An Interview with Amber Cobb — Written by Livy Snyder
Talk With Your Mouth Full is an artist-centric community program comprised of monthly brunches intended to connect artists in the Colorado region. Each month over brunch, we invite an artist to speak about their practice or pose a timely art-related topic for discussion. This program provides emerging, mid-career, and established artists an opportunity to meet one another and talk about challenges or current issues that relate to their art practice in a convivial, food-filled setting.
Livy Snyder: Amber, you participated in Black Cube’s first Talk With Your Mouth Full artist brunch. Can you share some of the questions you posed to the group, and why?
Amber Cobb: Talk With Your Mouth Full created a safe space for an artist like myself to open up to the community and ask for advice on elements of my practice, which I often do not want to admit while chatting at a gallery or exhibition. The first question I posed—“How to avoid physical and financial burnout?”—made me nervous, as I self-revealed the struggles I am facing as I move forward in my career. Last year was a stellar year for my career with multiple exhibitions nationally and internationally. But, towards the end, I struggled to keep up physically and my financial situation is less than ideal. I wanted to know how others weigh out and compare the risks we face as artists to the potential outcome of an opportunity or exhibition. I also wanted to know how much risk others take and selfishly, I wanted to know if others are just as risky and crazy as myself.
In early 2018, this article floated around on social media within our community and resurfaced during Margaret Nueman’s artist talk at RedLine later in the year. Should an artist work a day job? I debate this question with myself often. Balancing a full-time job while focusing on my practice is a struggle. If I’m am ever one of the lucky few who can make art full-time, then how would that alter my work? What would I lose and gain if my practice becomes my paycheck
LS: Did you find that other artists related to the questions you posed?
AC: Yes. Many of the artists thanked me for being honest and vulnerable. The conversations allowed us to open up and tear down the façade we often see via social media.
LS: As an artist living in Denver, what is the biggest hurdle in connecting with the cultural community?
AC: My hurdle is keeping up with all the exhibitions, lectures, talks, and conversations while maintaining my job, practice, and personal life. The Denver art community is growing and I often feel torn as I try to do it all. I also want to have genuine conversations and be actively engaged in the community—not just show up and show face
LS: You selected hot dogs for the brunch menu. There seem to be parallels between the slippery sexuality of a hot dog and your interest in soft and sexual forms in your practice. Why did you select them for brunch?
AC: Ha! I’m glad you noticed ; )Well, I’m not going to lie, I actually love hot dogs. I was recently roasted for this by a fellow faculty member at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design (RMCAD) when they introduced me before a lecture on campus. He had stopped by my office multiple times in the morning and each time I happened to be eating a hotdog for breakfast.
However, there is more to the hotdog for breakfast request. My work, at times, can be tragic and heavy, yet attractive and sensual. There is also a bit of humor as I navigate conversations relating to the body and sexuality.
LS: What is it about food that brings people together? Did the food change the tone of the conversation?
AC: I remember when I was just started to get involved in the art community in Denver. I felt intimidated at openings, even awkward when approaching artists and curators I admired from afar. I think the hotdogs broke down the hierarchy making myself more approachable. Or at least it was an easy conversation starter.
LS: During the brunch, you shared your struggles about breaking through the “slow” periods in your practice. What do your slow periods look like? Did you hear any helpful advice from other artists in the community?
AC: My slow periods are full of uncertainty as I experiment with new ideas, materials, and processes. I lose my confidence a bit and honestly make some really bad decisions that I call “Art Farts.” I can’t say anyone has offered advice that I could follow, it just really helps to hear others admit and talk about the same struggle.
LS: You were also curious about financial sustainability and how working a day job might actually help one’s art practice. Can you comment further about your own experience?
AC: I feel incredibly lucky to teach fulltime at RMCAD. My students inspire me and I learn so much from them as they figure out who they are as artists. The advice I give them as they face the fear of a blank page or start to create a body of work through more intensive research is also a reminder to myself. Sometimes I get caught up in the physical production and administrative side of my practice and begin to feel a little lost and like I’m failing to keep the conceptual process on the same path and trajectory. I find myself giving assignments I need to give myself. Teaching also makes me a better, more informed viewer because it is necessary for me to stay on top of conversations happening outside my own practice. My work can be an emotional burden as I often dive deep into psychological aspects. My day job allows me to have a break and feel less crazy and more balanced. While I find myself overworked and exhausted, it forces me to be more responsible with my time and create situations to focus deeply without distractions
LS: What was the most influential feedback you received from other artists during the brunch?
AC: The most influential element of the brunch was really the laughter and the feeling of being supported by my community. Laughing together as we shared stories of mistakes reiterated that failure is just an experience and can become an incredible step to moving forward.
LS: Do you think these brunches have the ability to create a stronger community amongst the artists in Denver?
AC: Yes! I love that the brunch created a safe space to be real and genuine. It's hard to admit the struggles you are feeling when chatting in a white cube full of finished works. I loved meeting new artists and having more in-depth conversations rather than the usual “What is next for you? When is your next show?”. The dialog we have at openings gets repetitive, the questions at the brunch push the conversations to be more conducive and reveal another side of an art practice we often face alone.
An Interview with Alum Jon Geiger — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: Tell us about your exhibition Valley Boy.
Jon Geiger: Valley Boy consists of 35 new works arranged within the gallery as stand-ins for aspects of the San Luis Valley landscape - there is the valley floor (Boulders & Blossoms), the mountain (The Approach), the horizon (Hondo Condo #1-3), and the human element (Barometer II). The exhibition continues my interest in reacting to both physical and meditative landscapes and features some new departures as well as new editions to some ongoing series such as the Blossoms and Barometer II.
BC: This exhibition is a Black Cube alumni project, can you tell us a bit about your Black Cube fellowship work and how this project relates (or differs) from it?
JG: During my fellowship I created a piece known as ROAM, a 26 foot long neon billboard like structure with five neon tumbleweed forms - illuminated individually to create a perpetual rolling motion. The piece traveled to 5 locations within the state of Colorado and existed on rooftops, parks, next to roads, and parking lots. Like Valley Boy, this work pulls from certain Western icons and is largely influenced by experiences with the landscape. ROAM largely differs from the work in Valley Boy from its process (digitally rendered and outsourced) as well as its use of specific icons such as neon, the tumbleweed, and the billboard. I’d say that since making ROAM two years ago, that my work has shifted to a more abstracted approach to my subject matter. The ROAM is directly related though to a piece in the exhibition titled The Approach. Which is built to the same dimensions as ROAM in order to “feel” a similar sensation to creating a piece I did not physically fabricate.
BC: How did you come to the exhibition title?
JG: Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure how and when I settled on the title and that is often the case for me. It just tends to be this moment and I write it down and that’s what it is. It may of come from the fact that my nickname around the house is Jonboy...
BC: This exhibition is a deconstructed landscape, specifically the San Luis Valley landscape. Can you tell us about how the landscape is deconstructed? What elements of the landscape are you considering here?
JG: So the exhibition is broken down into four major components - the valley floor, the mountain, the horizon, and the human element. In the center of the gallery exist the valley floor in the form of a 12’ x 10’ stepped pedestal ranging from 16” to 32” in height. The pedestal houses thirty ceramic pieces titled Boulders & Blossoms that are abstractions of rock formations and a pencil cactus that resides in my house. The mountains of the SLV are reflected in the piece, The Approach, which similarly erects itself directly from the ground - the patterns and shapes cut out of the stretched wool reflect the boulder fields found above the tree line of SLV’s Mount Blanca.
Hondo Condo# 1 -3 are stand-ins for the horizon line and open sky. They consist of 3 separate sheets of steel with ceramic magnets holding up collages of cloud formations seen in the valley. These works are larger additions of smaller circular pieces I made earlier this year called Hondo Tondo. Hondo within both titles pays homage to an iconic character with said name played by the infamous John Wayne. In the case of the new works, “Condo” refers to Denver’s changing skyline and the shifting I have witnessed over the course of 6 years returning to visit the state. Lastly Barometer II represents the human element. For me in particular I’m pulling from aspects of human involvement that almost blends in with the landscape, i.e. telephone poles, windmills, transformers, windsocks, and antennas. I see Barometer II acting as two lighting rods within the setting - in part as homage to the heavy summer lighting that occurs in the valley.
