An Interview w/ Alejandro Almanza Pereda — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Black Cube’s Executive Director + Chief Curator, Cortney Lane Stell, interviewed 2018 Artist Fellow, Alejandro Almanza Pereda, about his fellowship project that took the form of a short film entitled De esos polvos estos barros. The film was produced in 2020 and released in February 2021.
Cortney Lane Stell: Can you tell us about your newly completed Black Cube Fellowship project, a film titled De esos polvos estos barros (those powders these muds)?
Alejandro Almanza Pereda: This work is a short film with an artistic perspective that focuses on the brick making process in the community of Magdalena, Jalisco. It is visually based on the handcrafting practice and the transformive life of materials that lead up to the production of a common brick.
CLS: How did you arrive at the concept for this work?
AAP: I grew up in a family of architects and engineers, and I spent a lot of my childhood exploring construction sites. I think it's because of this that I have always been interested in building materials and building techniques by construction workers. For this concept, everything started with the constant image of a pile of loose bricks called trinchera, which can be found all over Mexico near construction sites, roads, or empty lots. It’s something between a short wall and a pyramid. Whenever this shape is found, it announces a kind of change—the start of a building or an ongoing one close by, just like the monolith in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Following the origin of bricks, I have travelled to different locations around Mexico, like Chihuahua or Cholula, where they are made using different techniques. One that grabbed my attention was Magdalena, where the kiln’s structure is temporary and made out of raw bricks, so when it’s done firing clay, it all comes to nothing. It’s an almost point zero cycle, because everything comes from and returns to earth, no residues are left.
CLS: Bricks are used in many types of metaphors. Are you interested in the metaphorical qualities of this elemental object? If so, what does the brick symbolize to you?
AAP: The unit of space, a mundane object and material that has a solidity and staticity connotation, but also an active community life. It takes part in different structures. It wanders…since its first molding, standing to dry, stack, burn, move, and pile, until it finds a place on a wall. There it serves its purpose until it is discarded. It reminds me of a human’s lifespan.
The ordinary building seems artificial, homogeneous, so simple and cold that you might not notice it's made by human hands, where each brick is unique.
CLS: Bricks are one of the oldest known building materials. The first bricks were made of mud hardened by the sun in areas with warm climates similar to Magdalena. As I understand it, this age-old industry is changing rapidly in your region. Machines are replacing human labor imminently. What was your experience filming this work at this moment in time?
AAP: It’s amazing that even when home building and living has changed so much over the centuries, some brick shapes haven’t really. In the past, some distinct models were molded, such as pipes, roof tiles, or giant floor tiles. Apart from that, minimal changes occured in the fabrication process.
No one really knows about the future of this labor. During the different visits to Magdalena, brick workers told us about “the machine” that was about to arrive. They described a new technological device capable of making far more bricks than they ever could by hand per minute. They see this with optimism, as some significant help and improvement in production. I was simply astonished.
For decades, cinder block seemed to be the threat of clay brick. It's now widely used and low cost because of its industrial process. But still, the clay brick is more thermal, long lasting, and has significant attenuation, so it makes it unreplacable, to the point where now its normal to see a mix of both materials in buildings, clay brick is kept to prevent earthquake damage.
Still, there’s a significant environmental impact issue. While brick factories use gas and electricity, artisanal kilns use cedar wood, which is unfortunately taken from far away woods in an apparently furtive way. The government has failed in regulating proper fuel sources, to the point where you can even find tires, diesel, and burnt oil used to cook bricks in some places.
CLS: You have made several videos in your career, but this film marks a different approach to the medium. How is this project a departure from your earlier works? How did this new development evolve?
AAP: Video art is a totally different media than film. For this project, the necessary planning was exhaustive and more precise, less improvisation and chance. Though, I think I always have had a filmmaking mind, so I felt very enthusiastic about this challenge. In my earlier video works, I’m somehow featured as the maker, the puppeteer, or performer of the theater of materials. But here, I’m the observer or voyuer. I work, expecting and selecting what I can portray, to try and tell a story.
Since I started making art, I developed an observer profile and photographic archive, taken while wandering and catching all the motifs that caught my eye, mostly related to material, constructed using human skills and problem solving. I prefer to take pictures, rather than keep a sketchbook or artist diary. Currently, I maintain this habit by sharing a profile on Instagram (@totalkthewalk). I think these processes have changed my artistic sight, probably evolving it into a different state.
