’s faces as they see this cute bit of Japanese engineering scoot down the highway. Zach Reini


I bought a camper special truck from the original owner, an old man from Bennett, Colorado, who had to sell the truck because he couldn't pass the eye test at the DMV. I always wanted to own an old truck that is an absolute workhorse and an American icon. That's why I choose to drive, "El Heffe.” Nick Silici


My husband got a 1996 pickup in December 2004, the same month we started dating. Ever since then, it has played an important and intimate role in our relationship. Gretchen Schaefer


I love cars from the 1980's, and when I saw my car, I had to have it. My relationship to my car is one of love. Mario Zoots


Mario Zoots, The Karate Kid, 1984 BMW

Rebecca Vaughan on PlatteForum’s ArtLab Program

Written by Katie Lunde

July 17.17

What is PlatteForum and what is your role there?

I am the Artistic Director of a non-profit called PlatteForum, which hosts artists from all over the world, for 8-week residencies. When they are with us, we pair them up with youth in the community to create art about social change. I have the great job of helping artists create some ambitious projects―projects that they’ve always wanted to dive into, but never had the space, time, and support of a team of youth interns to assist in the creation. One artist called me a “dream-maker!” I will wear that mantle happily!!!!


Can you tell us a bit about PlatteForum’s ArtLab program? How long it has been around, projects that have been completed, number of students, etc.?

ArtLab is one of our most meaningful programs; it’s a group of about 15 high school students, who are all paid interns. Once they begin their time with us, they stay until the summer after graduation. They are constantly working with socially-minded artists and creatives, always thinking about how their voice can change injustice and oppression. In a typical year, they work with around 5-8 professional artists on both small-scale and large exhibition projects. One such project is when they worked this past spring with artist George P. Perez to photograph the Women’s March on January 21, as well as other areas of their lives,and converted those photographs into flags. They had critical discussions about what makes a flag, and the practice of converting one’s identity into an emblem and graphics. Their show at PlatteForum was filled with their fabric flags during the 2017 MoP city-wide event (Month of Photography).


How are students selected for this summer program?

To get in, they go through a competitive application process. They all come to us basically because they are not getting the full breadth of arts involvement that they want in their school. A lot of them are hungry to express their ideas through materials and performance, which they just don’t fully get in their high school experience. We listen to what they want and work to support them, many of whom are quite political and civically-engaged. I adore them; they’re the next social justice warriors and I want to see them CHANGE. THE. WORLD. <3


How did you become involved with Black Cube? How did you choose Cortney as a mentor for these high school students?

I have had the great pleasure of knowing Cortney for many years through the Denver arts community, but then more closely at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, when I was the Chair of Fine Arts and she was the Director of the PJ Steele Gallery. We held countless events and shows in tandem and also both served as advisors to many students and faculty.

My very first choice for a curatorial mentor for the ArtLab interns was Cortney because I regard her as someone who is deeply engaged in supporting local artists all the while very savvy in keeping her eye on the national and international art landscape. Also, she’s a serious professional, and I knew that it would be good for the students to see a strong, critical thinker in action.


What other professionals/artists/art organizations are a part of this program?

For this project specifically, we are working with artists from our building called The Temple. PlatteForum is the anchor entity for The Temple, which, in the floors above us, are filled with more than 30 professional artists and creative businesses… We’ve asked Cortney and Black Cube to coach the ArtLab students in putting on an exhibition which features our neighboring artists from The Temple. It’s a great way to activate a collaborative relationship between all of us, as well as provide a presence of their work to the larger art community.


This summer’s project with Black Cube is a group exhibition; can you tell us a bit more about the final project and the social issue that it is aimed at addressing?

Cortney wisely broke the ArtLab interns into three different groups, providing them with more experience working on the professional aspects of putting on an exhibition. The groups each developed different themes, and all are thoughtful and timely in addressing contemporary experience.

They are as follows:


There are a lot of ways you can define identity, especially when it comes to culture, ethnicity, personality, etc. Identity is a strong, behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable. Our theme of Identity is focused on who we as society are and how did we become ourselves. This collection of art exhibits the controlling societal structures such as vocation and class. Through these structures, society is made out to be more organized and have these structures create a loss of individuality through the mass grouping of people through their vocation and class.


The audience will explore the human body in varied forms ranging from traditional visual representations to immersive and interactive experiences with 3D sculpture pieces. The use of multiple senses can create provocative thoughts in the viewers' minds, reflecting upon the use and experience of the body in everyday life and its importance. The conversation between the artists' works demonstrates how a change of perspective and the method of interacting with the body or a representation of it can provide important insight as to how expectations of certain traditions can be let go, allowing viewers to explore new ideas not only about the art, but also themselves.


In the age of social media, there is less and less physical interaction between strangers. Having artists that push for interaction with artwork and provoke conversations is important because we all have a notion that strangers hold nothing good for us. By pushing for people to interact with each other and the artwork, strangers will create temporary friendships and hopefully have thought provoking conversations about the interactive art.


What are some of the successes from this immersion program? What would you like to build off of?

The biggest takeaways are that the students get to experience a side of exhibition planning and presentation that they don’t usually get to witness. They all told us that they appreciated that we are sharing with them all of the discussions and foibles and technical aspects of working on an exhibition, and with The Temple artists. Most of them have told me that they want to work in museums and galleries after high school, but have been too removed to ever be able to see how it works. They can now see all that goes into this endeavor.


What is the next step for students after they complete this program?

We proudly boast that our ArtLab students have a 99.97% high school graduation rate… and we like to think that we were there to support them as they achieved this goal. Most of them go on to college to study varying pursuits… and there are some who want to get involved in politics and others who want to become professional artists.


What’s are you most excited for at PlatteForum right now?

We are getting ready to celebrate our 15th anniversary year here at PlatteForum! We are close to announcing our 2017/18 season programming, which will highlight some of our previous Resident Artists who have gone on to further success like Jordan Casteel, Kwantaek Park, and Denver-based lauded artists such as Theresa Anderson and Homare Ikeda, and many more!

Veiled and Unfurled

Laura Shill Reveals and Conceals — Written by Andrew Berardini

May 05.17

Originally published in Issue one of WVW


The fabric folds and drapes, cinched it flows in straight lines and cascades into loose soft puddles. The curtain closes the stage, protects the magic of the ritual until the ceremony begins. The sumptuousness of the cloth, heavy or thin, natural or synthetic draws an eye like fingers down its slim length. In the exhaust and glare of the textile district, the old shopkeepers and young designers argue over yards in storefronts and arcades stuffed with bolts and bolts of exotic textures and colors, tight weaves and varied thread-counts, each clipped edge rubbed firmly between fingers, again and again, to truly feel a price through its sensuality on their tips.


Behind velveted and crowned little lords in certain old paintings, it’s easy to forget the official subject, the spoilt princeling of a forgotten aristocrat, long moldered under a weathered tombstone, and lose yourself in the curtains that silkily ripple over their shoulder. Your stare holds a beat, then two, then time dissolves into the unreality of this cloth, more real than if it was pressed against your face, a skirt singing against your bare legs, and everything hazes out except those smooth folds, centuries away on a faraway continent from a disappeared civilization, if they ever existed truly outside the mind of the painter and the illusions of this canvas in its gilded frame hanging in front of you.


What curtains, conceals. Brides-to-be veil their faces, an old modesty tradition or some say the moment when hubby gets to claim his property, the privilege of a woman’s face only for him to see. Many a blushing girl has been murdered for the crime of pulling away the veil, simply showing the brazen beauty of her face. In the Dance of the Seven Veils or really any midnight bellydancer’s erotic shimmy, a female body rolls and flounces with and through the silks and organdies, taffetas and polyesters that veil her athletic allure, her movements summoning lechery in even the most sober amongst us. A slow reveal of feminine mysteries to an audience usually (but not always) composed of lusty dudes. The veils are beautiful because they are unveiled, a present unwrapped, but yet still just out of reach like the fruit that tortures Tantalus in Hades, always just in front of his lips but never to be mouthed. Anyone who really understands eroticism will tell you that the heat is in the reveal, the blossoming of a body, a being, and finally a soul, each protective veil pulling away to uncover deeper and richer mysteries than the blunt stupidity of hardlight on simple anatomy or the brute consummation of an animal desire (though with consent, these too can have their place).


Standing in the studio of Laura Shill, the veils, metallic synthetics invented last week here perfectly fold like carved marble over hidden protuberances, maybe basketballs hung just so or pregnant bellies. Their maker calls them “trophies” and that doesn’t foreclose either interpretation A couple of these hang from the wall, unresolved and unresolveable. Unresolved as their maker was working her way through and how they worked, still in composition, ideas and feelings in process of being handled, arranged, decided through materials. Unresolveable because like most good art, it holds at least two, and many more meanings likely yet to be revealed. The more possible ways of seeing that any work can tease out of your eyes, the better. When there are those meanings just beyond our grasp, we call those works “haunting.” They follow us like ghosts, Hamlet’s dad pleading for justice, begging us to resolve their trauma, free them by seeing them as more than mist. 


Close by in Laura’s studio, the hundreds of arms of a pink fabricky creature dangle with soft menace and weird enticement, giant pussies like doorways grin with teeth and pendulous breasts bloom in profusion. A fertility goddess to be worshipped, a monster for the patriarchs, the set of a particular vaginal Saturday morning children’s tv show. Fabric gets gendered all the time, mostly because for centuries in many quarters, women were restricted from expressing creativity in little else. Louise Bourgeois’s bulbous bodies, female in their curves, the sisters of the Venus of Willendorf woven and stitched, they celebrated the soft curve. The sensuous allure here has not disappeared in these wildly, tentacular vaginadentatas that Laura’s stitched together, but their color and form, material and abundance make them both fearsomely powerful and physically playful. Visceral subject combines with the fanciful in these soft things and any initial shock dissolves. And like most soft things, you can imagine them against your body, pillows and sofas, a place to let go of weight, too cushiony for anything too angular or driven like work. Something altogether theatrical, but much too corporeal to slump into the pejorative of that term, closer to ritual without feeling leaden with dead tradition. 


In a series from a few years back called “Absent Lovers”, Laura took the classic embrace embossed on the covers of romance novels and subtracted everything but a single figure, the man’s arms wrapping around the empty space where his female lover once stood, a woman gripped in some desirous repose, sometimes either their hands or arms remained disembodied behind. The dudes look sweaty and a bit menacing (though sometimes yielding). The ladies often seem bent in some play-action of submission, though one or two seems caught up with the fire of her own desire. The trick is not the seen but the unseen,the invisible body pressed against their leftover lover, what shape did body possessed. When the hands remained, there was a kind of metaphor for desire, those fingers reaching out hungrily letting a body know how exactly attractive it is. A body disappeared in these cut outs is not too different than a body veiled, and both seem elegant allusions to the fierce and corporeal presence of real bodies, the kind playfully engorged into Laura’s fabricky vaginal environments. And though the word “body” has appeared about fifty times above, I wouldn’t even say that bodies are truly the subject even if often the medium. These works seem to explore those forces around bodies, desire and power, mystery and yearning, the geometry and gravity of physical being. As much as veils create a hankering for an unveiling, Laura’s “Trophies” and other veiled objects and bodies don’t ask for that, but hang in almost classical repose telling me that the mystery is in its form, it’s power in a curve never meant to be handled at all. Bodies here are not meant as objects of desire, but subjects of their own shapely force.


About Andrew Berardini:

Andrew Berardini. Born in California. Lives and works in Los Angeles. Father of Stella. Writer of quasi-essayistic prose poems about art and other sensual subjects, occasional editor, reluctant curator with past exhibitions at MOCA - Los Angeles, Palais de Tokyo - Paris, and Castello Di Rivoli - Turin. Formerly held curatorial appointments at LAXART and the Armory Center for the Arts and the editorial staff of Semiotext(e). Recent author of Danh Vo: Relics (Mousse, 2015) and currently finishing another book about color. Regular contributor to Artforum, Spike, and ArtReview and an editor at Mousse, Art-Agenda, Momus, and the Art Book Review. Warhol/Creative Capital and 221a Curatorial Grantee. Faculty at the Mountain School of Arts since 2008 and the last three years at the Banff Centre.

Language as Medium Interview with Joel Swanson

... — Written by Stephanie Edwards

April 20.17

Congratulations on being a part of the upcoming ‘Personal Structures’ exhibition! Can you start off by telling me a bit about your studio practice in terms of materials, concepts, and inspiration?

My work explores the everyday technologies, interfaces, and materials of language. Handwriting, typewriters, fonts, keyboards, and Twitter are all sources of inspiration for my work. I decontextualize and recontextualize these technologies to allow people the space to approach language from new perspectives. For example, language primarily exists within two-dimensional media, and creating language in three-dimensional sculptural forms can expose the subtle, but significant relationship, between language and dimensionality. My goal in this process is to make work that challenges people to rethink how they use language and how language uses them. If you think about the conflicts in our world, most start from binaries that are structured within language. Us vs. them, yours vs. ours, he vs. she: language has this way of structuring and dividing our concepts of being into binaries that are reductive, inarticulate, and harmful. I want my work to highlight the role that language plays in shaping our identities and categories of being. I want my work to introduce complexity in the way we think about identity.


How is language incorporated in your artwork?

My work questions how structures of language shape the way we think of ourselves, of others, and the world in which we live. Words are fundamental to our existence, and their functions need to be explored and interrogated. I like to think of myself as some sort of experimental linguist that explores the materials and technologies of language. Language is often absent in my work, for example when I made sentence diagrams out of Sol Lewitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art, or made sculptures by revolving the non-alphabetic typeface Zapf Dingbats. These works are explorations of the structures and systems of language, but are devoid of literal words. I am also interested in the para-textual practices of language. Processes like highlighting, photocopying, bookmarking, and erasing relate to how we navigate written language across a broad range of technologies and materials.


Have you ever been writing a word and for a brief moment it looks strange? It seems to almost lose its meaning? This happens to me when I write the word “what.” I stare at the word, sound it out, but it just seems foreign. Technically, this phenomenon is known as aphasia, the condition when someone loses the ability to understand language, typically due to some type of brain trauma. There is something so vulnerable and terrifying about losing our primary mode of communication, but it also allows us to see and experience the world without this wrapper of words and language. This is what Paul Valery means when he says, “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” Perhaps my work might induce a brief (and non-violent) moment of aphasia in its viewers; that it might offer a fleeting but significant experience where we see through, or perhaps beyond language, and help us experience the world in a different way.