BC: Can you tell us about the San Luis Valley and your connection to it?
JG: I’ve come to refer to the valley as my adopted home, in large part because my family relocated there on the tail end of completing high school. Having then shortly moved away to go to college, the valley existed in the odd space of familiar but disconnected. Spending a few summers working in the valley and returning for family affairs over time, my connection to the region became much deeper. And, when asked by Black Cube to do a follow up exhibition reflecting on my fellowship I felt focusing my attention to this region of the state was the right avenue to explore.
BC: Do you consider your work sculptural? How do you position it within the field of contemporary art?
JG: I guess so, it certainly doesn’t fall within the traditional functional category associated with ceramics. But really it depends on the work. For example, I obviously see works such as Barometer II existing within the realm of sculpture but the Hondo Condo’s (and previously the Hondo Tondo’s) I tend to label and approach them as collages.
BC: Can you describe your studio?
JG: 3 years ago my wife, Lindsey Dezman, and I bought a house in the Detroit area and expanded the back of our 2 car garage to create a 600 sq ft shared ceramic studio. We also put together a small woodshop in our basement and between both sites have nearly everything we need either in our backyard or in the basement of house. With us both working full time, having the studio so close has allowed us to keep chipping away on projects and make new work for upcoming shows.
BC: Name the most memorable exhibition that you’ve attended.
JG: It’s a bit too hard to pin down one exhibition, but I will say visiting the Louisiana Museum in Denmark, the DIA Beacon, and Walter de Maria’s lightning field have all been very influential art viewing experiences for me.
BC: Aside from the visual arts, what motivates your practice?
JG: I’d have to say my wife Lindsey – it’s a real pleasure and treat to be married to a fellow maker and artist. She is constantly challenging me and pushing me to make new work and certainly keeps me on track when I have big deadlines coming up! And when you have someone equally motivated to make, getting in the studio is not too hard.
BC: What do you watch and/or listen to while working?
JG: I can’t watch anything while working aside from our garden and what else is outside the studio windows. Listening wise I tend to either have some music playing or go without depending upon the mood. Lately it has been Mac Demarco and Yellow Days with some old folk thrown in between. If all else fails, I’ll have good ol NPR streaming.
Drive-In: House of Cars
Interviews with Participating Artists — Written by Black Cube
Drive-In: House of Cars is the third exhibition in a series that employs vehicles as a basis for experimental contemporary art. Titled after a 2010 exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. “House of Cars: Innovation and the Parking Garage,” this exhibition reimagines the parking garage as a venue for contemporary art. In preparation for the exhibition this Saturday, we interviewed some of the participating artists (Christopher Coleman, Joseph Coniff, Megan Gafford, Jaimie Henthorn, Marsha Mack, and Sophie Lynn Morris) to get their take on the project as a whole and their work within it. Back Cube: What will you be showing for the coming Drive-In: House of Cars exhibition?
Christopher Coleman: My Subaru Outback featuring EyeSight® Technology will be “Disney-fied” with a pair of giant eyes in the windshield that will track and follow everyone who walks by. The eyes will react differently with different numbers of people, which relates to how the car might deal with the moral quandary of the Trolley Problem. Our technologies are making their way into our lives by pretending to be childlike, obedient, and helpful – all while making decisions for us that can change, and even end, our existence.
BC: How did you approach the curatorial challenge of using a vehicle for an artwork?
CC: Even though my car is a very practical and common vehicle, I was still able to draw inspiration from it regarding a topic that I care about – namely, ethics in technology. I was especially inspired by the way the other artists in the group were talking about their projects, and so I thought back to my personal fascinations with my car when I first bought it; fully loaded with the best computer vision and driving assistance that 2015 had to offer. Realizing that my car now had a pair of cameras and a computer that had control over my gas and brake pedals, in addition to giving me advice about lane drifting and obstacles was mind-bending. I quickly understood how its helpfulness and gentle braking nudges were just small steps into a future where my car will have complete control.
BC: How do you think experimental exhibition opportunities, such as this one, relate to your larger practice?
CC: Time and time again, I have seen that in the midst of doing months or even years-long projects, I need quicker and more "out of comfort zone" projects to assure I remain nimble in my practice. More importantly, these quick experiments often evolve into longer-term artworks in the future. Of course, they might also be tests for directions I will never take, but needed to express in order to fully understand the impulse and inspiration.
Black Cube: What will you be showing for the coming Drive-In: House of Cars exhibition?
Joseph Coniff: A 1925 Ford Model T pickup truck featuring a 60in television nestled in the bed of the truck. The television will be looping a sound filled video made up of appropriated content from 2018 Ford Truck television advertisements.
BC: How did you approach the curatorial challenge of using a vehicle for an artwork?
JC: 2025 will mark the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Ford pickup truck. Ford introduced their first truck model in 1925. For this exhibition, I'm interested in the evolution of the automobile. Automobiles are key fixtures in our western way of life and hold within them an enormous amount of information as to who we were and to a large extent who we will become. Automobiles are mobile indicators of class, personal advertisements, and to many – a direct extension of identity. I feel a critical look at these objects is important. By analyzing their impact, we’re able to gain a greater understanding of who we are and how we're evolving as a species.
BC: How do you think experimental exhibition opportunities, such as this one, relate to your larger practice?
JC: Generally, I work as a studio artist – creating paintings, sculpture, and works on paper. This exhibition provides a chance for me to convey some of my interests (cultural evolution, conditioning, history of materials and objects) in different forms than what usually emerge from my studio. One of the aspects of art making I enjoy most is the challenge of relaying ideas into form. The Drive-In exhibition has offered a different set of criteria for me to work with. I’ve enjoyed being taken out of my norm and feel experimental exhibitions like this one are important for artists growth.
Black Cube: What will you be showing for the coming Drive-In: House of Cars exhibition?
Megan Gafford: I’ll be filling a parking space with dirt and planting daisies in it, so that the flowers are arranged from living to dying to dead. The daisy patch will be a gradient, from lush to withered. In this way, a resting place for cars will resemble a resting place for people, who push up daisies from the grave. This piece is titled after a poem that I became preoccupied with after I was hit by a car, “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver. In it she writes, “I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular.”
BC: How did you approach the curatorial challenge of using a vehicle for an artwork?
MG: I chose not to use a vehicle, although perhaps something like the ghost of a car hovers around the artwork. Instead, I used the preoccupations with mortality that vehicles give me to make this piece. My car accident was a lesson in vulnerability at a young age, when death had seemed so far away. Sometimes I’ll try to imagine what it’s like to cease existing and it makes me feel sick, like the blood in my veins is flowing backwards. To me, vehicles in city streets are omnipresent reminders that death may come at any time.
BC: How do you think experimental exhibition opportunities, such as this one, relate to your larger practice?
MG: The daisy plants in this exhibition are from my larger practice, from an artwork titled Pushing Daisies. For that series of sculptures, I’m dosing daisy seeds with radiation to grow mutant flowers like those found near the Fukushima disaster site, which resembled caterpillars or conjoined twins. They reminded me of the infamous campaign ad from President Lyndon Johnson of a little girl counting daisy petals until a nuclear explosion engulfs the TV screen. The cartoonish and childlike daisy is a potent symbol of innocence, or in this case, innocence corrupted. I encapsulate my mutant daisies in resin and glass to preserve them as sculptures that beautify these chilling associations, mingling elegance with eeriness.
As Susan Sontag put it, there was a "...trauma suffered by everyone in the middle of the 20th century when it became clear that from now on to the end of human history, every person would spend his individual life not only under the threat of individual death, which is certain, but of something almost unsupportable psychologically -- collective incineration and extinction which could come any time, virtually without warning."
Both Pushing Daisies and When Death Comes are largely inspired by the fear of death. I resent my mortality for all of the books I’ll never read and the films I’ll never see, for the places I’ll never visit and the events I’ll never experience, for the artwork I’ll never make and the words I’ll never write, for the people I’ll never see again and the ones I leave behind.
Black Cube: What will you be showing for the coming Drive-In: House of Cars exhibition?