CLS: In this film, you focus on the transformation of earth seen in the traditional Mexican brickmaking process in Mexico—where dust and earth are formed into clay, then fired to become a brick. Can you explain the alchemical process found in brickmaking?
AAP: Thousands of years ago, Magdalena was an enormous lake, the second biggest in Mexican territory, and it was the settlement of Teuchitlán prehispanic culture (around 550 to 450 B.C.E.), but in the modern era (around 1930s) it dried up. This made the land rich in fertile and virgin clay, discovered as perfect for brick ceramics. Up until now, some workers often find ancient obsidian spare tips or stonework artifacts.
During the brick making process, many materials radically change their condition, qualities, and function. A clear example is the marrana, a detritus fiber from the heart of an agave plant, discarded after squeezing it from the process of tequila distillation, made in big quantities in the nearby town. This material is gathered by brick workers to strengthen the clay mix and improve cohesion. This material also became abundant and therefore usable with the industrialization of tequila. It is said that before, grass and manure from animals were used.
Magdalena is rich in precious rock deposits. The extraction of opal gems is very precious in the local economy and brings many people from all over the world for its business, while obsidian is easily found throughout the region. While this makes it a priceless rock, brick workers have to deal with the physical danger of cutting their hands when molding clay, because of the abundance of sharp obsidian. When tiny pieces make it to the final mix, it can change color or deform bricks.
Finally, clay is always changing when mixed with water, heat, and steam, molded and melted, creating awareness of the infinite transformation of nature by human labor.
CLS: I find myself thinking about transformation and impermanence with this work. It almost seems ironic given the subject of the brick, an object often associated with permanence and rigidity. I see this as a continual theme in your practice of defying the inherent properties of materials. Do you agree that this work challenges common perceptions of the material?
AAP: There is a popular Spanish saying that goes, “in a blacksmith's house, there is a wooden knife.” So for me, there is no common perception of materials, but subjective perception of all materiality. There's also a hidden life of objects and materials. Magdalena is a brick fortress, but still, workers build tents for resting made out of scrap and plastic bags; somehow transitory, like the kiln itself. This might sound like a contradiction, but maybe it's just a matter of material perception.
CLS: To produce this work, you worked closely with the community of Magdalena and a film production crew. What was the behind-the-scenes process like? Was the community receptive?
AAP: I made several visits to the location for over a year before the film, so I established some kind of relationship with the workers and their small community. They were amazingly receptive and warm, always supporting the idea and asking why I thought their work was important to be filmed, somehow amazed. This made things more comfortable when I arrived to film with the whole crew. Still, while we were there we just silently wandered, never interfering with the worker’s job.
I gathered a small team to manage the project. I explained to three cameramen, apart from myself, to do the same kind of takes, but still each ended with a personal vision. This created an amazing result.
CLS: Lastly, what was your experience working with Black Cube? Your Fellowship underwent many twists and turns, from changing locations to proposing a completely new project under the lens of the pandemic. Was this Fellowship a common or unique experience for you as an artist?
AAP: Unpredictable artistic processes and change are natural to me. I believe the great patience given by the institution’s team was outstanding because it showed the comprehension of the project's nature. Personally, I learned so much about commiting to a plan and embracing adversity amid sudden shifts. Black Cube is an extraordinary institution—it does not follow common planning, but instead organically and warmly, together and deeply, becomes involved in each project. Outstanding.
An Interview w/ Scott Andrew & Jesse Factor — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube recently launched a new Alumni Granting Program to provide continued support to our previous artist fellows. In line with our mission to support the sustainability of artists, the program awards micro-grants annually to our alumni who have an identified funding need—one that will help advance their career or benefit their practice. It’s an opportunity for our alumni to receive funding to support the production of new work, acquire equipment or materials, mitigate exhibition or residency fees, offset the cost of publishing, etc.
Scott Andrew was a 2017 Black Cube Artist Fellow (as part of the collective Institute for New Feeling) and one of four artists to receive our 2020 Alumni Grant. Scott used the funding to develop a new collaborative project with dancer, Jesse Factor, titled Chimera. We interviewed Scott and Jesse to hear more about this new work, which premiered in October, and their ongoing collaboration.
Black Cube: Chimera is an experimental collaborative performance that seems to merge each of your respective practices. Can you tell us a bit about your independent practices in art and dance? Why did you choose to collaborate on this project and when did the idea first develop?