I understand that you chose to fabricate artworks for the Personal Structures exhibition in Venice, Italy. Can you talk about the process of working with fabricators that are on another continent and speak a different language than you?

Shipping neon internationally is expensive, and I didn’t want to take the risk of neon breaking in transit. In order to eliminate these variables, I am having neon works fabricated a short distance outside of Venice for the show. The process has been a learning experience. Negotiating the entire fabrication process via e-mail, and not being able to physically check on its progress has been new—and at times stressful. I learned to prepare all of my questions at once as I would hear back within a week, which seems to be the standard. This changed my expectations for the timeline so I began to build in extra time for correspondence. I also did my best to use precise but simple language to avoid any issues in translation. So much of language is idiomatic, even in short business related e-mails. As someone interested in language, this experience was interesting to me. Nailing down the details of fabrication, scheduling, delivery, and payment has been more work than dealing with a local fabricator, but I’m happy to report that everything seems to be on schedule.


The curator, Cortney Stell, selected to pair you and Laura Shill. I understand that the two of you have exhibited together more than once in the past. As you prepare to show together again, can you reflect on how your installations in Personal Structures support one another?

It makes things easier when you like and admire the people that you work with. I’m thrilled to be able to show work with Laura, not only because I greatly respect her as an artist, but appreciate her friendship as well. Even though we both have a studio at TANK Studios, and work at the University of Colorado Boulder, we don’t often get the time to sit down and chat, so I’m looking forward to catching up in Venice. Conceptually, our work speaks to the complexities of binaries. Laura’s work is formal and mine is linguistic, but I think those conceptual approaches balance each other nicely.


Tell me about a moment that stands out to you in the process of preparing for this exhibition.

Cortney Stell, Laura Shill, and I had a meeting a few weeks ago, which was the first time that I heard Laura discuss the ideas and motivations behind her work. I saw the potent and multiple connection points in our artistic practices. We are both exploring—and attempting to subvert—binaries that relate to identity. Laura’s work does this formally and mine linguistically, but we are both invested in the interplay between form and material. Laura’s work critiques hierarchical structures that relate to the body through the use of vertical movement. My work moves horizontally as language is read left-to-right, and I think that this vertical vs. horizontal Cartesian movement is interesting physically and conceptually. Aesthetically, I love the way cold white neon light reflects off the folds of Laura’s gold fabric. The installation has this unnatural manufactured feeling, which is compelling.


I would like to wrap up by asking what are you looking forward to the most during your upcoming trip to Italy?

I am very excited about having the opportunity to show work in an international context. This will be the first time for me to exhibit work as part of a significant international exhibition, so I’ve had to think through how my work could be understood as speaking from the American perspective. For example, my work is in English, which can be read as a commentary on language as a colonial technology. I’m hopeful that my playful disruptiveness with English will be read as critical, and not merely complicit. It is such a strange and charged time to make art given our political, ecological, and social climate, so I look forward to seeing how other artists are responding.

Illusive Facade: An Interview with Laura Shill

... — Written by Stephanie Edwards

April 07.17

I would love to start out by hearing a little bit about your practice. Can you tell us about primary themes that you address in your practice?

My background is in photography, so although I work across multiple disciplines, that really informs the way that I approach art-making. For me, photography confronts us with this profound contradiction. A photograph is not the actual object pictured, but the very absence of that object. So, some of the major themes that run throughout my work are the presence of absence and its intersection with the politics of representation. Our notions of power are constructed over time through the narrative of who gets represented and in what ways. I’m interested in how these representations are repeated to viewers over time and operate to affirm traditional hierarchies and reinforce bias. So, in much of my work, I create a pronounced absence—whether it be in an image, through an act of erasure that highlights a power dynamic, or sculpturally through concealing and revealing. For me, these pronounced absences function to make visible the invisible hand of the maker who constructs these power dynamics.


I understand that you will be showcasing new artwork in the upcoming exhibit, Personal Structures, at the Palazzo Bembo in Venice that coincides with the opening of the Venice Biennale. How did you initially become involved in Personal Structures?

I’ve been working in the Denver art community for the last five years, participating in group shows, giving talks, going to as many other artists’ exhibitions as I can. The two-year artist residency program at RedLine really brought visibility to my work and helped me to connect to the Denver art community. And so I’ve been able to work with and learn from many of Denver’s most brilliant art minds, like Louise Martorano, who works tirelessly on behalf of Denver’s artists at RedLine and Black Cube’s Executive Director, Cortney Stell, who is a fierce advocate for artists and has a grand vision for what is possible. There is this ethos in the artist community here, like, ‘Hey, let’s all build something together and invite as many people into it as we can, and then try to keep it growing and offering more opportunities so that it can sustain all of us.’ You can trace that back to RedLine and Black Cube founder, Laura Merage. She is an artist and her approach to being an artist is to build supportive infrastructures for other artists because what artists need most is a community of mutual support. The idea that she didn’t want to go it alone—we need each other in order to be sustain ourselves—is something that gets reflected back to me over and over again in Denver’s art scene. I think there is an understanding among artists here that none of us gets to where we are trying to go alone and we recognize that we have more collective power than we do as individuals. My good fortune is really just a byproduct of this collaborative approach to being an artist and building a community together.


Congratulations, this is a huge accomplishment and an exciting moment in your career. What is it that you are looking forward to the most about the experience of exhibiting your work in Personal Structures?

Thank you! I am always excited to meet other artists and learn how they work and balance an art practice within their lives. But I guess I’m most excited to put my own work into an international contemporary art conversation. Being in an exhibition with artists from all parts of the world at this particular political moment just feels so charged with a sort of urgency to be honest and reflect on other perspectives and it’s a privilege to be a part of that.


Can you tell me a little bit about what your studio process has been like so far in preparation for Personal Structures?

Well, I think that as a culture at large, we are undergoing a reckoning right now. Every artist I know is interrogating themselves and evaluating their practice to ask if what they are doing is important or relevant and that is certainly something I’ve been doing too. I re-evaluate my practice regularly, and have recently had to renew my dedication to object making as a way to connect with people in my absence even though it may not be the most immediate form of communication. I think it is instead a contemplative form of communication that allows room for the experience and interpretation of the viewer, and I think this is important.


For Venice, I wanted to create an immersive space for reflection. So, when I’ve been in the studio, experimenting with form and material, I’ve been thinking about things like false power and asking myself questions like, as an artist, am I beholden to visual pleasure? Could I even allow myself move away from it? Are visual pleasure and social or cultural critique at odds? This line of questioning has lead me to question the role of spectacle in our culture. Can you subvert spectacle for cultural critique or will it, by its very nature, just circle back, mirror itself, and blind those who are viewing it? Can spectacle be self-reflective and self-critical? With these ideas in mind, I hope that the resulting work will look luxurious from afar, but as you close in on it, reveal itself to be made from tawdry and garish materials—a shiny veil over an armature that is constructed of little more than consumer castoffs. I think the title Trophy Wall (to disguise the void) alludes to the idea that we create facades in our lives (or Personal Structures, if you will), as monuments to greatness that are really about hiding insecurity, distracting ourselves from our fears, and trying to forget momentarily, about our own impermanence.


The theme of the 2017 Biennale is Humanism. How do you read your piece functioning within this theme?

So, I guess there are a few ways you could approach humanism. You could look at it as a sort of guide for living where your actions are governed by reason and compassion over ideology in an effort to minimize human suffering. I see parts of our culture trying to move away from these two tenets. Formally, the work I’ve been making references the human form, but it de-centers the head, or the symbolic site of reason. It instead creates a downward weight on the head and visible tension as the focal point of the work pulls the gaze to a lower part of the anatomy that is not known for its great decision-making prowess. This leads us to the art historical Renaissance way of thinking about humanism as interpreted by an idealized human form. My work has often moved away from that approach because I don’t think that idealizing humanity gives us a realistic or full picture of the human experience and what binds us to each other. To me, our equality is proven by the fact that we will all face death and that this is the only certainty of human life. So, I actually think that fallibility is the thing that makes us most human and asks the most of us in regards to the way we treat each other—to exercise our deepest compassion and forgive each other when we do, inevitably, make mistakes.


What do you hope people will take away from exhibiting your artwork in Personal Structures? From your perspective, how could international viewers perceive your work in the context that you are an American artist with regards to the current political climate?

Ultimately, this is beyond my control. My hope is that the installation will ask those questions that I don’t have the answers to and can be part of a larger conversation that puts nationalism, politics, anger, and fear into a context that is broader than our specific moment. I am hyper-aware of being an American artist presenting work that uses spectacle to try and get at something human and universal in another country in our current political moment. It is certainly a risk to exhibit new work that I’ve had relatively little critical feedback on, but my motives are in the right place and I have to be willing to risk failure for the larger goal of personal growth. It is helpful to be showing my work alongside Joel Swanson’s smart and elegant work, and Chief Curator, Cortney Stell’s thoughtful writing helps to give our work context.


Thank you for your time answering these questions. Could you share a funny story, a challenge, or a learning experience that you have encountered so far in preparing for the Personal Structures exhibit?

It would be really difficult to talk about just one learning experience. This opportunity has presented all sorts of new challenges for my practice, like international shipping and logistics, how to work smarter and not harder, and how to make and present art in a way that doesn’t bankrupt me, but also maintains the integrity of the idea. So far, the process has been relatively smooth in the studio and working with smart people on the logistics.

Cortney Stell on Exhibiting Denver-based Artists in Venice

on the Occasion of the 57th Venice Biennale — Written by Katie Lunde

March 20.17

Katie Lunde interviews Black Cube ED + Chief Curator, Cortney Lane Stell 


For those of us to do not know, can you tell us more about the Venice Biennale? What makes it unique?

The Venice Biennale is the oldest and most prestigious biennial. It first opened in 1895. A biennial, within the context of contemporary art, is a large-scale exhibition that happens every other year. In the past, the Biennale has been known for supporting the avant-garde, promoting new artistic trends, and a nationalist view of contemporary art. The Biennale has two major platforms: the large curated exhibition that takes place in several enormous exhibition halls and the Giardini, which features pavilions that are organized by countries. The Giardini is particularly interesting because it’s like a large-scale Tiny Town in Venice; each country has built its own pavilion and its quite nice to see all the different architectural styles together. It’s also a pleasant experience to wander in and out of buildings placed within a beautiful garden. The U.S. pavilion has large Greek-influenced columns at its entrance, as one can expect.

I am curating a satellite exhibition that will coincide with the opening of the 57th Venice Biennale set to open this coming May. Black Cube is partnering with the GAA Foundation, a Dutch nonprofit, to produce an exhibition titled Personal Structures. The exhibition will be in the Palazzo Bembo, along the Grand Canal – it’s a spectacular site. It’s an honor to be able to present Denver-based artists, Joel Swanson and Laura Shill, at this exhibition.

As Black Cube’s first international exhibit, what are some challenges? How do you see this positively impacting the organization? What is Black Cube most excited about with this exhibition?

Well, this exhibition is exciting on so many levels and challenging on so many as well. To start, Venice is not particularly adapted to the presentation of contemporary art, from a practical point of view. Even shipping art requires hiring the equivalent of a water taxi or water Uber. Not only is the aquatic transportation tricky, but the humidity and cultural differences all require care. But these are all challenges that we are very fortunate to have.

I am unbelievably excited to bring two Denver-based artists to Venice during this important moment and a particular moment with a lot of attention on the United States, for various reasons including politics. The two artists are in very different situations with the exhibition from a logistic sense and both will be walking away with different experiences. Laura has staged the work in her studio, crated, and shipped it to Venice. She already has been managing a lot of logistics from Italian customs brokerage to prepping her work so she can hit the ground running when we arrive. Conversely, Joel is fabricating his neon works in Italy. Given that Europe's electrical system is different from ours in two ways – the voltage of the current and the shape of the plug ­– we felt it was better to fabricate the work in Italy to best overcome those differences.

All in all, I think I am most excited for the experience of the exhibition, and to see what it may bring to Joel and Laura’s practice. I am also excited to build Black Cube’s narrative for the year – producing exhibitions at such diverse contexts as the Venice Biennale and downtown South Central L.A.

How will this long-standing exhibit further both Laura and Joel’s careers as artists?

Only the future will tell. I hope that it brings them more international connections, with potential exhibitions, patrons, critical feedback, or fans.

Both Laura and Joel’s exhibitions suggest that gender exists within a spectrum instead of within two binaries – how do you think this will be received by an international audience? Do you think the audience response would be noticeably different if these two installations were exhibiting within the U.S.?

I selected these works knowing that the Venice Biennale situation is organized under a nationalistic lens. So, I felt that it was important to select works that were representative in some way of the current socio-cultural climate. Both Joel and Laura’s works speak to our relationship to “the other” and also blur boundaries between perceived binary systems. I feel like these subjects are super current in the U.S. and are evident in current topics such as bathroom rights, or the populist turn that the presidential election took. It’s a little tricky to anticipate this audience, as it is so international. Also, the audience for the exhibition changes a lot, given that the exhibition is open for over six months. At the vernissage you will see lots of big fancy folks (I have seen Yoko Ono or Elton John). You also see a lot of professionals in the sense of critics, theorists, artists, curators, etc. Venice is also a tourist destination, so I imagine that a lot of the general audience will be international. Given all of this, I have open expectations. I also feel that given the range of audiences and duration of exhibition, it was important to partner with a European organization that has Venetian offices.

Have you heard about other exhibit’s that will be showing at the Venice Biennale along with Laura and Joel? Do these exhibitions touch upon similar gender notions?

I am not aware of others in the Personal Structures exhibition that deals with the same subject. I assume that this topic will be touched on in some way, somewhere, though.

Christine Macel, the curator of the 2017 Biennale, has stated that this year’s exhibition is inspired by humanism. She frames humanism as a celebration of humankind’s ability to avoid being dominated by the powers governing world affairs. Her framing of humanism is neither focused on an artistic ideal nor is it characterized by seeing mankind as dominate over the world. I anticipate that with a concept such as this, the shades of gray will be explored, which is very connected to the Personal Structures exhibition that I curated. But, we will have to wait and see!

Additionally, the U.S. is bringing Mark Bradford to represent us this year. (Which is also amazing because Becky Heart is curating a Bradford exhibition at DAM.) His work is abstract painting in essence, but it’s not abstract in content. His work is often influenced by his concern for marginalized people and has a strong sense of new materialism…. also concepts that deal with empathy and seeing the other as part of you (which are also present in the Black Cube exhibition).

Is Black Cube hoping that the exhibition at the Venice Biennale will promote further international exhibitions?