Jaimie Henthorn: A 1967 Mercury Monterey will be the site for a Butoh-influenced performance. The Mercury is situated within the context of the parking lot, which is positioned within the larger context of Denver. Paradise was paved for a parking lot and now parking lots are raised for gentrified living. The performance considers Denver’s rapid growth as it is architecturally and socially being demolished and transformed. The 1967 Mercury is a reminder of an era now gone, and the macabre Japanese dance form of Butoh speaks to the hard emotions and realities of this rapid change.
BC: How did you approach the curatorial challenge of using a vehicle for an artwork?
JH: My work is a performative interplay between architecture and the moving human body. Always site specific, the architecture is the starting point of every piece. And so, the parking lot informed all of my decisions. The two-story parking lot inspired the work's theme – the phenomena of Denver parking lots being sold to developers. The car and the performance developed from there.
BC: How do you think experimental exhibition opportunities, such as this one, relate to your larger practice?
JH: It is one thing to conceptualize, discuss, and map out an artwork and quite another to actually create and show something that is still experimental. Each of my pieces builds on the one before through lessons learned and new territory discovered. An experimental performance accelerates that process for me, in that the project is expected to be created quickly – less think, more do. This is a refreshing change of pace and, for me, offers the same learning and growing opportunities for my larger practice.
Black Cube: What will you be showing for the coming Drive-In: House of Cars exhibition?
Marsha Mack: New Car, New You. is an installation and performance-based work in which I will use the aspirational language and star-spangled aesthetic of automotive companies and used car salesman with the projected goal of selling my 2014 Toyota Yaris. Complete with a balloon arch, pennant banner flags, and a once in a lifetime bargain price, I will have my car title in hand, ready to sign over my Magnet Grey Metallic beauty to one lucky new car owner. The performance of New Car, New You. can be yours for the low cost of only $9,999.99 – and I’m paying the tax! Under the hood of this piece the breakdown is as such: New Car, New You. is a performance of me selling my car, which if purchased, I will throw in the Toyota Yaris featured in the performance, free of cost.
BC: How did you approach the curatorial challenge of using a vehicle for an artwork?
MM: I often rise to the challenge of curatorial parameters; I see potential roadblocks as a way to problem solve and push concept and form. American car culture is unique in its centrality of the formation of personal identity and sense of self. I have long been fascinated by the ability of advertising language to sell lifestyles and ideas that are attributed to certain brand name products. Is a Dodge Ram owner really that different than someone who owns a Subaru Outback? Can a Ford Truck Man be a woman? Can you be a passenger and a driver on the road of life? Questions like these both entertain and inspire me to create works that play with cultural norms and associations. My practice is quite fluid, with materials and metaphors constantly changing and blending. Focusing on my car as a basis for creating a work prompted me to consider not just the appearance of a car, but its function to individuals in society. How do cars function in our culture, what do they mean to their owners, and how and why people come to select and bond with their vehicles became important questions while creating New Car, New You. Using the car as the cultural symbol to apply to my creative process has opened the door to further explore an iconic, idyllic, and wrought American industry in a globalized economy.
BC: How do you think experimental exhibition opportunities, such as this one, relate to your larger practice?
MM: Because my artistic practice is largely project-based and not medium specific, I interpreted the task of working with a car at the center of my piece as a way to explore concepts that I had a preexisting interest in; it didn’t feel like a stretch or a compromise. I am always thinking of ways to create immersive works that incorporate scent, performativity, and charged materials to drive concept, and Drive-In: House of Cars provided the perfect avenue for me to further explore ideas surrounding subjective experience, cultural critique, and humor.
Black Cube: What will you be showing for the coming Drive-In: House of Cars exhibition?
Sophie Lynn Morris: My piece is titled Care Package Distribution Vehicle (C.P.D.V.). It's based on a USPS truck, but the operating service is SLMPS, which are my initials. The work includes the vehicle, packages, a performance that happens throughout the duration of the event, and a website (www.slmps.com), which gives more information about the service.
BC: How did you approach the curatorial challenge of using a vehicle for an artwork?
SLM: I started by thinking about my own vehicle. I’m currently borrowing a car from my parents – a beige RAV4. I have very little connection to it. I treat it like a truck. I drive with all the seats down and use it mostly for utility. This project had me thinking about my dream car, a Grumman LLV, which is a small USPS fleet truck. It's the ultimate vehicle for "being of service" and bringing things place to place because it's not too big, but you can fit a lot of stuff in it. I had been making sculptures related to the theme of care taking, and so it made sense to combine that with my dream car for this show. I ended up borrowing a stepvan from a generous person on Craigslist. I'm interested in the faux corporate disposition; Jeff Koons and Tom Sachs play with it a little bit in the way they present their work – so, this piece utilizes the performative aspect of customer service.
BC: How do you think experimental exhibition opportunities, such as this one, relate to your larger practice?
SLM: In the studio, my focus is often making autonomous objects that stand alone and "make sense"; they are pretty much devoid of context and speak their own material language amongst themselves. This project was the opportunity for my sculptures to be functional, which is how I think of them (they are about utility and usefulness). But, there is a barrier to their functionality because they are also art, and you're not supposed to use or take apart a sculpture; plus, the objects themselves tend to play around with their own helpfulness. The word "distribution" in the title is important. This piece will include about 100 sculptures, almost all of which were made in the last month. They range in size – from matchbox-scale to 5 feet tall. I will be selling the sculptures out of the back of the truck; so, they are going to be half sculpture and half product. I'm creating a way for the public to interact intimately with sculpture via buying it and holding it in their hands, and considering its utility in their own personal context. My goal is that the product side of the work will make the purchaser frustrated or dissatisfied. Something like: "Hey, this was supposed to be a care package!", which reflects my feelings on care taking in general.
Meet our Founder
An Interview with Laura Merage — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: Can you tell us a little bit about how you initially became interested in art?
Laura Merage: Going to school in Iran was very difficult for me. By their standards, I wasn’t a good student and teachers were very harsh. In 5th grade, I had an art teacher who introduced me to art, which planted the seed. She really cared and enjoyed teaching, and honestly it was the only class that I enjoyed.
When I moved to the U.S. and started high school, I was lucky enough to have another great teacher who taught watercolor. Even though I wasn’t very good at it, it was fun. Then, I had a teacher who taught ceramics, and I wasn’t too bad.
In college, I began to take art classes. As an introvert, art-making became my world. I would spend hours in the studio painting or making sculptures. I realized that this was a strong way for me to connect and communicate with people. My last year of college, I took a photography class and fell in love. The processes - taking images, developing, working in the darkroom - became a tool for me to communicate in a way I couldn’t with words.
BC: What motivated you to found Black Cube?
LM: When I found out that more than 90% of people in the U.S. have not walked into a gallery or museum, I was shocked. I felt that we needed a shift in the art world, an innovative idea, or a new way to show art to the public. I feel that we need to take art directly to the public, instead of making the public go to where art is generally exhibited; therefore… the nomadic museum. In that way, Black Cube has helped not only the public have more encounters with art, but has also encouraged artists to think differently and construct art using a new lens.
BC: What most excites you about Black Cube’s future?
LM: The fact that there is absolutely no limit, that from day to day it can be a very different organization, and that each installation can be so very unique, depending on the creativity of artists and their ideas.
BC: Can you share an important experience that you have had with art?
LM: The first time I saw Rothko. I saw his painting in person at the MOMA in New York. I was standing there in front of the painting and tears started rolling down my cheeks. I was so shocked that I touched my face, asking myself, “am I really crying?”. To this day, I can’t tell you exactly why I had that reaction. I was standing in front of the painting, thinking about something else, while simultaneously staring at the painting. As I was staring at it, I went into a trance, with the painting becoming all that I could see. It became alive, drawing me in further and further.
BC: You also founded RedLine Contemporary Art Center in Denver. Can you explain what it takes to be the founder of such an organization?
LM: As an artist, I was so frustrated with not being able to share my art with others. How do you get picked up by a gallery? How do you exhibit your work in an exhibition? I realized there was a need for something that is not only a gallery or a school, but a place where artists can show their work, have exhibitions, and get support. This is how RedLine came about. People doubted me along the way, but I could see it.
I looked for over two years to find an area and a building that fit the bill to what I was envisioning. RedLine continues to give me lots of satisfaction and joy when I see how many lives it has touched. So many people are moved by what they see and experience there.
BC: What is the main skill that you have you used in founding nonprofit organizations?