Scott Andrew & Jesse Factor: We first met in 2019, at an event called TQ Live!, a yearly LGBTQIA variety performance at the Andy Warhol Museum, that Scott co-curates along with Suzie Silver and Joseph Hall. Jesse was one of the invited performers, and after meeting it became clear that we had a lot of overlapping aesthetics and artistic interests, so we decided to start working together to see how our practices might amplify each other.
Jesse’s dance work often employs stylized physicality with a speculative view of queer histories and archival material. Scott’s work as a multi-media artist in video, installation, and performance centers around queer futurity, divas and gay icons, LGBTQ+ histories and mythologies, and tensions between the celebrity image and the physical body. Jesse’s channeling of divas in exile—from time and body disrupt and complicate constructions of sexuality, gender, and identity in a digital age, drawing parallels between themes in Scott’s work. We both attempt to access a liminal space in our work.
Our experimental media and dance performance, titled I Am A Haunted House at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh received a Freshworks residency grant enabling time and space to investigate glitch aesthetics through movement, sound, and video. I Am A Haunted House was developed as a multimedia dance performance and installation in four segments that centered around the mythology of queer film icon Joan Crawford. Concepts of re-animation and replication emerged through experiments surrounding the distance between the idea of a celebrity and the physical body. Our practices in dance and multimedia work supported and complicated this inquiry.
Our newest collaboration, Chimera, developed as part of the Bloomfield Garden Club, a socially distant live performance series started by independent curator Tina Dillman. We knew that the work would need to be created with the limitation of it being presented in a backyard with a finite amount of space, but we were up for the challenge. This opportunity was a chance to create something new and site-specific for a live audience, which was something that both of us have been greatly missing during the pandemic.
BC: What is the meaning behind the title Chimera?Can you each expound upon the underlying concept of this work? Were you inspired by historical, literary, or cultural references?
SA & JF: As an illusory hybrid or impossible merger, the concept of the Chimera seemed the best container for the ideas in the work. Perhaps best known through Greek mythology as a fire-breathing female monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail, Donna Haraway also evokes this concept when she writes, “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs.” Fascination with the mythological past, the digital present, and the cybernetic future informed ideas of an illusory, flamboyantly genderless fantasia.
This work began to take form, in part through conversations we were having about the work of late 19th and early 20th century dancer Loie Fuller, with interests in the visual possibilities of flowing fabric, and the material’s interplay with wind, light, and color relationships. At the same time we had been discussing Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, and we took inspiration from various samples from the text that made their way into the soundscore. After recent work focused so heavily on a specific historic figure, we turned our gaze from the archival past into the future. Through a queer bricolage, a hybridized character with cyborg glam, organic, and posthuman attributes began to emerge. As ardent fans of Leigh Bowery and his work with Michael Clark, we embraced concealing, revealing and refashioning identity in an absurdist, playful, and unsettling ways. These interests supported the formal elements as we collected fabric samples, worked on initial movements, developed ways to control the atmosphere though wind and sound, etc.
These initial ideas led to collaboration with a costume assistant designer Jeffrey Shirbroun, who made detailed beaded lip and mouth appliqués, and a large multifunctional cape which anchors the performance. A tall platform in the performance space paired with 6’ tall pleaser boots generated a larger than life quality to the figure, supporting ideas of fantasy and future. Scott’s sampling and repurposing of sound excerpts by Lamb, Lakmé, Freescha, and Lorde, along with an underscore of hand-made bird call samples and cybernetically affected recitations of key lines from the Cyborg Manifesto provided dynamic contrast to the visual figure.
BC: This performance launched in October during the global pandemic and increased safety restrictions due to the COVID-19 outbreak. How did this impact production, location, and/or audience? Where does this performance take place? Did the site inform the performance, or vice versa?
SA & JF: America was just starting to talk about the pandemic when we were presenting I Am A Haunted House back in early March. We were the last live event to take place in the theater this year, just barely getting to stage the work before mandated closures occurred the following week. Since then, we both participated in a handful of virtual events through our individual practices, and though these types of events are a great way to keep culture and artistic experiences from fully dying out, we definitely both had the desire to find ways to present more live works as soon as possible. That is why it was great when Tina Dillman reached out to us about presenting work in a backyard for a series of limited audience members, in the hopes to safely stage live work despite the current situation.