Yes! We are already working on other international projects… but we certainly hope that this helps us in the future.

Jennifer Ling Datchuk on the Porcelain Power Factory

Alumni Updates — Written by Cortney Lane Stell

March 16.17

What is the Porcelain Power Factory? 

Opened on the Presidential Inauguration Day 2017, it is a one-person porcelain factory that reclaims the past lives of objects to bring social awareness to causes we need to fight for. I research and obtain ceramic objects from functional wares, image decals, and figurines that in past and present day contexts are insensitive and offensive. I take the history of these objects and remake them to give underrepresented voices a sense of power and ownership in their future.  


What inspired this concept? 

This idea came to me after hearing Trump’s bragging of body shaming and sexual assault in his now infamous Access Hollywood interview with Billy Bush.  

I made this cup to commemorate what I thought would be the historic election of our first female president. With heartbreak and hopelessness, I decided to open the Porcelain Power Factory to affect some change in an uncertain time.  


How is the Porcelain Power Factory different from your art practice? 

I am interested in the idea of social enterprise and how this informs consumerism and material culture. PPF is an extension of this idea while never letting go of these core fundamentals: handmade, well designed, and conceptually rooted in feminism and social justice.


The first object produced for the Porcelain Power Factory was the Pussy Power cup, can you tell us a little bit about it? 

In the summer of 2016, I visited a 50-year-old abandoned ceramic supply store and factory in San Antonio, Texas. Digging through thousands of plaster slip casting molds, I found the naked lady cup mold. I was really familiar with these cups typically founds in tacky souvenir shops. My first reaction was to take this cup mold so no one would ever make this objectified cup ever again. It sat in my studio for months until I decided to reclaim the past life of this cup.


Why did you choose to donate to Planned Parenthood?  

Planned Parenthood is constantly under threat from defunding and polarizing to many. As a young woman, Planned Parenthood was my only option for health care and my experience mirrors so many people in my community. It is my body, my decision, and I want to fight to make sure it stays that way.


Will a portion of all of the sales be donated to Planned Parenthood or will each object have a different charity? 

Under this administration, so many people are at risk and feel threatened by a country leaning towards a nationalist identity. I think about the world everyday as current events are hitting too close to home. As the factory grows and our current state of affairs keeps threatening our lives, I think the charities I donate to will grow too.


How do you include activism in your practice? 

My work has always dealt with identity, of being half, an other and examining this conflict of race and gender through the use of porcelain. In my practice, I bring light to the past and personal and make it public and universal. The Porcelain Power Factory allows me to dedicate part of my practice in a foundation of activism in hopes it reaches a wider audience and initiates a larger dialogue. It is my hope that the Factory will only be open for four years, possibly less.


What’s next for the Porcelain Power Factory? 

I am in the process of introducing new objects to the PPF. The next object coming to the shop are small bust figurines of Chairman Mao. Mao Zhe Dong, the Communist leader of China, was both revered and despised by the people he served. He is credited for opening the China to the west and making it world power but also responsible for the destruction of its own culture and the death and extreme abuses of human rights. Each Mao is adorned with a hairstyle of a young girl wearing a tiny headband of cat ears and takes away his iconic image and ultimately takes away his power and turns him into an ordinary person.


What’s next for your art practice? 

My new work about the cultural re-appropriation of ethnic hairstyles and blue and white porcelain, “Natural Hair Don’t Lie” and “Short Hair Don’t Care” will be traveling to a group show at the Forum Gallery at Cranbrook Academy of Art. A residency at the European Ceramic Work Center this summer and a solo show at the end of the year for my Berlin residency through the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum.

Always Open / Sometimes Staffed

An Interview with Stephanie Kantor — Written by Cortney lane Stell

February 23.17

Can you tell us a little bit about your Black Cube Alumni Project, The Sometimes Pop Up Kiosk?

The Sometimes Pop Up Kiosk is part shop and part ceramic installation located in a free-standing kiosk in the middle of 16th Street Mall. Normally this kiosk would be occupied with food vendors, but we were able to utilize the space between renters thanks to a partnership with Denver Downtown Partnership. Like with my first Black Cube project, Mock Pavilion, I’ve transformed a small, intimate space into an artist driven pop up shop by using wallpaper, tiles, carpet, and ceramic objects. Presenting my work through a retail lens was inspired by Keith Harring’s Pop Shops and Claes Oldenburg’s The Store. The kiosk collapses the distance between tourist driven retail spaces and quality crafted, handmade art objects. The small scale ceramics are presented as accessible souvenirs, similar to what you might find in another shop along the 16th Street Mall- things like shot glasses, ashtrays, mugs, vases, keychains, and snakes. The kiosk is always open for viewing (the open sign is on at all times) but it is only staffed part time, with hours announced over social media. When staffed, the kiosk is meant to critique a typical shopping experience by not carrying normal, standard hours and having inconsistent pricing. For instance, blue and green items are more expensive, the inventory is constantly revolving, and everything is negotiable. Similar to Elmgreen and Dragset’s Prada Marfa, the kiosk is always open for viewing, standing as a work in itself. I see the kiosk as an oasis of handwork amidst a sea of commercial chains within Denver’s most prominent tourist destination.


How does this project relate to its site, Denver's 16th Street mall? 

Some objects for sale, like the collection of snake sculptures, are directly inspired by design elements from the 16th Street Mall. I recently learned that the diamond-shaped design in the granite walkways along 16th street was modeled after the Diamondback Rattlesnake. The mall’s elaborate groundwork was meant to set the tone for the entire space, similar to how a Persian rug changes the feeling of a whole room. To compliment the pre-existing tone of the space, I made several different iterations of snakes for the kiosk - small sculptures, hanging snakes, and 2-D standing snakes.


With the project framed as a retail space, this helps it fit into the culture of the 16th Street Mall; nestled, as it were, into a site focused on commerce and tourism. My work has explored how cultural destinations can be transformed into places of consumption through tourism. This is the first time that I’ve shown work in a charged site like this, and it brings out layers of my work that I’m excited to see. To support oneself as an artist, one has to try and come to terms with the commodification and fetishization of the art object and the subjectivity of pricing work. It has been interesting, as well, to witness people’s perception of the value of handmade work.


You had an improv actor present at the opening reception for The Sometimes Pop Up Kiosk, can you tell us a little bit more about this? What did the improv actor do?

Including an improv actor made the experience more interactive, performative, and served to highlight aspects of artifice and fiction. We wanted to engage the non-art-seeking general public in a more elaborate, embellished way. The kiosk already stands out and doesn’t necessarily fit the typical mold of shops on the 16th Street Mall. This performative element made the experience more playful and inviting to perhaps a more hesitant public. Steve, the improv artist, did an amazing job. I loved how he would explain my work - the inspirations, function, and potential uses of the objects - in an extremely entertaining way. He would also play with the aspects of pricing, raising and lowering prices based on conversations, which highlighted the subjectivity and conflict all artists experience when trying to price work. The night of the opening was also quite cold, so rather than interacting with people through the window as we had planned, everyone ended up packed inside the kiosk. Steve would ‘Vanna White’ and hand sell/advertise the objects to passersby. It was definitely a spectacle.


This project employs a body of new functional ceramics, like cups and plates, and some nonfunctional objects like 2d version of vases or coiled ceramic snakes. Can you explain the importance of displaying both functional and nonfunctional works in the kiosk? 

Showing a diverse group of pieces, including both the functional and non-functional items, relates to the wide breadth of forms found in my installations. Ancient and contemporary pots are always at the base of inspiration for my work - through form, surface, and general aura. Many of the pieces I study are historically utilitarian vessels but when reinterpreted, I remove their function - I make the decision for the viewer that they can never be used and are instead objects of pure contemplation. However, with this space being framed as a souvenir shop, I shifted my practice and presentation to include usable things. Objects with a predetermined use are more approachable, understandable, and at times, more desirable (especially from an impulse shopping standpoint). The 2-D pieces came in response to flattening the functional pieces, thus removing their function, and have them be used as props, similar to theatre sets. These relate to a series of older work of mine where I would make paper cut-outs of pots to use as potential 3D ceramic vessels. I am continually interested in the relationship between 2D and 3D pieces, that transformation, and the question of what is potentially lost through the process.


What has been the public response to the kiosk installation? 

People have been interested, curious, and confused. One main reason is that people expect food, and when they are confronted with art objects, I think it takes some time to process what exactly they are experiencing. Sitting in the kiosk is similar to being in a fishbowl where people look from a distance but seem tentative about approaching. It’s becoming a bit of a social experiment on social cues and I’ve learned a lot about how people navigate space in general. Over the next month, I am going to try some different presentations to see how I can best engage audiences. I plan to collaborate with the incoming food vendor to serve his Cuban food and coffee using my dishes. One day, I will have a big blowout sale. I also want to find someone who will advertise on 16th street by carrying a large vessel around in a similar fashion to a sign spinner.


What's next for you? 

Right now I am working on a new commission for a collector. Also, I will be doing a site specific installation in one of the bedrooms at Castle Marne for Open Doors Denver. This piece will explore a new motif - the Green Man - who is a grotesque figure sprouting vegetation from his ears, mouth, and eyes. This August, I will be working Daisy McGowan in the biannual exhibition, Bright Young Things at GOCA in Colorado Springs.

Never Lettin' Go: Updates on our 2015 Artist Fellows/Alumni

2015 Artist Fellow/ Alumni Update — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director

November 29.16

Desiree Holman, Chad Person, and Derrick Velasquez were Black Cube’s inaugural Artist Fellows in 2015. These Fellows also launched the Alumni program in 2016. As part of our long-term partnership and dedication to the artists we work with, we wanted to give you an update on all of the exciting developments in their practices.


Desiree Holman, 2015 Artist Fellow

Describe your recent residency on the Great Wall of China and your new project The Third Space.  

With Black Cube’s help, I successfully applied for a month long artist residency and fellowship at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu, a restaurant and resort hotel situated at the foot of the Great Wall and cusp of city life in the Beijing countryside.  The location was extraordinary; rich in natural beauty, history, and culture.  The hybrid and transitional nature of this place was of particular interest to my research.  Tucked into an ancient small village of peasants, many of whom are descendants of those that built the Great Wall, one finds this dynamic, multi-lingual, affluent, global, temporary community.  Serving approximately 50% Chinese and 50% Europeans and Americans, Jim Spears and Tang Liang, the Chinese and American proprietors, are fluent in both Chinese and English.  Spears designed the buildings by integrating modern architecture with pre-existing courtyard homes built in the Ming Dynasty.   The crown jewel is of course the Great Wall of China. The wall itself, as an actual in-between site, is perhaps one of the grandest examples of the transitional space between two states. 

Over the course of the October 2016 residency, I spent my time researching and developing a visual storyboard, scene breakdown, and script for my newest work, a multi-media installation titled The Third Place.   The work explores the experiential space of language acquisition in the literal and metaphorical transition between fluent English and learned Mandarin. “Third Place” (Kramsch 1993) in language learning refers to the construction of a new hybrid space between the source language and the target language. As students become a more integral part of their target language learning community, they start talking within (and not only about) the practice they are involved in.   

My work at large continues to be engaged with the states of change, mutability, and flexibility of identity as expressed internally and externally. And, the domain of language in this exercise of world-building and self-construction is a natural extension of these inquiries.  Thematically, in making this work, I sought to explore the process of de-centering or, simply stated, taking a step back from the learner’s beliefs and thoughts to engage with another cultural framework, and to ultimately occupy the “third place.”  This process ultimately allows questions about one’s own culturally-determined assumptions and about the society in which one lives.  


What are the highlights from your art practice in 2016? 

2016 has been an incredible year full of dynamic growth and new directions in my art practice. Building on the project, Sophont in Action:  Black Cube at Red Rocks, part one of my fellowship with SFMOMA’s Performance in Progress has to be my top highlight of 2016.  During this process, I was able to present public programs of my work-in-progress.  This entailed collaborating with three amazing choreographers and nine performers to experiment with the pre-existing movement vocabulary of Sophont in Action.  As an auxiliary program, my complete three channel video works from 2005 - 2016 were on view, which was thrilling to be able to look back, while at the same time moving on to new frontiers.

Also in 2016, my 2011 work Heterotopias was installed as a solo exhibition at Centre des Arts Actuels SKOL in Montreal, Canada.  The installation was particularly noteworthy because the work was installed asymmetrically for the first time.   

I spent the majority of my 2016 studio time actively learning Mandarin, which is a life changer and, is quite literally, reshaping my mind.  This led to two trips to China (including The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu’s fellowship), both of which are feeding into my newest project.  Along the way, I did something I never imagined myself doing - I stepped out of the director role to be a live participant in a performance.  In September, with my Mandarin language tutor, Li Rao, we performed 鸡同鸭讲:Chicken with Duck Speaking at Minnesota Street Projects in San Francisco.  In it, we shared one of our weekly tutoring sessions allowing viewers a glimpse into our process.  


What are you looking forward to next year? 

I’m looking forward to 2017 with much anticipation.  After a long-term relationship with SFMOMA as a Performance in Progress fellow, I’ll be presenting the culminating gesture: a very special and site-specific live-cinema version of Sophont in Action.  All of the work I’ve been doing with them has led up to this moment.   

On the heels of the SFMOMA reveal, I’ll be presenting the second version of 鸡同鸭讲:Chicken with Duck Speaking at SomArts in San Francisco, CA.  

Lastly, I’m ecstatic to begin video production on The Third Place.  Who knows, maybe there will even be some VR welcoming everyone into the third place.



Chad Person, 2015 Artist Fellow

Describe your Black Cube Alumni project and tell us how it went?

My Black Cube fellowship was one of the greatest artistic opportunities of my career to date. Black Cube supported the development of my largest and most ambitious inflatable sculpture to date, The Prospector. The sculpture is a massive guerrilla monument, who was first erected in a parking lot immediately adjacent to the State Capitol in Denver.

For my alumni project, The Prospector made a return appearance in Denver, alongside my complete body of inflatable sculptures. I’ve been producing inflatables for about a decade. Most of the time, my inflatables are shown individually. I had never had the chance to show them all together in one place. This exhibition was an interesting opportunity to see the progression of work and themes I have been dealing with over the years. It was well received.


What are the highlights for your art practice in 2016?

Resurrecting The Prospector sculpture was a real high point for me because it reminded me of the power of large scale public work. Inflating The Prospector is similar to wrangling a balloon float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. Getting him to stand up takes a bit of planning, and a lot of elbow grease.