LM: The number one skill I have used is perseverance. Often people think that someone imagines something, then they put money towards it, and it happens. First, you have to have the vision, then you have to have perseverance. There have been many mistakes, many unanswerable challenges, and many dead ends along the way. Yet, you have to persevere by finding other routes to reach the desired outcome. There were so many people that told me my vision for RedLine was too “all over the place”. That you can’t have art, education, and community woven together, but I said “no”. It’s important to educate people about art, so that they can appreciate it. We also need to educate children because the arts are continuously being cut in schools; they are the ones that will one day appreciate, produce, and buy art. You need to have a center like RedLine so that we can keep artists in Denver and they don’t feel like they have to go to other cities to find careers.
BC: You are a board member at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Does your work at the ADL inform your thinking with the arts organizations you founded?
LM: Being a Jewish woman living in a Muslim country is very difficult. Even though I had a good childhood, it was a difficult one. I was not accepted for who I was within society. As a child and through my teenage years, I always felt like the “other”. So, when I came to Denver 22 years ago, I very quickly got involved in ADL.
My work with the ADL is in line with my aspiration to support underrecognized voices and also to empower people to stand on their own solid ground. This goes hand in hand with the ADL’s vision to respect inclusion and to challenge bias. This desire to help others to be better and stronger has interwoven within my art practice as well.
Within me, there is a duality of “to heck with that, I want to speak my truth,” and another part that thinks about others, of the harm that can be done without being sensitive.
BC: Advice for artists?
LM: Don’t be afraid to showcase your art or to market your art. The notion of starving artists is a fallacy and not a good one to buy into. Don’t be afraid of success. Re-educate yourself.
Selling your art, you must absolutely find different ways. Turn it on its head, don’t give up – be stubborn. Find innovative ways of marketing, putting your work out there, talking about your work – being able to talk about the work is important. I don’t buy into the fact that viewers should just look at the work and automatically understand it.
Thank you, Laura!
An Interview with Matt Barton — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Colorado Springs-based artist Matt Barton just closed an exhibition titled 'Soft Something' at Understudy (part of the Happy City Denver project produced by the Denver Theatre District and art directed by us, Black Cube). Understudy is an experimental space arts and culture, located in Downtown Denver at the Colorado Convention Center, adjacent to the light rail stop and under a Convention Center escalator. Matt’s installation transformed this dynamic space into a participatory installation that blurred the boundaries between a gallery, greenhouse, and sanctuary.
At the entry of the exhibition is a custom-built aquaponics installation, where visitors find an integrated system composed of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants in water). In this symbiotic system, the fish waste provides an organic food source for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish. Building on this network, Barton’s addition of experimental sound and sensing technologies channel the plants’ response to the interior conditions by transmitting audio to visitors.
We spoke to Matt about this exhibition and his wider practice…
Cortney Lane Stell: Tell us about your site-specific installation Soft Something.
Matt Barton: This exhibition was a response to the site and the “Happy City Denver” theme. I was thinking of a deeper state of happiness, like contentment, and things that came to mind were a sense of community/interconnectedness and a connection to nature. Relationships to humans are great, but I was interested in working with plants and plant presence and how we interact with them differently. Plants have a fundamental life force that side steps whatever cultural moment we are experiencing and maintains some sort of steady, calm presence. The site made sense with this too as it feels like a greenhouse.
CLS: The Understudy space is quite unique, there is a lot of glass and it has a slanted ceiling (which is the bottom site of an escalator in the Convention Center). Can you tell us how you chose to approach this unconventional exhibition space?
MB: That was very exciting. The space is really unique and I wanted to go work with the architecture and windows. I knew I wanted to exploit the high ceiling on the one side and create sort of a “hug” with the rest of the structures, enclosing the space with plants.
CLS: How did you come to the title? It’s quite curious, and hard to pin down.
MB: I was thinking of semi-permeable membranes, and the transfer of energy between people and things. The distinctions aren’t as rigid as we often think they are. The subtle body (energetic, non-physical) is a refreshing concept is regards to the sense of individualism and isolation common in our society. We interact in far more ways than we realize and it’s good to reflect on the interconnectedness sometimes. Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of the Buddhist text “The Heart Sutra” is one of my favorite readings and he uses the verb “Interbeing.” We Inter-Be with everything. There is no separation. “Soft Something” is also attractive as a counter to all the emphasis on being hard or “strong” in a traditional sense. I like the saying the word “soft” several times in a row. It’s fun. It almost feels subversive for some reason.
CLS: Part of preparing for the exhibition was learning about aquaponics systems. Why were they an important part of this installation and what was the learning process like?
MB: The aquaponics component was meant to be a more concrete, scientific entry point into the concept of mutualism, symbiotic relationships, and harmonious interaction. From there I hoped the idea bled into the viewers’ experience of the rest of the space, being surrounded by plants, sound, and one another. I could then push some less demonstrable notions of systems, or relationships with the aquaponics as a foundation. I also liked the sound of the water flowing through all the different structures and the space. It seemed to have a connection to the other sound in the space, as the sounds flowed together, through the space, the plants, and the viewers. Sound was a big element in demonstrating a shared experience between people and plants, as we feel it vibrating the surfaces, we understand that it passes through us, and everything things else around us, making a tangible connection between disparate nouns. The sound in the space could be seen as exemplifying the “Soft Something”, or a threshold between the physical and non-physical.
The learning process was a significant. I had to cram. It was a bit of a gamble and I definitely questioned my judgment on that decision, but it worked out and many of the passers-by were excited about the aquaponics and didn’t seem to notice the rest of the show. Some thought it was a plant store.
CLS: Your work is both open and critical of emergent theories and practices. Can you tell us a bit about some of the experimental practices that took place in the exhibition, such as the technologies that allowed visitors to listen to and interact with plants?
MB: The interface that translated the electrical frequencies of the plants into a MIDI signal that then controlled the sound in the synthesizers is an off the shelf product that seems to be trending very much right now, but has been around for decades. I wanted to use it to trigger viewers’ perception of the rest of the space covered in plants, and then expanding beyond to the plants outside, and then to other people and everything everywhere. I also wanted to mess with the technology a little and confuse the viewer, instigating questioning, seeing how far they might go with it. The aquaponics is “real.” The plant sensors are credible and the audio changes noticeably when you touch the plants. What about a crystal attached to a copper platonic solid with a wire running into a plant’s soil? What about the TV antenna in the fish tank with the crystals? The delightful surprise was that the crystals also contributed to the circuit when they were connected to the plants and the audio changed significantly.
CLS: Some of this work built off of older works. Can you describe a few of them and how they relate to this project?
MB: I recycled a pyramid with crystal singing bowls from a show that was trying to create more of a dream-like alternate universe. This show brought in what was very direct and “real” from that work and integrated it with all the living plants/systems. It was refreshing to build this show from living organisms, in comparison to much of my past work that uses illusions and very blunt artificiality. It felt good to go beyond the theatricality and artifice and use such a commonplace, real thing (plants) to go after similar intentions of my other work.
CLS:Can you describe your studio?
MB: My studio is a mix of work space, storage space, and play area (drums and skateboard half-pipe). Whatever needs to happen in there can happen. It’s a large steel arched “Quonset hut.” I can build large scale installations in there in sections, set up lighting for video work, stage materials and frame or construct an addition for my house. It’s always changing. It is all mixed up with other aspects of my life.
CLS: Name the most memorable exhibition that you’ve attended.
MB: Zee by Kurt Hentschlager at Wood Street Galleries, Pittsburgh. The documentation can’t capture it. It was perceptually very confusing.
CLS: Aside from the visual arts, what motivates your practice?
MB: I like music. I think I’m always trying to get at some sort of directness of live music with my work while putting the viewer into the position of audience and player. I’m interested in lots of things from science and technology to politics to popular culture, but I think I always focus my work into some sort of delusional, yet hopeful form of spiritualism or something related to the body and some type of otherworldly non-physical reality.
CLS: What do you watch and/or listen to while working?
MB: The band SUUNS seems to always take over the studio when I’m making a big push on a project. It gets me going.
CLS: Can you name an instance when an exhibition and/or artwork did not go as planned?