Initially we had expected to spend more time developing I Am A Haunted House and further presenting it for a traditional stage experience, but with this possibility on hold, exploring new ideas and site-specificity became the priority. In the end, we were able to participate in two evenings of performances along with local Pittsburgh legend Elizabeth Betty Asche Douglas, and artist/activist Christiane Dolores. These performances took place in Scott’s garden and accommodated around 20 viewers who were all required to wear masks and to remain socially distant throughout the events.
In part, the site did impact some of the staging of the work, not just through the limitations of the scale of the space, but also by thinking about the garden as stage, with all of the connotations that go along with being in a garden. The staging of the soundscore and movement began to take the organic form of a flower, moving through various stages of awakening, maturing, growing, adapting, and blossoming. This structural idea became informed by the many birds in the garden and the surrounding sounds of bird calls that subtly played into the atmosphere of the garden.
BC: Can you share about the technical aspects of this performance—the costuming, audio, and dance? Was the performance choreographed, improvisational, or both? How did sound influence the work?
SA & JF: Sound, image, and concept developed fluidly with each other. The set physical score was developed through improvisational tasks that evolved over time as elements of costume, sound, and place were introduced. These design elements continued to inform each other through a series of work sessions over the summer that mined possibilities of the most interesting versions of ideas we wanted to explore.
We continue to prioritize the idea that all design and production elements are of equal value in our collaborative work. Embracing curiosity and flexibility allows for a generous process in which we search for the most fascinating aspects of the work, rather than arrive at a predetermined destination.
BC: What is coming up next? Are you planning another iteration of this performance?
SA & JF: We plan to continue developing Chimera into a digital short with possibilities for live performance in the future. Since we may be in a highly virtual world for the foreseeable future, we’re interested in creating digital shorts that might be screened in both art and dance contexts. We recently screened some excerpts from I Am A Haunted House at the Iowa Dance Festival and at the Slippery Rock University Faculty Dance Concert, where Jesse is a professor. We hope to continue to participate in virtual screening possibilities and to look for more socially distant live performance opportunities in the future.
Black Cube’s New 2020 Fellows
An Interview with Lenka Clayton and Phillip Andrew Lewis — Written by Black Cube
Lenka Clayton and Phillip Andrew Lewis are Black Cube’s first named Artist Fellows under the Sabrina Merage Foundation. Part of Black Cube’s Artist Fellowship program, the Sabrina Merage Foundation Artist Fellowship is a 2020 fellowship for a contemporary artist, duo, or collective working at the intersection of inclusivity and diversity. This fellowship was created to support artists interested in cultivating relationships between new audiences and contemporary art. The two artists will be working collaboratively for their fellowship to create a site-specific artwork that embodies universal perspectives.
Black Cube: Tell us about your respective practices, the kind of art you make, as well as your main interests.
Lenka Clayton: I’m an interdisciplinary artist and work both alone and in collaboration with others. Originally I’m from the UK, but have lived in Pittsburgh since 09/09/09. I moved here from London, England after having a mysterious vision in which the word “Pittsburgh” manifested as yellow 3D letters in my mind’s eye. Now I live with my two kids Otto and Early (9 & 7) and my husband and collaborator Phillip Andrew Lewis who you’ll read about below.
My main material and inspiration are the experience of everyday life as it develops around me. Recent projects include the ongoing Artist Residency in Motherhood, a free, self-directed artist residency program that artists implement in their own homes and lives as parents. There are currently over 1,000 participants living in 64 countries from Ghana to China to New Zealand to Chile. Collectively we have also published a book of written accounts of the same day, and I’m currently working on a companion audio project.
Phillip Andrew Lewis: I am also an interdisciplinary artist who works on solo and collaborative projects. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and have been exhibiting art since 1998. To expand on what Lenka mentioned above, we live on a hilltop in Pittsburgh and also have two weather-themed cats, Fog and Drizzle. Our studio and our house are two blocks apart which is a perfect commute.
I first studied Psychology and after earning my degree I went on to study Studio Art. My foundation is in Photography and Film. And, while my work doesn’t always directly include those mediums, I am constantly aware that my creative approach is inspired by and connected to those fields. Research and conceptual ideation are a key part of my process for generating art and I also tend to work on a handful of projects at the same time.