A group of six (museum staff and volunteers) were inflating the piece on the day of the exhibition opening. As we were struggling to get him to fully inflate, a remarkable thing happened: the residents of Five Points started emerging from their homes eager to help.

A couple of guys had seen the spectacle from a nearby apartment and came down because ‘they could tell we needed a hand.’ Soon, we were joined by a few more people who were walking by and felt compelled to grab a rope and help pull our behemoth into the sky. It’s not everyday that you see this type of public engagement, and it was pretty special.


What are you looking forward to next year?

I’m splitting my time right now between sketching an adult children’s book concept I’ve been developing, and a new inflatable. And since Black Cube has continued to support my career by presenting ongoing opportunities and providing tools to elevate my practice, I anticipate we will travel the inflatables show within 2017.



Derrick Velasquez, 2015 Artist Fellow

Describe your Black Cube Alumni project and tell us how it went.

My Black Cube Alumni project, New Brutal 2, continued with my research into the materials and architecture used to form what is much of the new Denver. While using almost the same building materials like 2 x 4s, OSB, trim molding, and custom CNC designs, I was able to respond to an entirely different site with social complexities and physical nuances that weren't present in the first version. I used the design of a classic Greek pediment and placed it in a sunken amphitheater in La Alma/Lincoln Park. This new installation used the subtle sinking grade of the aisles leading to the stage as space to create two thirty-eight foot long triangular buildings, forming a low-lying isosceles triangle covered in trim and crown molding. The work could not be seen from the street but mainly from the rec center in the park that serves under privileged youth and their families. There is a lot of construction going on in that neighborhood and it felt meaningful to install a work that was physically accessible, made direct visual relationships to the surrounding gentrification, and didn't disrupt the use of the public space. The project went well, but the extension of the permitting became an issue as we tried to extend the duration of the exhibition. 


What are the highlights for your art practice in 2016? 

Some of my favorite art moments this year have been exploring new territory that was opened up by completing both Black Cube projects. I have been taking what I learned from New Brutal and bringing it back into the studio and gallery space. This has culminated in a show at Transmitter in Brooklyn, and my second solo show at Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia. Outside of making, I am on the board of an exciting new organization called Tilt West. We are trying to raise the level of open discussion around social and cultural topics through the lens of art via round table discussions and publications. Also, in September, I curated a show at RedLine called Transforming Milk Into Milk. This was my first foray into curating and it was a satisfying to execute a curatorial concept and vision that had been percolating for almost three years. I was able to show a number of artists who are from outside of Denver and made some new connections by reaching out to artists who I didn’t know.



What are you looking forward to in 2017? 

I'm looking forward to moving on from the election as well as the deaths of some of my favorite musicians. Art-wise, I will be showing in Baltimore in the spring, and have a solo show at Robischon Gallery in Denver sometime in the summer. I'm really looking forward to having a diverse show that takes advantage of that gallery space. Trying to reinvent and reshape my voice in the community is a goal I have over the next year. In addition to helping Tilt West complete its first wave of events, I'm considering opening a low-key gallery space in my basement. I don't really have time to curate a space fully; however, it's something I've thought about and will recruit some curatorial help in the near future.

Desiree Holman, Beijing, October 2016. Photo: David FitzGerald Desiree Holman, Reborn, Three Channel Video, SFMOMA. Photo: Don Ross Chad Person, Blow Up, 2016 - installation shot Chad Person, marketing shoot on the RedLine rooftop for the Blow Up exhibition Derrick Velasquez, New Brutal 2, 2016 - La Alma Park Derrick Velasquez, New Brutal 2, 2016 - La Alma Park, opening reception shot

Fictive Histories and Future Projections

An Interview with SANGREE — Written by Cortney Lane Stell

November 08.16

SANGREE is a Mexico City-based artist duo composed of René Godínez Pozas (b. 1986) and Carlos Lara (b. 1985) who both studied together in Mexico City at La Esmeralda. With only a handful of works behind them, they’ve already given life to some interesting scenarios, such as the apocalyptic fantastical landscapes in their digital collage work, in which stone monkey gods emerge from suspicious green lightning bolts frozen in the sky. Or, their Stone Board (Serpiente) sculptures of monolithic grey finger skateboard parks modeled after pre-Columbian temples. Regardless of the works you look at, common themes in SANGREE’s oeuvre include tensions between ancient histories and present moments, the relation between fact and fiction, and the omnipresence of branding images and symbols (including the identity they have built for their collaboration, which includes a branded logo). We spent some time with SANGREE discussing their most recent Black Cube pop up exhibition, Unclassified Site Museum, in which the artists envisioned a block-long archeological site underneath Denver’s former 16th Street Mall RTD bus terminal.


How long have you been working collaboratively as SANGREE? How did the collaboration begin?

We've been working together for around 8 years. We met during the first year of art school but it wasn’t until the last year that we started collaborating. At the time, we were working with photography and wanted to start a publication where we could publish our work. While working on the creation of our publication project, the content for the publication began to become more important than the author of the images. That's when we decided to publish under a single name, SANGREE.


Is it true that you don’t have a studio? How do you produce artworks together?

At the beginning, we both lived far away from school and far from each other, so working together was difficult, and our school itself wasn’t a very inspiring environment for working either. So, we were usually taking pictures on the streets and discussing projects at any random Burger King. We still don't have a studio, but now we live closer to each other in a central area of the city so it's easier to meet anywhere to work together.


What were your first feelings about Denver? Did any of these impressions affect the artwork that you produced? Did any of those initial impressions change over the course of time while working on this project?

Most of the examples of public art we saw in Denver were large sculptures placed in different locations of the city that interacted in a very invasive or forced way with their surroundings, so we didn't want to create another piece similar to those. We decided to do something that felt discreet and minimal, but would still give the impression of being a large intervention because the Market Street site is very large.


Tell us about the Market Street Station site. How did you approach this location as your first site-specific commission?

The Market Street location was first proposed by Cortney Stell. She sent us some pictures, but we weren’t very convinced about the place until we saw it. When we saw the site, we thought it was great. We were very excited about its central location and the amount of different people that would be able to interact with the work.


You’ve mentioned that with the Unclassified Site Museum installation, you wanted to encourage a sense of wonder. Why is this important to you?

It definitely has something to do with how our work process begins, which starts with us strolling through the streets until we discover something new or something unexpected that could trigger a further interest or curiosity. We wanted to take advantage of the fact that all kinds of people were going to see our work on Market Street. It was an important element for us because anybody could approach or get something out of this piece, not only people interested in art.


This was your first public commission and major project in the United States. What was the most challenging part of this project?

There were several challenges for us- the distance, for example. Even though we had regular conversations with Cortney and she kept us informed with pictures and updates on the progression, it is always difficult to work from a distance. The safety restrictions and regulations for working in a public space provided us with some difficulties during the process as well.


One type of artifact that can be found in Unclassified Site Museum is different variations of brass and abalone inlayed phone cases. These cases are production samples from an exhibition you recently had in San Francisco. Can you tell us more about the concept behind these works and why you included them in this installation?  

These pieces were created while thinking about the tech culture that you find in San Francisco, CA. We then created a very contemporary object, a cell phone case, which at the same time becomes obsolete rather quickly. The fabrication of these cases was entirely handmade. We used abalone shell and some synthetic and natural stones. These kinds of materials can be found in ancient precious objects, such as tools, jewelry, or tableware.

On Memories and More, interview with Molly Berger

interview with Molly Berger — Written by Laurie Britton Newell

November 01.16

Can you describe your practice for us?

My studio practice is two-part. One aspect concerns itself with what one might call “sculpture”, investigating memory, the forming of personal histories, and the role objects play in our understanding of the world. This work often includes a combination of ceramic and found objects. I also dedicate space in my practice for designing and producing handmade tableware for everyday use. Both facets of my studio explore the ways in which everyday objects acquire profound meaning.


What drew you to ceramics?

My last semester of college, I took my first ceramics class and quickly became smitten with the tactility of clay. The analogue, slowed nature of hand-building is so antithetical to most of our day to day activities; I found it really challenging and engaging. I’ve been working with it ever since.


Can you tell us about your site in Gold Hill and your installation?

My installation consisted of 65 porcelain and gold objects inspired by the area’s mining history and various objects from everyday mountain life. These ceramic tool-like forms were situated on the exterior of a historic cabin in Gold Hill (behind what was once the town post office) aiming to alter ideas about the preciousness of the ordinary and confusing the line between function and ornament. On the south side of the cabin, in the horse stable, were a collection of doormats displaying statements taken from conversations had with long standing Gold Hill locals. Little snippets from much longer stories, the remarks on the mats gave an intimate peak into the lives and histories of the town and the members of its community.


How did you come up with the idea for the Gold Hill Art Project?

I am very curious about the ways in which objects give us a sense of history on both a personal and universal scale. The things we chose to hold onto seem to somehow become symbols for something far beyond any object’s particular function. In wanting to investigate these themes as they specifically related to the site of the project, I began to research the origins of Gold Hill and the changes it has undergone. I also began visiting the town often and doing interviews with various residents of Gold Hill, all of which informed both the objects I ended up creating and the doormats displayed in the horse stable. The configuring of once useful objects as items for display on the exterior of a structure is a familiar western typology that inspired the conception of my display strategy.


What has been the biggest challenge about this project?

The biggest challenge about this project was the scale. Beyond all of the research and planning involved, hand-crafting the number of objects necessary to do justice to the scale of the four cabin walls was a huge undertaking and really made me re-examine the boundaries I tend place on my studio practice.


Memory and nostalgia seems to play a big role in the works you create. Can you tell us a bit more about how this plays out in the works you create? 

I am constantly circling questions about memory in my studio. Memories are the foundation from which so much of our identities and histories are built, yet they are so fallible and opaque. I often find myself questioning what is objectively historical and what is fiction. What do we really remember and what have we imagined in order to fill in the blanks? To what degree does nostalgia color our perspective on the past? Is nostalgia productive? In what ways do the mementos we keep help us to look back in time? Through the collaging of remembered and imagined bits of what once was, my work explores memory, mourning, and identity as they speak to needs of the present and a queering of the truth.


What is coming up next for you?

This fall, I began pursuing my graduate degree at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit, MI. The MFA program at Cranbrook is a 2-year opportunity for dedicated and uninterrupted studio exploration and I plan on taking advantage of every second.

Aesthetics & Deep Ecology with Eric Stewart

an interview on his practice & the Gold Hill Art Project — Written by Laurie Britton Newell

October 20.16

Can you describe your practice for us?

I am a multimedia artist working primarily in cinema but also in installation, performance and photography. My work finds places in landscape and history to explore our relationship to the “natural” and the ways in which technology complicates or changes this relationship.

I work primarily with analogue film because I enjoy the tactility that it affords.


Can you explain the process of making photograms?

Photograms are a way of taking a picture without a camera. They are a form of photography based not on looking but instead on touch. In a dark room an object is placed on top of photosensitive surface and where the object touches the film, light becomes blocked, forming an image in the objects shadow and rendering it in silhouette. I am fascinated by the way photograms collapse distance and eliminates the traditional 3-dimensional space that lens based photography accomplishes. I have been making photograms for many years now and as I have worked on them I have been articulating an concept I call “The Aesthetics of Deep Ecology”, where photograms I have been searching for a way of depicting landscape from a non-human perspective to find in the surface of the image a place for landscape, wilderness and place to speak for itself. I am fond of Hollis Frampton’s reinterpretation of the meaning in photography’s etymological origins from “writing with light” into “light writing itself”. Photograms are my attempt to find a place for nature to write itself.


Can you tell us a little bit about your site in Gold Hill and your installation?

Scattered throughout Gold Hill are small depressions in the earth hand dug by miners in search of gold. Some are only test pits where nothing was discovered, while the others that were productive have piles of rusty tin can’s around their perimeter, the result of the miner’s lunch’s I’m sure. I am interested in what these marks and accumulations communicate. We can almost measure the productivity of the pit by the density of the tin can pile and this record is a site where history and human agency are written into the landscape. All of the images in the installation are installed outside, leaning against trees and in the open, the images are photograms of crystals and minerals found in and around Gold Hill, they investigate, surface and accumulation. We chose the site because there is where a path that cuts through a wooded area, and eventually leads to one of these pits.



When did your interest in film and photography start? What drew you to this medium?

I have always been interested in nature, philosophy, minimalism and the Avant Garde. When I started becoming exposed to experimental film and alternative photographic techniques I became intensely fascinated by the possibilities that photochemistry affords for investigating issues of space, time and being. For a long time I did painting and drawing but at some point in my early twenties things changed for me and I became intensely interested in the camera’s relationship to the natural world. A description of chemistry that I am very fond of is that chemistry reveals processes in nature. Processes which would normally remain unseen, I love the way that photography and photochemistry allows us to visualize processes and experiences that would otherwise remain unknown.


How did you come up with the idea for the Gold Hill Art Project?

Originally I was interested in the connection between photography and land surveying in Gold Hill during the 19th century. I had planned on creating these large immersive pseudo-cinematic sculptures composed of modified projectors; but over time the project very organically shifted into this ephemeral investigation of the interaction between the surface of the soil and the surface of photographic film. I have always been obsessed with crystals and collecting rocks and for a long time I had wanted to work with color photograms. I was interested in the way that the photograms could act as a form of cartography and way of re-imaging and disrupting Gold Hill’s topography, much like the gold mining pits. Further validating my interest in the connection between mining history, found minerals and photograms was the fact that light sensitive sheets of film only work by virtue of the light sensitive silver they are composed and form another strata of accumulated mineral in counterpoint to the quartz.


You see teaching as part of your art practice; can you explain your pedagogical approach?

Language and social interaction surround my work. I often write, talk and workshop in connection to the exhibition of my work and while that language and social interaction isn’t integral to the work, it is connected to it and expands the works capacity. Building and sustaining community around creative work and experimental film is really important to me because the existence of DIY spaces and artists run spaces is what has supported me in developing my artistic practice. Additionally, I teach art fulltime and it has become my bread and butter. My approach to teaching comes directly out of my work as an activist and I believe strongly in the possibilities for social progress that education and the humanities create. I get a lot out teaching media literacy and empowering people with the tools to produce their own media and articulate their vision of the world.


In an increasingly technological world, we have noticed resurgence in film photography, vinyl records, and Polaroid; why do you think these modes make a comeback?

Every technological advancement seems to spark a cultural existential crisis that can be described as tradition vs. progress. The advent of digital technologies has changed the way we relate socially, financially and materially. This shifting relationship has created insecurity about future possibilities and those anxieties are compounded by global warming which is connected to industrial and technological production. I think it is part nostalgia for an idealized past and a frustration with overly networked and connected lives. Analogue technologies provide a tactility that digital mediums don’t and they happen on a slower scale. People have this idea that analogue technologies are somehow more real because they happen in a physical manner.