MB: I tried to critique cultural appropriation once and was curious if people would get it or just get into it. I made it pretty confusing and for the most part the viewers didn’t even flinch. They mainly perpetuated the appropriation in an exaggerated way. It was interesting and was what I was curious about, so it did go as I “planned” but maybe too much so. Surprisingly, and maybe a little disappointingly, most of my projects get pretty close to where I envision and work towards. There are always a ton of problems to solve but I figure it out. This answer to your question makes me feel like I’m not pushing myself far enough. I joked about a large outdoor, interactive dome structure going terribly wrong, falling over, hurting people, etc. calling it D’oh-m, like Homer Simpson’s “D’oh” reaction to when he does something stupid. That thing ended up surviving the catastrophic St. Thomas fire in Ojai last Summer while the whole hillside burned. I think I get lucky a lot. It always feels like that formula, a lot of planning and hard work, and a ton of luck.
An Interview with Devon Dikeou
Excerpted from Zing Magazine — Written by Hayley Richardson
For the past two months, Devon Dikeou has been in Prague, Czech Republic, an artist-in-residence at Centre for Contemporary Art FUTURA as part of Black Cube Nomadic Museum’s fellowship program. Curated by Black Cube’s Cortney Lane Stell, Dikeou’s exhibition Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973 captures the essence of America during the 1970s, while drawing parallels to present-day crises and politics in the U.S. Pulling from public record and personal memory of the era, Dikeou tells the backstories of the various elements that comprise the installation and how it echoes a time from decades past as well as reflects what is happening now in our current time. Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973 is on view at FUTURA through September 16, 2018.
Hayley Richardson: This is your second artist residency, the first one being at Artpace in San Antonio in 2011. What do you value the most from the residency experience?
Devon Dikeou: Well residencies often imply studio. My studio is wherever I am—be that a city, a country, a locale, a room, an exhibition space, and the atmosphere—music, TV, cafés, bars, museums, other artists’ studios, and what you sense there . . . but I do come to all things—exhibitions, residencies, fairs, magazine projects, with my thoughts pretty worked out. The fun and beauty, and I guess value is when they—those thoughts—change . . . What happened in Prague is that once I got to Futura . . . There were extra exhibition spaces available, and the idea of commingling the spaces somehow became attractive, joining them in a way . . . And as my work is really about finding these pockets of in-between, the meandering spaces of Futura were just delicious . . . How could I make them more related beyond just ideas . . .
And beyond that initial response . . . I want to say . . . There’s this great story of Joan Rivers . . . She used to archive all her jokes in an old-fashioned library card catalogue manner. So, she had categories and alphabetized the jokes, and when she needed one, all she had to do was consult this card catalogue—and as time went on, this file became a massive archive . . . A whole room with the little wooden drawers, and 4” x 6” cards full of jokes for when she didn’t have one. And instead of a search engine, she searched her own search engine.
So, as I was arriving in Prague, I was looking at old legal pads which is my archive system of pieces, and I came across a piece which I thought fit really nicely with the “Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973.” I found “Ring My Bell” (1991 Ongoing). It relates to the gas crisis of ‘73, the lines, the idea of full-service, consumption, and found object, relational aesthetics ideas of activation, and minimal ideas of composition, line, presence, and lack thereof. It seemed like a perfect pairing. And I began to connect the spaces in Futura, not just with ideas but with literal hoses, anchors, and bells—which is how “Ring My Bell” exits as a functioning gas station bell . . . Actually, back then we used to call them “Service Stations,” the attendants come to service you once the bell has rung.
Also, something happens when you get out of your element, in a residency . . . It’s why I love visiting all 17 curatorial departments of the MET . . . Or any encyclopedic museum . . . There is something inspiring about things you don’t know that well, but can appreciate, and if that can enter your practice, so much the better. In Prague, just wandering around I became reintroduced to an old technique called Sgrafitto. I just loved it, seeing it again . . . It’s wood block printing meets fresco, meets batik, meets decoration, meets architecture, the etymology of which produced the modern practice and word, graffiti. I thought why not reverse the process and use an old technique to create something nostalgic even in our contemporary mindset of 2018, from 1973, and convey something, not just technique or decor, that relates to our own encyclopedia of reference. So now we a have piece made in a residency that may or may not have ever come to fruition without the lovely coincidence/gift of Prague, Futura/Black Cube Residency.
HR: The exhibition centers around the U.S. oil crisis of 1973, specifically the then-president’s daughter Tricia Nixon’s frivolous behavior during this time when the rest of the nation was subjected to rationing and conservation of resources. The installation “Summer of 1973: Tricia Nixon” features a faux fire element with marble fireplace, a modern-day air conditioner, and vintage Mickey Mouse clock radio among other objects reminiscent of that time and now. What are the backstories to the different elements of the exhibition?
DD: I live in a loft where the heat is super old school. It’s steam, no control, can’t turn it up, can’t turn it down. When it’s hot you’re in a Russian bath, if it’s freezing, then of course it doesn’t work, and there’s no adjustment available either way. And it screams literally every time it fires up . . . Sounds like someone is breaking in . . . Nothing to be done. There is this tiny room in the loft that I like to go to and just think . . . Virginia Woolf, “Room of One’s Own” style, and sort out the start of the day . . . There I am in this blank white room with a somewhat modern window air conditioner with an old-fashioned steam heater painted silver below it. The heater starts its initial wheezing, graduates to clanking, and bangs out what sounds like Beethoven No. 9. As I was sitting there, in this tiny room, with these two elements of heat and coolness, I was reminded of that 1973 summer—old enough then to comprehend what was happening—and bling: Tricia Nixon. Which brings us to this story that I recall of Tricia turning up the air conditioner in the White House so high so that she could have a fire in one of those over-the-top fireplaces, all in the heat of a D.C. summer. Maybe it’s urban myth, but the craziness of the gesture has somehow stuck with me. And in the spirit of “if these rooms could speak,” from the cranky old loft that spoke to me that morning and reminded me of what may or may not have happened in the White House, this installation germinated . . . So we have a bricolage of White House rooms with replication of different elements from several, essentially a working fireplace, a modern air conditioner, and a clock radio from 1973, which is the radio I listened to every night before going to sleep and woke up to get ready for school. It was a Disney clock radio, and I just a bit too old to really have it, but the dial was a 3-D Mickey, and even though he’s not even my favorite character, I love it dearly both then and today plus it functions! That analog clock radio in the installation serves as the platform from which I learned about Tricia Nixon’s fireplace/air conditioner misstep, and now in our digital age plays CBS news clips from the summer in '73, including those clips reporting on Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, the sounds of the summer in rock -n- roll, and advertisements. These elements pull the viewer into a new, in-between space, the hallway in fact, and hopefully remind/poke them to think about the relationship of the gesture of combining air conditioning and fire, as well as crisis, privilege, corruption, information, culture, time, much less space, and its value, and any art historical stuff they might have archived in their own memory.
HR: Do you feel “Summer of 1973: Tricia Nixon” takes on a different meaning being exhibited in Eastern Europe compared to the United States?
DD: Well, people say context is everything . . . I hope the three pieces speak universally to a host of different things we can all appreciate. Naturally, that appreciation will fluctuate between cultures, politics, gender, age, geography, history—art or otherwise. They say Prague is the Paris of the East, but I’ve learned from a very reputable source that Paris is the Prague of the West. Let’s see how East reads West, or is it the other way around . . .
A Shade of Pink
An Interview with John Roemer — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: Tell us about your installation Baker-Miller-Pink.
John Roemer: The installation is three nearly-square billboards in a row. Each one is the same color – Baker-Miller Pink. The goal is to present this color in a public space for viewers to spend a moment with it then take the knowledge of the color's effects on them.
BC: What is the significance of this particular shade of pink?
JR: Baker-Miller Pink is a specific shade of pink named after two naval officers who, after hearing about the research of Dr. Alexander Schauss, painted confinement cells in their naval correctional facility the color. They confirmed Schauss' findings that people who were exposed to the color exhibited less aggravated and violent behaviors. Schauss theorized that the color lowered the heart rate and respiratory rate of people exposed to it.
BC: How do you hope this artwork will impact passersby?