Some of my ongoing projects include: Spirit Molecule which involves collaborating with Heather Dewey-Hagborg and working with an international team of scientists to bio-engineer living plants to contain human DNA as a new way to memorialize a lost loved one; Synonym which is a long-term research project about drug culture, the war on drugs, and the history of rehabilitation supported by Creative Capital; and, Darkhouse Lighthouse in which Lenka and I are constructing a full-scale working lighthouse to be contained within four floors of a burned out row house.
BC: Each of you hold independent practices, but also collaborate often (with one another and with other artists). Can you touch on one or two of your previous collaborations?
LC: Phillip and I have worked together since we met. I’ve also worked regularly with my friend, artist Jon Rubin. Most recently we taught the gallery guards for the Lyon Biennial the traditional magic trick of how to pull things (rabbits, flowers) out of a magic hat. Another recent project was Fruit and Other Things made for the last Carnegie International. During museum hours, two full time painters rendered the titles of 10,632 paintings historically rejected from the exhibition, into beautiful hand-lettered text paintings that were displayed in the museum and then handed out to visitors.
PAL: Lenka and I started our working relationship with a project called The Gifts where we gave one another an object a day for one week to creatively respond to. This exercise and the results have continued to surface in our work 3+ years later. We have even taught the project as a workshop. Even if my work is considered solo, it often involves some form of collaboration. For instance, within my project Synonym I have worked with teenage marching troops within confined spaces, an all-women’s Threshold Choir to ease and comfort the living and dying, unsuspecting strangers driving unmarked white vans, anonymous groups, plant communities, and therapists to name a few. Alongside artist Peter Happel Christian, we have a publishing project AA which conceptually reexamines Ansel Adams’ zone system through an eleven volume series of books. We have finished 4 so far. For each volume we work with a new designer, a new writer, and other types of contributors.
BC: For your fellowship with Black Cube, you are working together to realize a site-specific project. What excites you about producing a new work? Can you explain your process for working collaboratively?
LC: We spend more time in each others’ presence than in any other. Working is naturally folded into life. Often ideas will show up in conversation, then we’ll slowly work on them as we do other things — grocery shopping, parenting, etc. Once they get close to feeling formed, we might take a more formal approach, like writing them out or discussing them with others. The beauty of this particular collaborative relationship is that we never have to call meetings, the other person is just always there.
PAL: Working together is our life and a constant conversation. It is thrilling to watch an idea evolve and become a part of our world. We trust one another’s instincts completely, which makes everything almost easy or at the very least exciting. A big part of our process always involves lists both in written forms and drawings. These can build up and get lost in piles, then the ideas worth following stick in our heads and become obsessions. Lately with our Black Cube Fellowship we have been gathering loads of books, safely visiting archives, and having more Zoom calls with specialists than we can count. This research is really opening our eyes to everything around us.
BC: You two joined Black Cube’s fellowship during unprecedented times—amidst a global pandemic, a mass movement for racial justice, and an upsurge of political polarization in America. As artists, do you view this moment as restrictive or generative when it comes to ideating new works?
LC: Over time I have learnt the creative benefit and focus that all kinds of limitations can bring, and feel fairly accepting of external circumstances that shift one’s practice, attention or personal circumstances. The work moves forward as it can, and by following that it is possible to process and speak to one’s surrounding circumstances. For me, I look to my ongoing work as a grounding force through which I can most honestly respond to and move through life as it unfolds, whatever it might hold.
PAL: It seems to me that lots and lots of amazing art has always been generated during unprecedented times. I think it is often something to respond to or against. I tend to work harder under challenges and constraints. It isn’t always comfortable, but I think it can be a catalyst for good. I personally feel a need to work and make things. It is how I process the world and how I best communicate.
BC: Building off the previous question, how are you managing to conceptualize a site-specific project under the pandemic conditions?
LC: The limitations of our current situation determined the project for us. We are only able to spend time with one another, and can only work in our studio. These circumstances dictated our collaboration and our site. It also gave us the thrilling question, how to work with the people whose lives intersect with the physical location of our studio in new ways. We are asking ourselves, how can we poke metaphorical holes in the usually private studio in order to engage with the people who walk and drive past it each day?
PAL: It is amazing to be able to work on a project in the only place we can safely be. It has restricted us being able to go out to libraries and meet specialists in person, but we have found workarounds where possible and in general it has kept us more onsite.
BC: This named fellowship focuses on the plural concept of diversity and inclusivity. Can you explain what diversity and inclusivity means to you, in relation to your practices and the wider art world?