What is coming up next for you?

For the next year or so I am Visiting Assistant Professor in photography at Adams State in the beautiful San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. My teaching focuses on photochemical processes and analogue techniques. The library at Adams has agreed to house an archive of oral histories collected from anti-nuclear and peace activists. The archive is an outgrowth of a feature length experimental documentary and photographic project about nuclear weapons testing in the Southwest, which I have been working of for the last two years. I have a show coming up at the Houston Center for Photography called “The Surface of Things” which is a survey of contemporary photograms and includes one of my films. I recently contributed an essay to Otherzine called “The Sound of Breaking Glass” ( and I have some talks in the works connected to those ideas.

From Clay to Human Hair: Jennifer Ling Datchuk On Her Practice

On Her Practice and The Gold Hill Art Project — Written by Laurie Britton Newell

October 11.16

Can you describe your practice for us?

My practice is multidisciplinary and primarily object based with a focus on the materiality of porcelain clay and human hair. I explore issues of race, gender, and identity through beautifully crafted domestic objects, performance, and documentation.


Can you tell us a little bit about your site in Gold Hill and your installation?

Star Crossed Visitors rests on a triangular plot of land situated at a cross roads and not far from the Richards Cabin, the original site of a working Chinese laundry house during the Gold Rush. I was particularly drawn to this site because of the two different views the cross roads created. The large concrete tub and hair fence could be seen from the top of the road looking down, providing a sweeping image of the installation and Gold Hill. The other road only provided an above ground glimpse of the installation when the bright red human hair rope stood out against the green landscape.


What were your first impressions of Gold Hill?

I arrived to Gold Hill at night and absorbed the long, winding road up the mountain. I captured what I can from the headlights of the car and my initial impressions were extremely quiet and isolated. When I woke in the morning and saw the snow capped mountains in my view, I felt like I had just been plopped in a very special place. I walked and explored Gold Hill with a childlike curiosity of all things Wild West.


How did you approach the research for this project?

I started my research by learning more about the function of a Chinese laundry house and the population and demographics of Gold Hill during the Gold Rush. I conducted research through library databases and the documented oral stories of Gold Hill. I examined the oral stories along with the information I learned from the book “Asians in Colorado: A History of Persecution and Perseverance in the Centennial State” by William Wei. After this research, I became very aware of the lack of documentation of the history of Chinese in Gold Hill and how oral stories can sometimes become historical fiction.


What is the significance of hair in your works?

Hairs are tiny threads that link us to our past and present stories. It is an extension of the body that grows in the womb before birth, and in the coffin after death, and the rate or length of growth is beyond our control. It is an everlasting material that can be seen as contradictory; it is desirable or disgusting, pure or processed, innocent or sinful, an afterthought or a crowning glory. I use hair to illicit a human connection to the ideas in the work. For the fence in Star Crossed Visitors, the black Asian hair has been bleached to blonde and then dyed a shade of Chinese red. The ten-foot-long ponytail rope is threaded through concrete pillars to form a broken fence. This hair fence connects the sense of loss, displacement, and otherness the Chinese migrants experienced during the Gold Rush.


Identity seems to be a theme heavily present in your work. Can you explain the different ways you have approached this subject is previous work?

My work has always dealt with identity, with the sense of being in-between, an imposter, neither fully Chinese nor Caucasian. I explore this conflict through porcelain, which nods to my Chinese heritage but also represents “pure” white – the white desire I find in both cultures. My focus is the emotive power of domestic objects and rituals that fix, organize, and soothe our lives. I make molds of these objects and cast them to convey evidence of the trace object and describe situations of manufacturing identity. Porcelain allows me to describe dualities, for this material can capture both fragility and resilience.


I view personal acts of applying makeup and the plucking of eyebrow hairs as moments of contemplation that slowly reveal pain and perfection. In my performance work, my body and hair are the emotive focus that I challenge through extreme alterations that confront the standards and ideals of beauty. Through video performance and digital photography, I am interested in revealing the layers of beauty and dysfunction in the search for identity.


Do you ever have any ideas that you have to abandon due to funding or lack of resources?

All the time but I tend to dream big and sometimes need ask myself if the materials I want are necessary for the work. Can I say this idea with less? Do I really need all of that? I have probably saved a lot of time and money vetting my ideas this way. Sometimes though, there is a material or idea I can’t shake, like a 5-foot-long human hair ponytail for sale on eBay for $2700. I can’t stop obsessing about it and have so many ideas and works planned for it.


What is up next for you?

I have a solo show at a contemporary art space in Houston, Texas called Art League in December. Next summer I will participate in a three-month residency at the European Ceramic Work Center in Oisterwijk, Netherlands. During this time, I will be working on a new body of work that incorporates 3D body scanning and 3D printing of clay to turn by body into a vessel of broken ceramic shards.

Its about to Blow Up w/ Chad Person

Gettin' Ready for Chad's Alumni Exhibition — Written by Cortney lane Stell

August 24.16

Can you tell us a little bit about the Blow Up exhibition?

Blow Up is an exhibition of firsts for me. It’s the first time I have had all of my inflatable sculptures in one place, and the first solo show of this scale I've had in Denver. I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s going to be a fun show - hopefully evoking a combination of quiet curiosity and ironic chuckles.

How many inflatable sculptures have you made?

Eight to date, with the most recent being The Prospector which I completed last year as a Black Cube fellow.

When was the first one your produced and what was the process like?

My first was Ozymandias Weeps, 2005. I was nearing the end of grad school and a vision of the piece came to me. I had been photographing a dying shopping mall in Albuquerque, and when I walked into to boarded up food court I pictured the Big Boy sitting there alone, weeping for the loss.


The inflatables are fabricated in India, can you tell us a bit about that process?

I’m not a sculptor by trade, so when I conceived of the first inflatable I recognized I’d need to work with a fabricator. I began researching cold air inflatables online and stumbled across a very experienced fabricator in Hyderabad India. The process was a bit of a leap of faith at first, but has gotten much better over the years. Initially, my process was to build a small scale model and photograph it on six sides. The fabricator would then build a clay model from my images, and send back six-sided photos of their own. I’d revise those images in Photoshop, leading to a revision in clay and so forth. Eventually the clay model was scanned to produce a fabric pattern. Over time, we moved to a process that involves 3D modelling and printing. It’s much more direct - although I miss the clay model.


What was the most complex inflatable to make and why?

The most complex to date was The Prospector. I’ve certainly made more complicated pieces, in terms of electronics and props but the enormous scale of The Prospector took things to a new level. Uninflated, it weighs about 500lbs, but once you fill it with air he becomes a true force to be reckoned with. At that scale, every hiccup is amplified. For example, last year when we erected him at the State Capitol there was a light rain falling. Once the surface of the sculpture got damp, the weight of the water added hundreds of pounds to the overall mass. The fans couldn’t hold the tensile strength and it began to collapse. It was an interesting new problem to solve.

You often describe the sculptures as akin to depressed car dealership inflatable advertisements, why are your sculptures depressed?

The reason I choose to work with the cold air inflatable as a form is quite simple. Most of the works share a common thread -- an icon that has past its prime/usefulness, and now suffers a loss of prowess. The cold air inflatable is a perfect vehicle for that metaphor. Like the used car dealership gorilla, they are gianagitc, begging for attentions. But in the end, there is no substance, just a massive empty void, ready to collapse at the slightest failure.


This is the first time that all 8 of your inflatables are being exhibited together... How do you think they will interact with each other?

This is the first time all of my inflatables are being shown together. I’m not sure what to expect as they dialogue with one another. Perhaps it will reveal a string of interconnected ideas? Or perhaps it will feel like the same bad joke told over and over? Ultimately, it’s up the viewer.


How does it feel to be one of Black Cube's first alum? What’s it like working on a Black Cube alumni project?  

I feel really fortunate to have been one of the first Black Cube fellows. It has been a real pleasure to see the organization evolve and take shape recent months. I’m looking forward to more chances to network with, mentor, and support the upcoming fellows.

Are there any unrealized inflatables that you would like to produce?

There are so many inflatables I’d like to produce. I have a sketchbook full. Unfortunately, the scale of each is such that I can’t produce them as fast as I’d like.

Chad Person with the Dying Gaul

Meet Laurie Britton Newell, Black Cube's 1st Curator in Residence

On curating outdside of the white cube and the Gold Hill Art Project — Written by Cortney Stell

July 21.16



You are rather new to Colorado. Most recently you have come from a position at the V&A Museum in London. What is your perception of the Colorado art scene? How is it similar and/or different?

Colorado is very big, and everything is so spread out, when you first arrive here, it is difficult to find out who is doing what. There is a lot of interesting work happening it is just quite challenging to unearth it. There are less of the threads that bring art together here than in a city like London, where there are an infinite number of places, publications and networks to tap into both as an artist and a person interested in engaging with art.


The other central difference is landscape looms so large here. As an artist working in Colorado you have to decide where you stand in relation to these dominating mountains. I have come across a lot of interesting responses to the great American West. It appears to be both nurturing and stifling to some. In London, artists are generally more concerned with working out their position in relation to the built landscape and the manmade world.


On a personal level it has taken my eyes quite a while to adjust to the scale of landscape here and not be overwhelmed by it!


Can you describe the site for the pop up exhibition you are curating for Black Cube?

Gold Hill is a historic mining town that was founded in 1859. It is about 10 miles from Boulder, heading up into the mountains, Northwest of Boulder. As you drive up Sunshine Canyon for the first 6 miles you are driving on pavement and you get great views looking down on Boulder, and on a clear day Denver too. As you climb further you hit a dirt road and start to see views of the Continental divide. Gold Hill is situated at 8300ft. Some times you drive up into the clouds and pass through them and find Gold Hill waiting for you in the sunshine. My daughter often describes it as “going home to the clouds”. The small town is made up of wooden structures, mostly residential cabins, but it also has an inn, a lodge, a general store, a museum and a school. The town is surrounded by forests of Pine and Aspen and the colors you a see in the summer are mixture of brown, black, green and yellow and then in the winter lots of white, of course.


When I moved to Gold Hill in 2014 I was deeply struck by the little town, perched above the city and nestled in this striking landscape. I was excited by the dilapidated buildings, the authenticity of them, American vernacular architecture. Gold Hill feels simultaneously like a fictional place, but it is also very real and vibrant.


Why is Gold Hill ripe for an art project such as this?

History lies very close to the surface in Gold Hill. The marks of mining are still very visible and the shift over from being a mining community to being a tourist destination in the early 19th Century is also visible in the buildings that remain. I think as I come from a background working as a curator of contemporary art and design in a historic museum, the V&A is a large Victorian palace, my mind quite naturally jumped to imaging how to situate contemporary artworks in a historic mining town. I think it is very enriching to pair the old and new side by side, it can offer new ways of looking at both the past and the present. I am excited to see what visitors will make of the Gold Hill Art Project.


 Gold Hill is a historic mining town and like most mining towns drew independent thinkers and entrepreneurs. Now Gold Hill, in its post-mining phase, has a different kind of community but I imagine that this community is still strongly independent. Can you explain the Gold Hill community, who lives here and why?

Gold Hill is a very interesting in mix, approximately 230 people live here all year around and we are joined by some more people in the summer months. You are correct, it is a town of strong independent minds! There are a lot of retired academics; cloud scientists, engineers and teachers, and there is quite a concentration of PHD’s up here. This older generation is also made up of alternative thinkers who arrived in the late 60’s and early 70’s and who never left. The younger generations are made up of a combination of those who were raised in Gold Hill, and who perhaps left and returned to raise their families, and new comers like myself who are drawn to mountain life and the wonderful Gold Hill Elementary School. Gold Hill is a great place to be a child, you get to grown up slowly and mess about outdoors a lot. The other most prominent group in the community are the pets. Dogs roam free and have very large personalities. There used to be a town donkey called Twinkles who I have heard used to wonder from different peoples houses depending on who fed her the best leftovers.


You are working with three artist fellows for this pop up exhibition. Is it like putting together an institutional group show or is it different because of the site specificity?

There are some parallels, there is a rhythm in the lead up to putting on any group exhibition that has similar components such as; pitching the initial idea, researching artists, developing the artwork, promoting the project, working out the practical logistics of how to install it, deciding how it will documented etc… What has been different working on the Gold Hill Art Project is that at the start I knew that it would take place in Gold Hill just not where exactly. That was decided through a combination of the artists making site visits and choosing places they wanted to work with and conversations with local residents and the Gold Hill Town Meeting about places that could be used. It was not a known quantity to start off with, in the same way a 300ft gallery space is for example... in fact the final decisions about exactly where to situate projects happened pretty late the process. The artists had to devise of a project that fit conceptually anywhere in Gold Hill and then it was a back and forth deciding on final placement and how it would interact with the site.


A historic mining town is not a neutral backdrop for a piece of contemporary art.


In addition to the visual differences between an outdoor location and a gallery space there are all the practical issues such as fierce winds, harsh fading sunlight, bears and wild beasts! It is a really unique environment to place artwork in, so it has been important for the artists to get to know Gold Hill and it’s people in order to produce something that is both an exciting new insertion into the site but also to create something that is not too incongruous or out of place. It is a careful balance.


Can you introduce us the artworks that the fellows are producing?

The Gold Hill Art Project features three Black Cube artist fellows: Molly Berger, Jennifer Ling Datchuk and Eric Stewart.


Molly’s installation has two parts to it. For the first, she has created a series of porcelain and gold sculptures inspired by mining tools and objects from domestic life, dating from the town’s mining boom in the late 19th Century. These fragile tools will be installed on the outside of a historic cabin will bring to mind things like gold pans, lamps and rug beaters. The act of taking a useful object and displaying it on a wall is a familiar sight in Gold Hill. It changes the status of the object from functional to commemorative. The second part of the installation is situated in the cabins’ horse stable and here Molly is exhibiting a collection of statements stitched into doormats that she has taken from conversations she had with different residents who have long standing connections to Gold Hill. She was moved by the way in which she was welcomed into residents homes and that they shared intimate life events with her. Removed from longer stories, these phrases go to heart of an individual’s relationship to this place.