JR: Although the effects of Baker-Miller Pink have been disputed, I still feel like the gesture of presenting it to other people is positive on its own. I want to provide a moment of presence and reflection for viewers. The intervention is posing a question, If this color can have a measurable physical and mental effect, what effects does the onslaught of visual ephemera one encounters each day have
BC: Together, the billboard panels measure 24 feet tall by 72 feet wide. What is the relationship of scale to this artwork?
JR: This work was always meant as an intervention. It was meant to replace advertisements and images that are meant to have influence on their viewers like billboards. The intentions of media presented on billboards are not necessarily positive but Baker-Miller Pink is meant to be positive.
BC: This installation is a part of an ongoing body of work – what do you have planned next for Baker-Miller-Pink?
JR: I think the next piece will be an immersive space that fills with Baker-Miller Pink filtered light. Something more obtrusive than a panel that one can look away from.
BC: Can you describe your studio?
JR: My studio is located in Aurora, Colorado. It's a large garage with an attached office, which I share it with four other artists.
BC: Whose work are you currently following?
JR: Christian Marclay, Sara Vanderbeek, Dardenne Brothers, Brad Troemel, Spencer Finch, Elizabeth Glaessner, Michael Mahalchick (Has a show opening at Lane Meyer Projects in Denver on July 13th)
BC: What work are you most proud of?
JR: I am most proud of my work with Baker-Miller Pink (especially this billboard) because I feel that it clearly and concisely expresses its concept in a way that leads viewers to commit their new knowledge of the color to long term memory.
BC: What do you consider to be your most successful work?
JR: Something newer than the pink stuff are rubbings I made from emblems on cars. I used the letters in logos and model names to spell out the lyrics to "Fast Car" by Tracy Chaplin.
This work is part of "Happy City: Art for the People," a six-week, citywide art intervention with the purpose of breaking down personal, emotional and social barriers, while nurturing individual and collective well-being. The project is produced by The Denver Theatre District with artistic direction by Black Cube and is inspired by British artist Stuart Semple.
"Happy City" brings together more than 10 artists' perspectives to address ideas of happiness and community wellness, in an effort to imagine a more connected society. The initiative will include a series of artwork interventions by local, national, and international artists spread throughout the public spaces of downtown Denver.
Cats, Cats, Cats
An Interview with Kelly Monico — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: Tell us about your site-specific installation Alley Cats.
Kelly Monico: Alleys are often thought of as being off limits and, at times, scary. I was drawn to the idea of activating an alley with 300 ridiculously kitschy kittens and cats. When we think of alley cats, we tend to think of menacing feral cats hiding in the crevices of buildings. I was interested in inverting that experience by placing domestic, disease-free house cats (albeit, not alive so still slightly eerie) throughout the alley. These cats aren’t your typical alley cats. People will want to love, cuddle, and take these cats home with them. But please don’t – they need to live in the alley for at least a year.
BC: What is the significance of cats?
KM: 1/3 of Americans live with at least one cat. They are hilarious creatures who can do crazy acrobatic Cirque du Soleil maneuvers. Thanks to YouTube, we know that cats are downright daring, smart, and resilient animals. Cats can open doors, speak in full sentences, do back flips, and dial 911. It seems obvious why “cat fails” rule the internet (which, by the way, has led to a giant boost in cat adoptions).
Although this may come as shock, there are just as many people who truly dislike cats (Gasp)! Unlike dogs, cats don’t care about pleasing humans. Cats are hard to understand; they are aloof and independent creatures. I like to think that Alley Cats offers dog lovers a new lens to observe and accept these mysterious felines.
BC: How do you hope people will respond to the artwork?
KM: The cats are installed throughout the alley behind and around Larimer Square. I’ve created three main cat colonies and sprinkled kittens throughout to connect each community. There is an Easter egg element to how the cats are installed; it’s unexpected, and the closer you look the more cats you’ll find. It’s been entertaining to hear responses from people walking through the alley during install—lots of observing, cheering, and asking questions. Some people who work in Larimer Square are taking their lunch breaks in the alley to watch us install the cats because, well, it makes them happy. I see this as a good thing, an alternative pet therapy—a stroll through the alley can reduce blood pressure, boost mood levels, and make one feel less lonely.
What I really enjoy about this project is that cats are familiar creatures and most of us have interacted with a cat at some point in our life. That makes this art installation, Alley Cats, accessible to most people, regardless of a person’s experience of looking at art.
BC: Was producing an installation in an alleyway unknown territory for you? Can you describe the experience?
KM: This is definitely new territory. I’ve never worked with ready-mades before and I enjoyed the challenge of the quick turnaround from concept to install. These 300 cats lived in my studio for a month, so I began to form my own quasi strange relationship with them, including naming some of them (e.g. Gonzo, Tanqueray, Curlie-Q, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks). It made installing each cat somewhat personal. It was important to me to find a good home for them, surrounded by friends, and yet somewhat sheltered from dangerous elements.
BC: Does this artwork relate to your art practice as a whole?
KM: Most of my work explores various forms of pattern and I am a follower of the gestalt principle. I believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and this concept is reflected in the majority of my work. In Alley Cats, each cat interacts with the environment and each other to create a larger community. These cats need each other to survive.
BC: Name the most memorable exhibition that you’ve attended.
KM: dOCUMENTA (13)
BC: Aside from the visual arts, what motivates your practice?
KM: Human behavior, foreign lands, and being responsible for a miniature human.
BC: What do you consider to be your most successful work?
KM: My next project.
Kelly Monico's Alley Cats is a part of Between Us: The Downtown Denver Alleyways Project—funded and produced by the Downtown Denver Partnership and the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District—is aimed at bringing additional public art to Downtown Denver. The goal is to surprise, delight, and inspire those who experience the alleyways. Curated by Black Cube, with support from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.
As Seen from the El Paso/Juarez Horizon
Adriana Corral on 'Unearthed: Desenterrado' — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: Can you explain your site-specific artwork for Black Cube?
Adriana Corral: Unearthed: Desenterrado is composed of a 60-foot flagpole hoisting a large, white flag at the historic Rio Vista Farm site. On each side of the flag, a single eagle is embroidered – a bald eagle and a golden eagle. Fellow artist (and fiancé), Vincent Valdez, contributed the idea and design of the two eagles in conflict. Separated by semi-translucent fabric, it is meant to suggest the dualities between the existing worlds (United States and Mexico) merely divided by a thin wall. Due to its large scale, the work will command a presence and visibility within its landscape in the surrounding El Paso and Juarez region.
During 1942-1964, the U.S. federal government established one of the largest foreign worker programs instated in U.S. history with Mexico, under the name of the “Bracero Program”, which means manual labor. The Rio Vista Farm was a processing facility to approximately 80,000 Mexican workers per year, who underwent medical and psychological examinations. Additionally, these men were fumigated with DDT prior to being relocated to one of 30 states involved in the program. With this project, my aim is to bring about a public remembrance of the early history of border control in the United States, and specifically my hometown of El Paso.
BC: What is the site and how did you come to find it?
AC: The Rio Vista Farm is the only processing facility still standing in the Nation, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and is currently in the process of being recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
Prior to my project at Rio Vista, I spent a year in Berlin researching the architecture and methods used on prisoners at Auschwitz and Ravensbrück during World War II. After learning crude details, like the use of the chemical Zyklon B in lethal doses, I examined the use of this same chemical and other cyanide-based pesticides used on Mexican immigrant laborers as a delousing procedure.
Upon my return from Berlin, I visited and discussed my research with my father. During that visit, he introduced me to the history of the Rio Vista Farm and we took a trip to see the facility in person.
BC: How far is Rio Vista Farm from the U.S.—Mexico border?
AC: It’s about 2.9 miles away from Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. So, the farm is in close proximity to the border.
BC: Why is the flag white cotton?
AC: The decision to produce a flag fabricated from white cotton corresponds to its location, the Rio Vista Farm, which resides in the center of cotton fields. By using this material, it directly refers to the site, as well as others across America, and is an acknowledgment to immigrant laborers who support the infrastructure of this country. Referring to the many individuals who provide clothing and fabrics in the textile industry, put food on the dinner tables, construct our cities, serve in our militaries, work in our factories, and serve as nannies raising American children. Mexican labor has been, and continues to be, a part of the very fabric of this country, along with others unrecognized.
BC: How long will the flag be flown?