LC: In our neighborhood when we work on our house for example, every person walking past will stop and talk to us and share their views. We had two rocks sitting on our front steps for a while and a neighbor told us they’d wondered what they “mean” every time they walk past. It's a very interesting prospect to be making work for the specific community of our neighborhood. None of them know or I imagine would care particularly if we told them we make art. Allowing things to be discovered within the normal life of the people coming across them is to me the most direct way to engage my fellow human beings, while releasing whatever expectations and baggage are connected with the concept of art. For me, it is about allowing the work to happen and be discovered in a location that positions it honestly and deeply within people’s own experience, where its existence and interpretation is equally met by any interested party.
PAL: One thread we are following right now is examining how history is told, and by whom. Through our Black Cube project, we’ve set ourselves the challenge of questioning and opening up how a single location within a community is remembered and challenging that narrative by embracing the plurality and complexity of human history. How can we tell a story of a site that begins before the land rose out of the ocean, and extends as far as scientists can predict into the future?
A COVID-19 Artist Relief Award — Written by Black Cube
We’re excited to announce the awardees of Impossible Sites—our 2nd COVID-19 relief award intended to support artists living and working in the U.S. financially impacted by the pandemic. Impossible Sites invited artists to share sketches of ambitious, imaginary, or “impossible” public artworks for existing, unique sites anywhere in the world.
While the pandemic has created many new limitations to daily life, this award asked artists to turn inward through exploring the creative space of ideas for nonviable (site-specific) artworks. Throughout our past, artists have often veered towards the imaginary or nonsensical during extreme times. This project endeavored to encourage dreaming of unfeasible or impractical possibilities as a way to open the door to bold ideas and new visions of our world. Impossible Sites provided an opportunity for artists to experiment, imagine, and create, as well as viewers a chance to experience art during an extreme time of social isolation.
We sought sketches or renderings that depicted an impossible artwork situated within a real, existing location (i.e. the Moon, the Grand Canyon, a grocery store). The artwork could be deemed impossible for any number of reasons identified by the artist. For example, the artwork could have been impossible due to gravity or other natural phenomenon, cost, scale, materials, timeframe, etc.
Out of 89 submissions, Black Cube awarded 5 artists $650 each and presented 2 honorable mentions $300 each. Special thanks to the David and Laura Merage Foundation for supporting this artist relief award. Below are the awarded artist submissions:
ANDRANIK AROUTIOUNIAN, NY Archimedes in the Clouds gold, 600’
ALEX LUKAS, MA Untitled (Building-Sized Variable-Message Signs) marble, embedded LED lights, skyscraper-scale
ADRIAN PIJOAN, NM Starship Flora: The Everlasting Astrobotanical Conservatory aluminum, glass, plants, closed ecosystem, 240’ diameter x 150’ high
HUGO SANTANA, TX Archive for the Unconceivable steel, concrete, glass, wood, 900' x 900' x 900'
ERIC MOED, NY Memory-Go-Round earth magnets, repurposed merry-go-round, electric components, chopped and screwed merry go round music, 75' x 100' x 60'
TERRI LLOYD (HONORABLE MENTION), CA Pink Buddha Rising inflatable pink Buddha, blower with L.E.D. lighting, generator for electricity, support armature, guy cable and anchor, 700’
SHAMELESS ENTERPRISE (HONORABLE MENTION), CA + NY Marfa Plaza corporate capital, underpaid manual Labor, board approval, 10 million dollars in construction, steel, wood, glass, cement, 250' - 375'
Announcing Black Cube’s *new* Alumni Granting Program
An Interview w/ Alejandro Almanza Pereda — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube’s Alumni Granting Program is a continuation of the Artist Fellowship—a way for our organization to stay in touch with previous fellows and continue to support their practices. This program awards micro-grants annually to alumni who have an identified funding need that will somehow help advance their career. Funds received from grants may be used to support the production of new work, acquire equipment or materials, mitigate exhibition or residency fees, offset the cost of publishing, etc.
In previous years, we’ve produced physical projects with alumni. These alumni projects often took the form of a site-specific installation or exhibition and required admin assistance, fabrication support, curatorial guidance, and site procurement (you can see many of these projects in our archive here). As a young organization with a small staff, we decided to shift this opportunity from production to granting. This transition requires less organizational bandwidth, while still providing support to our alumni. Moreover, these micro-grants allow greater flexibility in how they can be used. This shift was partly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has greatly impacted the financial well-being of artists. In effort to remain committed to supporting our alumni during these challenging times (and moving forward), Black Cube awarded its first year of alumni grants.