Jennifer’s installation is positioned near the site where a Chinese laundry and bathhouse is reported to have stood in the late 19th Century. For this project Jennifer researched the Chinese involvement in the Gold Rush in Colorado. She looked at how this history has been documented and passed on, and how it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Her piece responds to a particular story about Asian laborers who worked in laundries because they were forbidden to mine gold, but allowed to clean miner’s clothes. From each laundering of dirty clothing, the Chinese would collect the gold dust that floated in the water and gathered in the drains. This act of washing for residual riches caused the “ Star Crossed Visitors” to be labeled as opportunistic moneymakers. Jennifer has created a monolithic concrete sculpture that takes the form of a washtub large enough to launder sheets. The fence is made of woven Asian hair. These works will stand out awkwardly in this setting and symbolize the displacement of the Chinese migrants in Gold Hill.


Eric has created a series of photograms that have been made by exposing local minerals, including gold flakes, quartz and mica, directly onto the surface of colour film. Made without a camera, the photogram is a shadow; it is not the record of an object but a document of the space that the object no longer occupies. The photograms represent what lies beneath and bring to mind the processes of extracting ore from the ground that define the origins of Gold Hill. The framed prints will be situated on a hillside and suggest a route through the trees. The path continues past the site of an old cabin and a former road and culminates at a mining pit. Inserted in the ground and leaning against trees, these images capture the disruption of the earth and mark the contours of the past.


What has been the biggest challenge in organizing this pop up exhibition?

There have been lots of little challenges to do with preparing the sites, working around historic ruins and rough terrain for example. It has also been quite a negotiation to secure three separate sites. On the whole the community of Gold Hill has been very supportive of the project but it is understandably a big ask to get an individual to hand over their private property to an artist and then invite the general public to visit it.


I think there have been moments for each of the artists too, when the outdoor sites have forced them to change their original ideas or intention for the project, but overall they have each handled this very well and I think ultimately their work is strengthen by this process.


Another challenge I am anticipating after the project opens is how to get audiences up to Gold Hill. It is quite a tough road to drive up and it is a bit of a distance from Denver where Black Cube’s core audience is based. I am a little nervous people will be put off by the journey! If I think back to my most profound art encounters they have all involved a journey to get there. In particular I am thinking about the art island of Naoshima in Japan. I think the idea of the art pilgrimage is an exciting one, so I am hopeful many different visitors will make it to Gold Hill.


What are you most excited about?  

I am eager to see these artworks sitting in their intended locations after over a year of development. I am also excited about the prospect of a very mixed audience coming together in Gold Hill to see the project. I think the combination of the local mountain audience, paired with Black Cube’s Denver and Boulder visitors has interesting potential.


I am very curious to see how visitors will interact with the artworks, the town of Gold Hill and surrounding landscape.

Laurie Britton Newell Photo: Natalie Campos

Bending an Elbow with Fellow, Jon Geiger

Written by Corntey Lane Stell

May 19.16

May 19, 2016

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice. What's one of the first pieces of art or artists who you saw that made you interested in art?

Off the top of my head it would be a combo between the first time I saw a Mark Rothko and a close family friend of mine. I saw Rothko’s big red and orange painting in middle school while on a field trip and recall the feeling of color and mass drawling my young self in. By no means understanding his intentions, the history of Abstract Expressionism, or anything of that nature I was lost in the void of his work and touched by something I had no awareness of. It is that moment in which I try to connect to and reflect upon when I’m within my own studio.


As far as influential artists goes it would have to be a good family friend of mine, Jill. She is still practicing pottery today and while I would consider myself far from a skilled potter, she was someone who opened my eyes to the lifestyle of a marker or artist. Growing up, I’d go to her house to help load and fire kilns, make glazes, and throw on the wheel. Experiencing all those actions at a young age not only introduced me to clay as a material (something I would go on to work consistently with) but also gave me the addicting taste of what life as an artist and maker could be.


How would you define your philosophy toward art?

Honestly I find the art world too big to pin down to any one philosophy. I enjoy the experience of art on so many levels that to pick a philosophy would only seem to contradict other aspects of art that I find intriguing. My making is a combination of being autobiographic, a reaction to a moment in history or point of research, or simply an intuitive exploration within the studio. Sometimes the studio serves as means to physically explore a concept or idea, other times it is simply the exploration itself. I guess if I had to pick a philosophy towards art it would be that all things in life are ever changing and so perhaps art and making art should be that way as well.


How did you first become interested in Western iconography?

I’ve had some manor of interest with the ethos of the West and its iconography for a while, not always at the same level but it certainly has been on my mind. The spark was from my undergraduate experience at the University of Colorado. I worked closely with my sculpture professor, Richard Saxton, and later went on to assist him in his own studio practice along with his collaborative M12. Studying and working under Saxton got me to look at my surroundings differently and really shaped how I experienced the West then and today. However, it wasn’t until graduate school though that I started to work out those experiences via my own making. I think part of this came from leaving Colorado to move to Michigan as I went to attend the MFA ceramics program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. The other factor came from a multitude of Western related interest and material that seemed to just find its way back to my studio and daily life via critiques, visits with guest artists, and the further pursuit of a natural interest.


Aside from using common Western symbols, how do you bring this historical influence into contemporary society?

By simply being a maker/artist within the present I inevitably am contemporizing these historical influences. More specifically these histories are flushed out through the combining, paring, or in some aspects juxtaposing of materials, forms, and images. For example, a spittoon made of ceramic and glazed with a white mucus texture, a terra cotta blob moving its way across two magazine pages depicting a cattle range, or in the case of the Black Cube project a series of neon tumbleweeds.


What do you think our relationship to the West is like nowadays?  Is it more or less romanticized?

Personally I’m drawn to the West because of its multitude of characteristics – its ability to remain as this pure void to be lost in. The West is life, death, success, struggle, venture, failure, growth, and decay all wrapped up into one giant package of desert, mountains, and plateaus.

I don't know if it is anymore romanticized then it was in mid-60s during the wake of the Spaghetti Western film genre, but I do think it has perhaps taken on different forms today. Aside from the continued depiction in films or novels such as No Country for Old Men or The Revenant, the sprit of the West we often cling to has played out in today's DIY movement, farm to table, and other aspects of homesteading. All and all though I don’t believe that these movements or trends or whatever they are to be labeled as are truly romanticizing the West. I feel that they act in parallel to what are our general associations of the West, but are not necessarily 1:1 moments that are directly romanticizing.


What's one of the biggest struggles you've faced as an artist?

Time, defiantly time. Between teaching adjunct for Wayne State University’s ceramic program and working at the Cranbrook Art Museum as their Associate Preparator, time is a luxury I often strive for. Fortunately my wife Lindsey and I built a studio in our backyard, which allows us to defeat the baron of time with a bit more ease. I’ve found out that I can a lot done in just an hour the challenge is finding that hour if not a few more.


Can you describe your Black Cube project?

Roam is a five-part neon and steel sculpture, which resembles a typical roof top billboard structure. The five neon components are a slight abstraction of a tumbleweed rolling on an endless loop along the horizon line. Neon as a material has transformed as a symbol of adorned high-end venues/restaurants to becoming a symbol of seedy establishments and old country tunes. These flickering metaphors of loneliness in society match the icon of the tumbleweed and a perception of Americana. Roam sets a stage for the multiple aspects of neon and Western aesthetics. It creates a place that is devoid of either loneliness or adoration but rather floating somewhere in the middle, serving as a beacon to us all. Much like real tumbleweeds and in a sense mirroring Black Cube’s unique philosophy, the sign/sculpture will travel around the Denver area making appearances in such places as Fiddlers Amphitheatre and a top one of Rocky Mountain College of Art Design’s building along Colfax.


How long have you been working with Cortney at Black Cube on this project and what has the process been like? 

It has been a little over a year at this point. The processes has been long but very instructive - the fellowship provides an open door to projects that would more then likely never take off from the ground due to expense, space, and pure magnitude. All and all it has been a very rolling and evolving process taking the initial idea of Roam (a piece that was a component of a larger whole) and turning it into its own center stage piece. In addition, I've greatly appreciated Black Cube forming the connection and network of my practice with Denver's Demiurge. As someone who insists working with their own hands, it was both a challenge and a privilege to be able to hand over a concept and watch it transform into reality via the skill set and hard work of others. 


New Brutal is Back: Derrick Velasquez on his Black Cube Alumni Project, New Brutal 2

Written by Cortney Lane Stell

April 06.16

April 6, 2016


To begin, tell us a little about ‘New Brutal 2.’ Where did this project come from? How is it similar and/or different from your Black Cube project last year ‘New Brutal? 

‘New Brutal 2’ came from an opportunity given to me by the Denver Architectural Foundation and Doors Open Denver to revisit some of the issues I took on in my first version of the piece. Instead of being a vertical structure, this one will take on a triangular horizontal layout and reference a pediment.


Can you tell us a little bit about this new site and your interest in it?

The site will be an amphitheater in La Alma/Lincoln Park. I lived in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood on the east side of Santa Fe for 6 years and teach at Metro State, so I'm familiar with the park. The housing in the area is going through a major change. They basically knocked down a lot of out dated housing and are putting the new "modern" condo and apartment buildings up. The new Mariposa Development under the DHA is more mixed income, which is vital to the stability of Denver's housing issues. I found the amphitheater in the park to spatially intriguing. It should be a place to gather however I was not familiar with particular events that happen there regularly. Ultimately I like its aesthetics. It is slightly sunken and has a number of gently sloping ramps that point towards the front of the amphitheater. 


Will ‘New Brutal 2’ have the same materials as the first sculpture?  Can you explain your interest in these materials?

‘New Brutal 2’ will be the same materials as the first sculpture. I would call them cheap materials like 2x4s, OSB, and tyvek will make up a bulk of the structure. These are the exact same materials they are using to build all of the new housing in that area. These common building materials which can be bought at Home Depot are not only ubiquitous throughout Denver, but in all cities across the country that are growing. I may not be completely interested in the materials themselves, but that I see them everywhere in new construction in  Denver makes me feel like I'm connected to them whether I want to be or not.


Where do the crown molding forms come from? 

They are mostly made of a high density foam. This is what you would commonly see in a fancy house or or some new hotel. However the materials modern and removed from the original forms which would have been plaster or even wood. I also have some custom CNCd pieces that are made of MDF. I designed these based on some motifs found at the Versailles as well as some Moroccan patterns. They are meant to act as a false stand in for something that American culture really has no connection to - also for pure decoration.


Tell us about your thoughts on Denver’s building boom and its relationship to this body of work.

I don't think I really expected to make work "about" the housing market and it aesthetics. It's really unfortunate for anyone who enjoys less traffic or eclectic buildings that haven't been flipped into a new creative capital venture...or dispensary. It's really unfortunate for artists who simply can't have the money to own a space whether it be living or working. At any point anything can be sold and taken away from working artists in this city. It affects my psychology every day. However, I hope the works remains closer to neutral than my personal feelings. It's not meant to be overly subversive but it is meant to stand out and make an oblique connection to a range of building and architecture.


What does it mean to partner on this project with Denver Architectural Foundation and Doors Open Denver?

I think it's incredible that the Denver Architectural Foundation and Doors Open Denver are helping support this project. That they found something in my original structure to ask for another and help fund it means that an exchange of ideas and aesthetics is happening. I would love to see more of these kinds of partnerships that help the artists and the city make profound headway into where the city of Denver might be going.


What’s it like being the first Black Cube Alumni Project?

It feels great! I feel a bit of pressure being the first especially seeing what Stephanie Kantor pulled off in San Antonio and what will be in store for the year to come. Although there was little time to let the original ‘New Brutal’ sink in before I was offered this opportunity, I want to keep this idea fresh for my new installation.


Can you explain for us the tension between the sculptural structure and the crown molding that is decorating it?

I suppose the tension lies more so in the reference of baroque ornamentation and European influence on American cities and how that is fading due to the reduced modernist aesthetic in new Denver construction. It would probably be absurd to put this kind of crown molding on the exterior of a new condo as they are very square and the trim molding motifs I had fabricated were meant to accentuate curved and grandiose structures. By plopping the trim molding onto these low materials, I hope people see the disconnect between the two.


Do you see this project continuing to develop? 

I'm really not sure. Some of the materials have already found their way into my studio and the near future will probably be the gallery version of bits and pieces of research from this New Brutal series. Working on this scale is fun but I find myself itching to make more compact ideas in my work, to really explode a year of research and see what can be pieced back together.






Mock Pavilion: Stephanie Kantor On Making the Exhibition

Written by Black Cube

March 28.16


Being that your practice is based out of Colorado and the exhibition is in Texas, can you describe the process and the obstacles that you encountered when preparing for a traveling large-scale installation?

Packing and shipping the work was one of the most ambitious parts of the project, and one that I didn’t realize would take so much physical exertion and time. Obviously everything must arrive in San Antonio in one piece and we aren’t talking about shipping a few small pots. We had to bubble and shrink-wrap more than 40 vessels, 1600 tiles, pedestals, carpets, and tapestries. All of the work then had to be transported to the shipping container to be packed into larger boxes and secured within the container. This process took a full week, we had to be super mindful because no corners could be cut. In my mind, this part of the exhibition was the demanding and overwhelming, definitely the largest obstacle we faced. But I am proud to say that everything arrived in one piece, and now I have the experience of shipping an entire exhibition under my belt.


How has living/working in Colorado affected your art practice?

It’s hard to say exactly how Colorado has directly affected my practice but I think of it as a very special place, one that embraces change and fluidity. I moved to Colorado for graduate school at CU Boulder and as soon as I arrived my practice immediately began to shift, change, and evolve. This continued to happen throughout grad school and now with Black Cube, we’ve pushed my practice to creating large-scale immersive, transformative environments. Now I’m thinking about my next project and how it will be completely different than the last. I think of Colorado as a place where my work has evolved and will continue to change with each project.


You have previously discussed the ideas of repetition and it is evident in the dimensions of your forms as well as patterned motifs. Can you explain the role of repetition has in your practice?

Yes, repetition is important both within my making process and the product of my work. Multiples exist within the coins, the tapestries, and the hand painted tiles. I believe these components speak to the aspect of labor and time in my work. Labor and time highlights the intentional hand made-ness of all the work, its tedious and time consuming. This speaks to the psychological effect of the work through its commitment, dedication, and monotony. There are also repeated motifs throughout the entire exhibit. You will find some coins, both physical and painted, in the garden room and then later come upon the abundance and plethora of coins within the bathroom. Locating these similar motifs in each room demonstrates the fluidity and hybridity of these patterns and motifs. Nothing exists in isolation and these patterns begin to merge and morph together.


Can you explain the different types of vessels in the ‘Mock Pavilion’ exhibition?