AC: The flag will be on display for three months, rain or shine. This particular period of time was selected because it reflects the actual life span of the cotton flag. Consequently, the flag will become worn in the wind, weather, and sun. After its installation, Black Cube and I will gift the flagpole to the city of Socorro. The white cotton flag will then travel in its deteriorated state to other museums and institutions across the country.
BC: What do you expect people will think when they see a large white flag pop up on the horizon?
AC: I hope this flag will represent peace, hope, and the dire need to confront a forgotten history – a history that can help us reflect on present-day issues. It is complex and interwoven, but by highlighting our presence as a people, and contributing force to this nation, it allows us to not be overshadowed or erased.
My wish is for the memory of those who have come before us to be seen from the horizon line, which has defined them for so long.
BC: How do you hope this artwork will be received, at a moment in time when the border is a top political debate?
AC: During the 1950’s and early 60’s, the U.S. and Mexican flags flew side by side as welcome symbols to Mexican immigrants entering Rio Vista Farm. The flags signified the unification and merger between the countries. The 60-foot flagpole I am installing will be located in the same place where the unification flags once stood and flew.
I hope that the return of a flag to this site will reflect the historical relationship between two countries that share a deeply rooted history in territory, warfare, politics, culture, capital, trade, and labor. The presence of this subject and history are fact; I believe there is a collective effort in highlighting its significant history and role.
BC: Black Cube projects are intended to help artists grow in their art practice, how has this project done so for you?
AC: Unearthed: Desenterrado is unique to my practice mostly due to its monumental scale. It is one of the most ambitious site-specific pieces I have completed to date. This installation comes on the heels of another ambitious project that I realized while in residence at Artpace in 2016, where I exhibited a work that consisted of digging a 6’ deep burial plot in the exhibition space. My fellowship with Black Cube has continued to push the boundaries of both my process and execution within my practice.
She/He | to Be | is Being
An Interview with Alum Joel Swanson — Written by Stephanie Edwards
Stephanie Edwards: 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?
Joel Swanson: 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.
SE: 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?
JS: 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.
SE: 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?
JS: “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.
SE: 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?
JS: 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.
SE: 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?
JS: 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.
About the Vehicles in 'Drive-In'
Participating Artists on the Relationship with their Cars — Written by Black Cube
As we prepare for our Drive-In exhibtion, 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.
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.
Reflections on Venice
Interviews with Joel Swanson & Laura Shill — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Lane Stell: 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.
CLS: 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.
CLS: 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.
CLS: 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.
CLS: 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.
The Institute Gives Back — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Lane Stell: 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?
Institute for New Feeling: 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
An Interview with The Institute for New Feeling — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Lane Stell: How did you meet? What made you decide to become an artist collective?
Institute for New Feeling: 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.
CLS: Tell us a bit more about the Institute for New feeling (IfNf)? How did you decide on the name?
IfNf: 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.
CLS: Can you describe your group dynamics? How do you all stay connected even though you live in different areas?
IfNf: 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.
CLS: Tell us a bit more about past products that IfNf has produced?
IfNf: 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.
CLS: How does this upcoming project, Avalanche, connect with some of your past works?
IfNf: 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.
CLS: How did IfNf develop the enhanced water brand Avalanche?
IfNf: 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.
CLS: How does the performance relate to the bottled water brand, Avalanche?
IfNf: 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.
Interviews with Participating Artists — Written by Cortney Lane Stell & Ruth Bruno
As we prepare for our Drive-In exhibition, 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.
Amber Cobb: 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.
Tobias Fike: 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.
Kate Gonda: 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.
Dmitri Obergfell: 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.
Zach Reini: 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.
Nick Silici: 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.”
Gretchen Schaefer: 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.
Mario Zoots: 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.
PlatteForum’s ArtLab Program
An Interview with Rebecca Vaughan — Written by Katie Lunde
Katie Lunde: What is PlatteForum and what is your role there?
Rebecca Vaughan: 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!!!!
KL: 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.?
RV: 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).
KL: How are students selected for this summer program?
RV: 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
KL: How did you become involved with Black Cube? How did you choose Cortney as a mentor for these high school students?
RV: 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.
KL: What other professionals/artists/art organizations are a part of this program?
RV: 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.
KL: 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?
RV: 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:
IDENTITY 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 BODY 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.
CONVERSATIONS WITH STRANGERS 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.
KL: What are some of the successes from this immersion program? What would you like to build off of?
RV: 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.
KL: What is the next step for students after they complete this program?
RV: 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.
KL: What’s are you most excited for at PlatteForum right now?
RV: 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
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
An Interview with Joel Swanson — Written by Stephanie Edwards
Stephanie Edwards: 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?
Joel Swanson: 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.
SE: How is language incorporated in your artwork?
JS: 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.
SE: 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?
JS: 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.
SE: 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?
JS: 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.
SE: Tell me about a moment that stands out to you in the process of preparing for this exhibition.
JS: 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.
SE: I would like to wrap up by asking what are you looking forward to the most during your upcoming trip to Italy?
JS: 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.
An Interview with Laura Shill — Written by Stephanie Edwards
Stephanie Edwards: 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?
Laura Shill: 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.
SE: 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?
LS: 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.
SE: 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?
LS: 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.
SE: Can you tell me a little bit about what your studio process has been like so far in preparation for Personal Structures?
LS: 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.
SE: The theme of the 2017 Biennale is Humanism. How do you read your piece functioning within this theme?
LS: 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.
SE: 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?
LS: 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.
SE: 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?
LS: 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.
Exhibiting Denver-based Artists in Venice
Cortney Stell on the Occasion of the 57th Venice Biennale — Written by Katie Lunde
Katie Lunde: For those of us to do not know, can you tell us more about the Venice Biennale? What makes it unique?
Cortney Lane Stell: 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.
KL: 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?
CLS: 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.
KL: How will this long-standing exhibit further both Laura and Joel’s careers as artists?
CLS: Only the future will tell. I hope that it brings them more international connections, with potential exhibitions, patrons, critical feedback, or fans.
KL: 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.?
CLS: 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.
KL: 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?
CLS: 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).
KL: Is Black Cube hoping that the exhibition at the Venice Biennale will promote further international exhibitions?
CLS: Yes! We are already working on other international projects… but we certainly hope that this helps us in the future.
Porcelain Power Factory
An Interview with Alum Jennifer Ling Datchuk — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Lane Stell: What is the Porcelain Power Factory?
Jennifer Ling Datchuk: 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.
CLS: What inspired this concept?
JLD: 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.
CLS: How is the Porcelain Power Factory different from your art practice?
JLD: 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.
CLS: The first object produced for the Porcelain Power Factory was the Pussy Power cup, can you tell us a little bit about it?
JLD: 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.
CLS: Why did you choose to donate to Planned Parenthood?
JLD: 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.
CLS: Will a portion of all of the sales be donated to Planned Parenthood or will each object have a different charity?
JLD: 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.
CLS: How do you include activism in your practice?
JLD: 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.
CLS: What’s next for the Porcelain Power Factory?
JLD: 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.
CLS: What’s next for your art practice?
JLD: 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, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Lane Stell: Can you tell us a little bit about your Black Cube Alumni Project, The Sometimes Pop Up Kiosk?
Stephanie Kantor: 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.
CLS: How does this project relate to its site, Denver's 16th Street mall?
SK: 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.
CLS: 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?
SK: 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.
CLS: 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?
SK: 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.
CLS: What has been the public response to the kiosk installation?
SK: 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.
CLS: What's next for you?
SK: 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 — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
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.
Cortney Lane Stell: Describe your recent residency on the Great Wall of China and your new project The Third Space.
Desiree Holman: 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.
CLS: What are the highlights from your art practice in 2016?
DH: 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.
CLS: What are you looking forward to next year?
DH: 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.
Cortney Lane Stell: Describe your Black Cube Alumni project and tell us how it went?
Chad Person: 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.
CLS: What are the highlights for your art practice in 2016?
CP: 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.
CLS: What are you looking forward to next year?
CP: 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.
Cortney Lane Stell: Describe your Black Cube Alumni project and tell us how it went.
Derrick Velasquez: 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.
CLS: What are the highlights for your art practice in 2016?
DV: 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.
CLS: What are you looking forward to in 2017?
DV: 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.