In the garden room, there are fountain/stupa hybrids and bush pots. The fountain/stupa pieces are inspired by concrete fountains, wishing wells, sinks, and are mixed with stupas from Southeast Asia as place of meditation and relaxation. The bush pots come from my personal history where Rhododendron and Peony bushes were an important part of my family landscape growing up on the East coast.


In the palace room there a nine tulipieres, a 14th century form created to display one’s tulip collection. At this time, people collected and traded incredibly rare and exotic tulips, which were extremely valuable. I am interested in how this ceramic vessel became a symbol of wealth, status, and class.


In the hallway, there are a series of pots on top of a dense, red floral wallpaper that exhibits the ogival pattern. This pattern is considered one of the first international patterns where every culture it reached interpreted it differently. I appropriated vessels shapes from the countries this pattern traveled through which includes China, Byzantine, Turkey, Italy, France and England. The glazing style comes from a specific series of Chinese pots I saw at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. The Turkish basically bedazzled these Chinese pots by adding gems and by painting gold leaf on the pieces. I find to be a beautiful and interesting example of hybridization and cultural exchange.


Many of the vessels are large-scale? What's the average size and how do you produce ceramics this large?

Yes, there are a variety of vessels in the exhibit that range from 12 inches to 7 feet. I like working large-scale because I have more room to experiment with shape and form as well as a larger space to paint on within the glazing process. I also love how the larger pieces confront the body and are more physical in making them. They are made with coils, I add a large piece of clay to the base and pinch it up to add more height. The building process takes time and patience to make sure the clay is setting up before moving too high. I make vessels in series where I am usually producing about 6 pieces at a time. I start by mimicking historic vessels and then locate a part that intrigues me and I will emphasize it in the following series, the vessels always diverge from the original historic piece.


What type of clay do you use and why?

I use terra-cotta clay because of its aesthetic properties and the history of majolica glaze. I love the physical qualities of the clay, especially its deep reddish orange color. Majolica was developed in Italy as a way to mask the color of the terra cotta clay to mimic the prestigious and beautiful porcelain pieces from China. Porcelain is highly refined material that was only available in Asia and some parts of Europe. Terra cotta was considered lowbrow, less special, and almost primitive. The glaze majolica became a material of mimicry where it was trying to trick people to believe it was porcelain. I use terra cotta because of this historical significance, it’s lowbrow status, and using low fire ceramics allows for brighter and bolder colors in glazing.


You have a very painterly approach to glazing ceramics. Can you explain your process and the amount of time it takes?

I use a variety of glazes that have different surface qualities like matte, satin, glossy, opaque, and translucent. I found these glazes after the long and tedious process of glaze testing where you mix up small batches to see the varying results. After I’ve established these my palette and how these glazes interact, I begin the glazing process. Glazing large pots is quite tricky, I have to place each large pot in a big bin and then I begin to pour and rotate each piece until it is covered in its base glaze, it’s a very messy process. Then I begin to layer the varying colors on top of the base glaze and do more detailed painting. This process of testing and experimenting takes a few months but when it comes to glazing individual pieces, I can usually get through about 6 in one week.



You often mention that your work is a combination of tight and loose, can you elaborate on this?

I see this dichotomy as a way of working and how I approach different materials. When I am making and glazing, I think of my process as loose. I am not painstakingly smoothing the surface or continuously checking my piece to see that I have the right shape and form. I try to let the work almost lead the way or speak for itself, if something wants to evolve, I let it. The tight part of my process are the things that take a little bit more time or focus. Even though the tapestries look very loose and layered, it was a very tedious process where I had to be very careful I was using the right color and creating the right pattern of stitching. For the digital printed wallpaper, I originally hand painted a large swatch about 2’ x 3’ but then I realized the motifs didn’t align once they were repeated. I had to spend a lot of time tweaking the wallpaper design so it would align over such a large wall.


After creating so many tulipieres, stupas, and other vessels, how do you see these forms changing and evolving as you move forward?

I already have a plan to start making a new series of work that will have more ornamentation built into the forms. I want to start working with a completely new form and cultural inspiration, the Tree of Life from the Central Highlands in Mexico. These pieces are super ornate in form, they almost look like candelabras or contained altars. These forms are aesthetically very interesting and exploring this form will push my ceramic pieces to be more sculptural instead of vessel based.


How has your work developed within the past year?

Watching my work evolve continues to surprise and impress me. I’ve expanded my vessel-based practice to include the floor and the walls which push the space to become an immersive and transformative environment. Mock Pavilion really allowed me to move beyond creating small tableaus and really address the entire space. After seeing the exhibition come together, I am still in awe of how the digitally printed and hand painted wallpaper can have such an impact on both the space and how we experience the vessels.


How would you summarize your experience with Black Cube and what can we expect to see from your practice next?

My experience with Black Cube has been incredible, it has really taught me to dream big and be ambitious. After seeing this exhibition come together, I am blown away with how my practice can continue to transform and evolve. It’s always great to see my work in a new context and to push it beyond where I thought it could go. Moving forward, I want to start a new body of work that will be more sculptural than vessel based and I want to start experimenting with some alternative firing processes. I also am looking forward to my Black Cube alumni project where we will continue to push the work from Mock Pavilion into new and unexpected environments.

Patterned Matters: An Interview with Stephanie Kantor

Written by Black Cube

February 09.16

Mock Pavilion is described as an "interior of a bourgeois home, museum period rooms, and cultural pavilions as place of visual and experienced pleasure." Can you describe this installation for us?

There are many inspirations and super specific citations in ‘Mock Pavilion.’ Thinking about the installation as a pavilion was inspired by a recent trip to Turkey where I visited the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Topkapi palace has it all –manicured gardens, beautiful architecture, insane tile work, and precious objects from many cultures. I was most fascinated with some of the smaller pavilions that were created as place for relaxation and visual pleasure where the sultan could go to experience beauty through decoration and ornamentation.

The exhibition also reinterprets museum period rooms. I am intrigued by the concept of the period room yet find they are impersonal and distant – access is often limited, spaces roped off and objects are contained in bonnets. In my exhibition, each room has a specific theme and explores certain cultural traditions, but you are able to walk through, look at the objects closely and experience different rooms in relation to one another. The site of Sala Diaz is charged because it is a home converted into gallery. In homes, people display their personal collections and trophies, I’m referencing a certain group of people who have the ability to travel and potentially bring home a souvenir.

It’s easiest to think about the installation in terms of the four rooms. The first room is the exterior, the ‘garden room’ that includes hand-embroidered tapestries, hand painted wallpaper, tiles, and vessels inspired by fountains, stupa, and bushes. The second room, ‘the black and white’ room represents the interior of the pavilion. This room includes digitally printed wallpaper, hand painted carpet, tiles, and tulipieres. This room explores the idea of wealth through using the tulip as motif and symbol of cultural interaction and value. The third room is a hallway that includes digitally printed wallpaper and modest sized objects. This hallway focuses on the ogival pattern, which was one of the first ‘international’ patterns that was adopted and adapted by every culture it reached. Finally, the bathroom is an installation of an abundance of coins.  This rooms confronts that consumer aspect of travel and the difficulty of truly experiencing a culture, it questions the authentic experience.

What initially drew you to ceramics?

Honestly, it goes back to when I first discovered art and was frustrated that I couldn’t draw realistically. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what clay should be; therefore I had complete freedom to make anything. But gradually after working with it, I became obsessed with the physicality of the material and clay’s long history. When I look at historic pots, I am overwhelmed with the life and aura of the object. Personally I believe that pots capture a specific time, place, and spirit more so than other mediums. Clay is universal; every culture has used it and intimately shaped it by hand to maintain a critical place in everyday life.

It seems the vase, in particular, has been your muse. Can you explain some of the forms we can expect to see in Mock Pavilion?

The vase is definitely my muse and the form I have been exploring my entire career. My pots are no longer functional; they are contemplative objects that are meant to be looked at. I have been recently removing their possible function by leaving out the bottom or making the interior inaccessible. For me a vessel, doesn’t have to contain water or food but can contain ideas and metaphors.

In Mock Pavilion, you will see tulipieres, fountain/stupa hybrids, floral/bush pots, and traditional pottery shapes. Tulipieres are a Dutch form that were made to display wealth and status through displaying one’s tulip collection. They range in size and decoration but include multiple spouts to display these precious flowers. The fountain/stupa hybrids are inspired by the sensory effect of the sound of water and stupas as a place for pilgrimage and meditation. In the ogival hallway, there will be a bunch of traditional pottery shapes that come from each culture that reinterpreted the ogival pattern. They will be decorated with idiosyncratic technique I saw at the Topkapi Palace. The Turkish had an affinity for Chinese ceramics and they collected them in mass. They basically bedazzled some of the pieces with gems and gold to combine their two aesthetics, it was super strange and captivating to see these objects.

Can you describe your process for us?

I see my process as a duality of loose and tight, quick and slow, planned and intuitive. When creating forms, I begin by making drawings, sketches, and tests, a potential plan. But once I actually start working with clay my intuition kicks in and I move into a more meditative state of making. If my planned forms begin to change direction, I let it and the evolution happens on its own.

I work with clay and glaze, quickly and intuitively; I consider this the loose aspect of my process. I juxtapose this against other mediums that require a different approach, more time intensive and tedious tasks like making coins, painting tiles, and hand embroidering tapestries. These are repetitive motions that take months to make. I am interested in how we are able to digest different works of art through time and labor.

You've acknowledged wide-ranging cultural influences — from Spanish prints, to Middle Eastern temples, and European palaces.  Can you explain how you bring them together conceptually?

I like to think of my work as being more diverse than I am. This cultural mixing is happening due to the Internet, travel, globalization, and multi-faceted identities. I am depicting some accurate historic events where patterns and art objects have been traded and reinterpreted. I am also interested in fiction and how I have the freedom to create my own story and connections between cultures.

The work for me is a response to my experience exploring foreign cultures, being overwhelmed with beauty, and expanding my perspective. I recognize my place as a middle class white woman who has the privilege of traveling yet I accept the inherent problems of truly experiencing culture. I approach these experiences from a place of appreciation.

You have a particular painterly style of glazing your pots, its gestural, soft, and colorful.  Can you explain your pallet and style of glazing to us?

My glazing style and palette is centered on beauty and sensuality. I want my glazes to produce a physical sensation and to captivate my audience with the thick, juicy, and luscious quality of the material. I love both extremely bold and subtle finishes and color combinations. I try to encapsulate a wide range of surfaces like glossy, satin, and matte. I do both tight patterning and loose gestural painting. I love when my glazes move and melt in unexpected ways; this is a way to create visual movement and energy on the surface of my pieces.

My primary glaze is called majolica; it is a historic Italian glaze that was meant to hide the red clay and to trick people into thinking it was refined porcelain. This is a material of mimicry and I am often borrowing outside cultural patterns, symbols, and aesthetics.

What has the Black Cube fellowship experience been like so far?

It has been great! The show is about a month away so I am currently in production mode painting tiles, wallpaper, and making coins. Black Cube has given me the opportunity to explore processes and materials that I haven’t been able to in the past. I finally have the opportunity to design and get wallpaper digitally printed; it’s these new ways of working that will push my work towards more immersive environments.

Through the fellowship program, I have been able to get killer images of my work, refine my website, and round up my practice as a whole. We are also developing a future plan by applying to short term national and international residencies and securing local Denver shows.


New Year, New Artists, + More Black Cube: Interview with Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director of Black Cube

Written by Black Cube

January 29.16

We interviewed Black Cube Executive Director Cortney Stell to get the inside scoop on the 2016 class of Artist Fellows. This is what she told us.

How many artists will participate in the Artist Fellowship for 2016?

Black Cube is moving forward with six Artists Fellows for 2016. Last year, we worked with three artist fellows to produce three pop up exhibitions in three months. While it was an exciting three months, we felt it was a bit too condensed. This year, we want to give the pop up exhibitions more breathing room. It’s a delicate balance.

Are there any other changes as you go into your first full year?

This year we are experimenting with producing exhibitions outside of Colorado, working with outside curators, and working with several fellows on one larger pop up.. While Black Cube is still relatively new, I think it’s important to experiment to see what excites and engages people.

How are the Artist Fellows chosen?

The artist selection process is a more-traditional curatorial process. Its based on research, input and thoughts from artists and art professionals, participation in the community, and checking all of that against the roster we have built thus far. After artists are identified, I conduct studio visits with them to make sure they are a good fit for our program (meaning that they are at the point of their career in which we can help them develop and also that they have exceptional ideas for a site-specific project). Once I think the artist is a good fit, they are asked to submit a proposal for a pop up exhibition and respond to a few questions about the nature of their practice, goals etc. 

I should also mention that this year, Black Cube is working with an outside curator, Laurie Britton Newell, who selected three of our Artist Fellows. I’m excited to bring in additional curatorial voices to help diversify the artist selections. So, all in, this year I selected three fellows and Laurie selected three as well.

Who are the Black Cube Fellows for 2016?

The six fellows are composed of six individual artists and one artist duo. Half of them are Colorado-based and the other half are National/International (this is a very intentional decision).

Molly BergerDenver, Colorado. Molly was selected by our Gold Hill Arts Project curator, Laurie Britton Newell. Molly recently completed a residency at Anderson Ranch. She largely works in ceramics and concepts of memory. 

Jon P. Geiger – Detroit, Michigan. Jon is an artist that I have had my eye on for a while—he has a keen sense of material and the formal aspects of sculpture. I’m excited to work with Jon on a project stretching his knowledge and material-base.  

Stephanie Kantor – Denver, Colorado. I came across Stephanie’s work while juroring the CU Boulder King Awards last year. Steph is prolific and has a very developed voice. I am really looking forward to working with her on Black Cube's first pop up outside of Colorado. Steph’s pop up will be in March in San Antonio. 

Jennifer Ling Datchuk – San Antonio, Texas. Jennifer was also selected by our Gold Hill Arts Project curator, Laurie. This is a big year for Jennifer as she is about to take off for a residency in Berlin and then will dive right into the Gold Hill Art Project when she returns.   

SANGREE – Mexico City, Mexico. SANGREE is a collaboration between René Godínez Pozas and Carlos Lara, both of Mexico City. These guys produce work that engages concepts such as anthropology, consumer culture, and Land Art. I find their work sharp, witty, and stunningly executed. I’m super eager to see what they come up with for Black Cube.

Eric Stewart – Boulder, Colorado. Eric is the last of three artists selected by Laurie. Eric is a photographer and filmmaker. Influenced by other Boulder experimental filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage, Eric is interested in the camera as an experimental tool and less for its documentation abilities.

Are there any themes that connect this year’s Artist Fellows?

This year’s artist fellows are all engaging the concept of the earth, or ground, in some way. These terrestrial investigations include mining town interventions, an earthwork, a neon tumbleweed sculpture, and an immersive ceramic installation, to name a few. Some pop up exhibitions are more developed than others right now… the public can expect to hear about Steph’s project in the next few weeks as we begin to roll out press for her March San Antonio exhibition, ‘Mock Pavilion.’



Anagrama, On Building the Black Cube Identity

Written by Black Cube

December 16.15

Can you introduce us to Anagrama? Where are you based? What is the studio's design sensibilities? We’re a multidisciplinary agency established in Mexico. We have offices in Monterrey and Mexico City working with projects all around the world. The studio specializes in the creation of captivating experiences throughout diverse brand contact points including identity creation, brand application development, architecture, interior design, and interactive experiences. What is the most important aspect of building a brand identity? First of all, we need to understand the message that we want to communicate across the brand and how it conveys with the company’s offering. We then get a grasp of what our main business objectives are and the project attributes that we can highlight. In the end, the most important aspect is maintaining consistency throughout the brand. What was the inspiration behind the Black Cube brand? To create a brand that would speak about art in a modern and timeless way. We wanted Black Cube to stand out with its unique mobile and flexible concept so we could establish a direct day-to-day dialogue between art, the artist, and the spectator. What is your favorite aspect of the Black Cube brand? The typographic component, icon treatment, and wordmark create a visual system that embraces the concept and unifies the elements in a neutral and harmonic way. What is your favorite aspect of the Black Cube website? As with our branding, within our web design we look to generate experiences. Our favorite part from this website is how it finds balance between something simple like a monochromatic color palette and some elements of surprise such as the holographic foil and dynamic texts that make the website a different experience that stands out among any other website in that same industry. Whats next for Anagrama? Continue contributing to the world with enriching cultural experiences expressed through our work. We want to keep creating, designing and learning from each of the incredible projects & clients that come in contact with our studio.

Interview with Artist Fellow, Derrick Velasquez

Written by Black Cube

December 03.15

Black Cube: Tell us a bit about the kind of art you make. Derrick Velasquez: I run a diverse practice that allows fluid materials and media to execute my work. Typically, this comes out in sculptural form but I also do a bit of photography, mark making, and wall mounted pieces. BC: What is the most consistent material, concept, or approach in your practice? DV: I have always dealt with physical and metaphorical ideas of structure - how one object or entity is or is not held together by another. The body is a great example of a physical structure that amazes me as well as the way our government and its agencies manage to function as they do. BC: What are you making for your Black Cube pop up exhibition? DV: I've made an out of proportion (taller than wide) condo building that exposes the cheap bones of the structure. Instead of finishing the exterior, I've made custom trim molding from French and Moroccan motifs and tacked them to the outside. I hope this comes off as an anachronistic absurdity but still exposes the flimsiness of the materials. BC: What is the inspiration behind your Black Cube project? DV: My inspiration is the sensation of looking up. In New York City you get cavernous views of skyscrapers that give a sense of business and energy. In Denver I'm beginning to see the condos going up at an alarming rate. While I understand the influx of people moving here, the aesthetics of their housing is really bottom of the barrel. I'm talking about the aesthetics of their crap box condos, OSB, Tyvek, and the same bland and uninteresting colors. BC: Can you tell us a little bit about your pop up exhibition site, The Stanley Marketplace? DV: The Stanley Marketplace seems like a place that has, is and will be incredible throughout its lifetime. To think about the amount of machinery and production in that building over the years as an aviation business is incredible. I've worked in factories before and they are completely fascinating to me. To now see it almost completely empty is something that you don't see very often in Denver right now. With more people moving here and the Marijuana business booming, you will almost never see a building that has this much character and history ever again. I can't wait to see it bustling with energy again in this very funky area of Aurora. That it lies on the border of a few different city municipalities with different demographics and motives seems like the perfect fit for my piece. BC: What did you produce for the Black Cube Art Object program? DV: I made two art objects. First I made a custom design lapel pin that can be worn on a jacket or put on a bag. This design references the second object, a small 6 x 6 x 6 in cube that has trim molding on all of its faces. These are painted a few different colors. The colors are based off research done in the colors they are painting all of the buildings going up in Denver. BC: Whats up next for you? DV: I have work up in Miami for Art Basel through my Denver gallery Robischon. I'm expecting to have a solo show there next year as well as curate a small show at RedLine next year. Other than that, continuing to try to crush it in the studio and take what I've learned from New Brutal to expand on these ideas.
Derrick Velasquez and New Brutal

Interview with Artist Fellow, Chad Person

Written by Black Cube

October 26.15

Black Cube: How would you describe your art practice? Chad Person: I think of myself as a maker. I love to learn, discover, and relate to the world using visual language. It's a labor job, guided by curiosity and intellectual pursuit, but labor nonetheless. My 'practice' takes many forms, and has evolved with my ideas. The current work is from a body of work that has been growing over the past ten or so years. To date, this is the largest and most ambitious inflatable sculpture I've produced. BC: Can you describe your first inflatable sculpture and how you came to the concept? CP: That would be 'Ozymandias Weeps.' It came to me like a vision. I had been spending time making 16mm footage of a dying shopping mall, and I pictured this gigantic sobbing big boy, defeated and mourning his lot in life at the food court. He's pretty true to the original picture in my mind. The use of the advertising inflatable as an art form perfectly echoed the message I was trying to convey. BC:What is the process for making an inflatable sculpture? CP: Since most of my practice revolved around 2D work, figuring out how to produce a sculpture of that scale on a tiny budget was a fun problem. I began with my camera. I’d photograph toys or models and manipulate the images digitally to get the concept down. But, with no experience building advertising inflatables, I knew I could execute without a fabricator. Fortunately, I was able to locate and contract some amazing fabricators in India, I've worked with the same group on every piece to date. I send them photos of each angle of my models. From those, they build a clay model and send back their own photos. We usually go back and forth with a series of alterations to accommodate my designs or the engineering challenges of the material. Ultimately that clay model is scanned and used to cut the vinyl. With this piece I started by building a 3D for the composition, and sent a 3D print for them to work with. It's a great process, and remarkably attainable considering the scale of these works. The Internet destroys those barriers and makes work like this possible for an emerging artist. BC:What is the concept behind the Black Cube project the 'Prospector'? CP: The Prospector is a monument to hope, a beacon of progress, and a harbinger of the fragility of economic upturns. Motivated by the dream of excessive gains, prospectors stake a claim and get to work. The process isn’t always pretty, and more lose than succeed. In the end, the rush ends and many picks are retired. Modern prospectors wield keyboards, 3D printers and engineering skills. As an artist and technologist, I'm staking my own prosperity on the dream of prosperity. Only time will tell who wins and loses.
artist fellow, Chad Person, and volunteer, Robert, unrolling the Prospector

Interview with Artist Fellow, Desirée Holman

Written by Black Cube

September 29.15

Black Cube: What was your inspiration for this work? DH: Desirée Holman: My original inspiration came from an interest in analyzing the symbolic meaning behind the image of the extra terrestrial and how that figure has changed over time. Since this project has been percolating and evolving for four years, there are actually multiple inspiration points. Today, my inspiration is the cast with which I have the fortune to work. For Sophont in Action at Red Rocks, we have cast the performance from the local population, from Denver to Boulder to Aurora to Colorado Springs. They are a wonderfully eclectic and adventurous group who are intriguing to witness as a group. The choreographer, Patrick Mueller of Control Group Productions, is doing an amazing job working with them. BC: How many times have you performed this work? And is each iteration different? DH: Each and every iteration of the work is quite unique— both site-generated and site-specific. In June 2013, I directed a related performance called The Indigo and The Ecstatic: A Motion to the Future at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Technically, the Red Rocks site will be the second performance of Sophont in Action. The first happened at an art museum and wildlife preserve, diRosa, in Napa, CA. It was a very different set up and landscape. Sophont in Action at Red Rocks will be unlike anything else before or after. BC: What can we expect to see at Sophont in Action at Red Rocks? DH: First and foremost, please stop and notice the utter awesomeness of the ancient landscape that surrounds you at Red Rocks. As you enter the Trading Post area, you can expect to encounter a suite of costumed character types engaged in live performance. Guide characters will interact and lead you, while the other characters, Time Travelers, Ecstatic Dancers, and Indigo Children, will engage in movement closely linked to the monumental video projections on Frog Rock, a nearby massive rock formation. You will also hear an amazing sound scape, part of which was composed by Angel Deradoorian of Los Angeles. If you arrive right at 7p.m. sharp (highly recommended), when the performance begins, you will have the fortune to witness the shifting twilight and the rise of the darkness and projected image on the rocks. BC: Why did you select the Red Rocks site? DH: Staging at Red Rocks was Cortney Stell’s idea. I had never actually been there before. It wasn’t a hard sell, to say the least. It’s an exquisite location to have the fortune to execute a project on this scale. The monumental nature of site begins to puts the human body in perspective and in a receptive state, hopefully ripe for a powerful art experience. Thematically, I’m also excited about the relationship of these characters to the Earth. The Red Rocks area is considered by some to be a mystical vortex site, which synchs perfectly with the theme of techno-spirituality that is embedded in the work. BC: How does this artwork reflect on who you are as an artist? DH: To be clear, the work is neither autobiographical nor made from the first-person perspective. That said, there are certainly aspects of my local color in the project’s themes. Across all of my work, I tend to produce art that is inspired by various cultural niches and bays. Living in the Bay Area, I am surrounded by technology culture as well as New Age and occult ideology. BC: Why did you decide to be an artist? DH: Around 19, I had the opportunity to learn about contemporary art and began to engage with it with some zeal, I realized that it harmonized perfectly with how I thought and desired to live my live. I don’t know if I decided to be an artist as much as I discovered that I am an artist. BC: Why did you decide to become a Black Cube artist fellow? DH: This is an incredible opportunity to create an once-in-a-lifetime project, work with the amazing Cortney Stell and be a part of this shape-shifting museum. What is there to consider? BC: What is the biggest challenge you think artists face today? DH: The biggest challenge artists face is financial support, especially if they are not creating discrete, collectable objet d’arts. Of course, the broader culture is also mired in radical inequality, especially if you are poor and/or a person of color and/or non-cis gendered.
Photo credit: MJ Bernier

W.A.G.E-ing Our Love for Artists

Written by Black Cube

August 31.15

Black Cube has officially been granted pending certification status by the New York-based organization, Working Artists and the Greater Economy, known as W.A.G.E. As a W.A.G.E. Certified organization, we agree to fair compensation for artist projects. All organizations are technically “pending” for their first year until they are able to prove that they have paid fair wages for that year. Why? Because it’s the honest and fair thing to do. As you may know, Black Cube upholds the belief that art is an essential part of a vibrant, just, and healthy society…and, this starts with the artists themselves. Black Cube strives to help artists realize the value of their work and to develop sustainable practices. Thus, W.A.G.E. certification is a no-brainer. On average, the majority (about 58.4%) of artist respondents to the W.A.G.E. survey said they did not receive any form of compensation or expenses covered for exhibitions they participated in. This is ridiculous. Seriously. At Black Cube, we are very happy to be the first institution in the western region (besides California) to be recognized and supported by W.A.G.E., and we hope other art institutions will follow suite and make the pledge to fairly compensate artists for their hard work. Black Cube will continue to advocate and bring much-needed attention to the economic inequalities artists are faced with daily, and through this, we hope to inspire change in the greater cultural economy. For more details, check out our recent announcement on the W.A.G.E. website as well as more info on their certification background!

New Cube on the Block

Written by Black Cube

August 30.15

Black Cube would like to introduce you to the newest member of our family, the Black Cube shipping container. As a nomadic contemporary art museum, this shipping container accommodates our unique, mobile contemporary art exhibition model. The shipping container will be present at our 2015 pop up exhibitions and will house our Art Objects – one-of-a-kind items created by our artist fellows that are for sale to the public. Black Cube’s executive director and chief curator, Cortney Stell was inspired by the illy pop-up coffee shop she saw in the Giardini at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Inspiration was also found by Cortney’s friend and curator Carson Chan, who shares similar views about exhibition spaces and experimental architecture. The realization and construction of the Black Cube shipping container has to be credited to Joe Riché and his team of fabricators at Demiurge Sculptural Fabrication – an extraordinary art fabrication company based in Denver. Joe and his team built the Black Cube container by cutting a 20’ shipping container in half. From there they outfitted the space with drywall plywood-backed walls, the same quality that one would expect in any art space. From exhibition space to museum shop, the Black Cube shipping container is a multifaceted, movable space that will soon be coming to a block near you. Get excited. Find out where the Black Cube shipping container will be next on our pop up exhibitions page.

Black Cube shipping container build Black Cube shipping container interior Shipping Container chat w/ Joe from Demiurge Black Cube shipping container Demiurge build

Hello From Black Cube

Written by Black Cube

July 23.15

We are Black Cube. Welcome to the new nomadic contemporary art museum… where white walls and gallery space are no longer required where art seeks out the public instead of the public having to seek out art where artists’ conceptual ideas are the basis for EVERYTHING where art appears in uncommon, unusual and sometimes everyday places where artists can build sustainable careers doing what they love where everything you knew about the “conventional” art world is tossed aside Experience the art of today through a nomadic contemporary art museum that not only increases access to contemporary art, but simultaneously supports artists’ careers. Founded by artist and philanthropist Laura Merage, and operated by executive director and chief curator, Cortney L. Stell, Black Cube operates outside the boundaries of a physical building. We begin by asking our artist fellows to think of an ambitious site-specific project. Our only limits are the project must be feasible, accessible, interesting, and ambitious enough to help move the artist’s career. From there, we explore the production of an affordable artwork (which we call Art Objects) for our shop. This helps artists experiment with new markets and ways to diversify their income. We want to eliminate the need for artists to wait tables and spend time doing things that don’t relate to their practice or creative output. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we work with artists to set achievable goals for their practice and help them to accomplish those goals. We want to work with artists in a holistic way; after all, what is a museum without artists?! Our hope is that these pop up exhibitions expose a wide range of audiences who might not regularly find themselves in artistic atmospheres to contemporary art. The scale, nontraditional location, and ongoing commitment of Black Cube to each individual project underscore the dynamic of our continually evolving spirit – the spirit of building larger audiences for the art of our time. Welcome to Black Cube. Welcome to the new age of contemporary art. Engage with us