Fictive Histories and Future Projections
An Interview with SANGREE — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
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.
Cortney Lane Stell: How long have you been working collaboratively as SANGREE? How did the collaboration begin?
SANGREE: 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.
CLS: Is it true that you don’t have a studio? How do you produce artworks together?
S: 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.
CLS: 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?
S: 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.
CLS: Tell us about the Market Street Station site. How did you approach this location as your first site-specific commission?
S: 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.
CLS: You’ve mentioned that with the Unclassified Site Museum installation, you wanted to encourage a sense of wonder. Why is this important to you?
S: 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.
CLS: This was your first public commission and major project in the United States. What was the most challenging part of this project?
S: 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.
CLS: 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?
S: 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
An Interview with Molly Berger — Written by Laurie Britton Newell
Laurie Britton Newell: Can you describe your practice for us?
Molly Berger: 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.
LBN: What drew you to ceramics?
MB: 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.
LBN: Can you tell us about your site in Gold Hill and your installation?
MB: 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.
LBN: How did you come up with the idea for the Gold Hill Art Project?
MB: 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.
LBN: What has been the biggest challenge about this project?
MB: 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.
LBN: 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?
MB: 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.
LBN: What is coming up next for you?
MB: 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
An Interview with Eric Stewart — Written by Laurie Britton Newell
Laurie Britton Newell: Can you describe your practice for us?
Eric Stewart: 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.
LBN: Can you explain the process of making photograms?
ES: 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.
LBN: Can you tell us a little bit about your site in Gold Hill and your installation?
ES: 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.
LBN: When did your interest in film and photography start? What drew you to this medium?
ES: 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.
LBN: How did you come up with the idea for the Gold Hill Art Project?
ES: 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.
LBN: You see teaching as part of your art practice; can you explain your pedagogical approach?
ES: 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.
LBN: 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?
ES: 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.
LBN: What is coming up next for you?
ES: 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” (http://www.othercinema.com/otherzine/the-sound-of-breaking-glass/) and I have some talks in the works connected to those ideas.
From Clay to Human Hair
An Interview with Jennifer Ling Datchuk — Written by Laurie Britton Newell
Laurie Britton Newell: Can you describe your practice for us
Jennifer Ling Datchuk: 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.
LBN: Can you tell us a little bit about your site in Gold Hill and your installation?
JLD: 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.
LBN: What were your first impressions of Gold Hill?
JLD: 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.
LBN: How did you approach the research for this project?
JLD: 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.
LBN: What is the significance of hair in your works?
JLD: 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.
LBN: 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?
JLD: 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.
LBN: Do you ever have any ideas that you have to abandon due to funding or lack of resources?
JLD: 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.
LBN: What is up next for you?
JLD: 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.
It's About to Blow Up
An Interview with Alum Chad Person — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Lane Stell: Can you tell us a little bit about the Blow Up exhibition?
Chad Person: 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.
CLS: How many inflatable sculptures have you made?
CP: Eight to date, with the most recent being The Prospector which I completed last year as a Black Cube fellow.
CLS: When was the first one your produced and what was the process like?
CP: 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.
CLS: The inflatables are fabricated in India, can you tell us a bit about that process?
CP: 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.
CLS: What was the most complex inflatable to make and why?
CP: 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.
CLS: You often describe the sculptures as akin to depressed car dealership inflatable advertisements, why are your sculptures depressed?
CP: 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.
CLS: 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?
CP: 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.
CLS: How does it feel to be one of Black Cube's first alum? What’s it like working on a Black Cube alumni project?
CP: 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.
CLS: Are there any unrealized inflatables that you would like to produce?
CP: 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.
Meet Laurie Britton Newell
On Curating Outside of the White Cube — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Lane Stell: 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?
Laurie Britton Newell: 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!
CLS: Can you describe the site for the pop up exhibition you are curating for Black Cube?
LBN: 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.
CLS: Why is Gold Hill ripe for an art project such as this?
LBN: 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.
CLS: 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?
LBN: 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.
CLS: 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?
LBN: 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.
CLS: Can you introduce us the artworks that the fellows are producing?
LBN: 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.
CLS: What has been the biggest challenge in organizing this pop up exhibition?
LBN: 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.
CLS: What are you most excited about?
LBN: 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.
Bending an Elbow
An Interview with Jon Geiger — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Lane Stell: 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?
Jon Geiger: 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.
CLS: How would you define your philosophy toward art?
JG: 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.
CLS: How did you first become interested in Western iconography?
JG: 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.
CLS: Aside from using common Western symbols, how do you bring this historical influence into contemporary society?
JG: 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.
CLS: What do you think our relationship to the West is like nowadays? Is it more or less romanticized?
JG: 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.
CLS: What's one of the biggest struggles you've faced as an artist?
JG: 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.
CLS: Can you describe your Black Cube project?
JG: 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.
CLS: How long have you been working with Cortney at Black Cube on this project and what has the process been like?
JG: 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 — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Lane Stell: 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?
Derrick Velasquez: 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.
CLS: Can you tell us a little bit about this new site and your interest in it?
DV: 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.
CLS: Will New Brutal 2 have the same materials as the first sculpture? Can you explain your interest in these materials?
DV: 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.
CLS: Where do the crown molding forms come from?
DV: 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.
CLS: Tell us about your thoughts on Denver’s building boom and its relationship to this body of work.
DV: 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.
CLS: What does it mean to partner on this project with Denver Architectural Foundation and Doors Open Denver?
DV: 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.
CLS: What’s it like being the first Black Cube Alumni Project?
DV: 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.
CLS: Can you explain for us the tension between the sculptural structure and the crown molding that is decorating it?
DV: 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.
CLS: Do you see this project continuing to develop?
DV: 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.
Stephanie Kantor on Making the Exhibition — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: 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?
Stephanie Kantor: 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.
BC: How has living/working in Colorado affected your art practice?
SK: 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.
BC: 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?
SK: 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.
BC: Can you explain the different types of vessels in the ‘Mock Pavilion’ exhibition?
SK: 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.
BC: Many of the vessels are large-scale? What's the average size and how do you produce ceramics this large?
SK: 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.
BC: What type of clay do you use and why?
SK: 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.
BC: You have a very painterly approach to glazing ceramics. Can you explain your process and the amount of time it takes?
SK: 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.
BC: You often mention that your work is a combination of tight and loose, can you elaborate on this?
SK: 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.
BC: After creating so many tulipieres, stupas, and other vessels, how do you see these forms changing and evolving as you move forward?
SK: 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.
BC: How has your work developed within the past year?
SK: 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.
BC: How would you summarize your experience with Black Cube and what can we expect to see from your practice next?
SK: 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.
An Interview with Stephanie Kantor — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: 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?
Stephanie Kantor: 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.
BC: What initially drew you to ceramics?
SK: 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.
BC: 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?
SK: 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.
BC: Can you describe your process for us?
SK: 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.
BC: 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?
SK: 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.
BC: 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?
SK: 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.
SK: 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.
BC: What has the Black Cube fellowship experience been like so far?
SK: 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
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.
Black Cube: How many artists will participate in the Artist Fellowship for 2016?
Cortney Lane Stell: 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.
BC: Are there any other changes as you go into your first full year?
CLS: 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.
BC: How are the Artist Fellows chosen?
CLS: 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.
BC: Who are the Black Cube Fellows for 2016?
CLS: 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 Berger – Denver, 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.
BC: Are there any themes that connect this year’s Artist Fellows?
CLS: 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.
Building the Black Cube Identity
An Interview with Anagrama — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: Can you introduce yourselves? Where are you based? What is the studio's design sensibilities?
Anagrama: 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.
BC: What is the most important aspect of building a brand identity?
A: 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.
BC: What was the inspiration behind the Black Cube brand?
A: 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.
BC: What is your favorite aspect of the Black Cube brand?
A: 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.
BC: What is your favorite aspect of the Black Cube website?
A: 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.
BC: What is next for Anagrama?
A: 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
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.
Interview with Artist Fellow, Chad Person
Written by Black Cube
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.
Interview with Artist Fellow, Desirée Holman
Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: What was your inspiration for this work?
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.
W.A.G.E-ing Our Love for Artists
... — Written by Black Cube
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
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.
Hello from Black Cube
... — Written by Black Cube
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.