Alejandro Almanza Pereda is one of four artists who received Black Cube’s 2020 Alumni Grant, which he applied towards setting up his new studio in Guadalajara. We interviewed Alejandro to hear more about his recent move, new shared studio space, and what’s in store for the future.
Black Cube: You recently applied and received Black Cube’s 2020 Alumni Grant, which you used to fund the move and setup of your new studio. You were forced to move out of your prior studio in Guadalajara, which you shared with a few other artists. Can you share a bit about your last studio? What was the story behind it?
Alejandro Almanza Pereda: Taller Los Guayabos was an initiative created three-and-a-half years ago with four artists and a pastry business owner—Octavio Abundez, Luis Villalobos, Gabriel Rico, Adriana Torres, and me. During my first studio search in Guadalajara, I stayed with Luis and Adriana for a week. I was looking for a space for both my studio and home. After several days, I noticed that the property down the block had a “For Sale” sign. I asked Luis about it and he told me that the sign had been there for a while; and that they had even tried calling to inquire about the property, but nobody ever answered. That night…with the help of some tequila…Adriana took the initiative to call and, to our surprise, somebody answered. That same night, we had an appointment to see the property the next day. The property had been abandoned for more than 30 years and belonged to a former Mayor of the city. The state of the house was surprisingly decent, but the back patio was overtaken by five Guayabos trees, a huge Mango tree, lots of rotten art deco furniture, and trash.
We gave them an offer of renting it for a low price, which also to our surprise, was accepted. Now, the challenge was to find money to get the property up a running. Octavio, Luis, and Gabriel actually had another shared studio with a similar situation. They came up with an innovative plan to enlist patrons to support the renovation of their studio. They contacted collectors from Guadalajara and offered them brand new pieces at a 50% discount or more in order to invest in a new studio.
We repeated this plan for our new studio space. We raised money to renovate the property into a working level, while respecting the patina of the 1930s house, which was built by Luis Barragan's brother. After 3 months of extensive labor, we got the space running. The space had extra rooms and a full bathroom, so I decided to live there as well. Having some extra rooms to spare, we offered the studio free of charge to a local artist that needed a studio.
This was the beginning of the Guayabos residency, which became a series of residencies that hosted more than 20 local and international artists, exhibitions, concerts, and lectures. It was a crazy endeavor, but worthwhile.
Recently, the property was inherited by a corporation that was not approachable at all. When we asked them to lower the rent or postpone it because of this pandemic, they increased it and gave us some demands of how the property had to be maintained. It was a hard decision, but we needed to let it go. All of us felt this property could have become a great cultural center for the city. Unfortunately, things went the other way.
After all this, we could not go without saying “goodbye” to a great legacy. So, we organized a final exhibition in mid-July that took over the entire property, including my apartment. We invited artists who were going to be in the next residencies or in future projects. We did the exhibition without an opening. We had strict visiting hours and limited to five people every 30-minutes in order to keep the state COVID-19 safety regulations. It was great to offer an exhibition to the community, especially at a time when museums had not opened. The response was beautiful. I have never seen people enjoy presential art so much. Visitors really took time to see the artworks.
BC: What’s your new studio like? What was it before it became your studio?
AAP: The new studio is a 1900s warehouse in a popular central neighborhood that started as a chocolate factory, then became a metalsmithing place. After that, it became a Coca-Cola distribution center.
This new space does not have the aesthetic qualities of my past studio (no amazing top and bottom patios). But, it does have much improved qualities that allow for better working situations—taller ceilings, better ventilation, 16-foot steel rolling gate, second floor offices, and a terrace.
BC: You’ve previously run artist residency programs out of your studio. Do you plan to continue similar programing at your new studio?
AAP: There is only one room available, which we would like to rent to an architectural or creative office in order to lower the rent. The rent now for us is double what we paid before, so we need to ease that cost for us.
Having a residency program and public exhibitions was a rewarding experience, but also a full-time job. We think we will take a break and focus on our work—although, we are part of a great cultural community, so we expect to be doing some collaborations with other spaces and people eventually.
BC: It seems like you often share studio space with other artists. Why is that? Is it simply because it helps financially, or does it fuel a more creative atmosphere?
AAP: I like to have people around me. It's nice to have company that is busy, that keeps you going.
Also, it is good to have personal time in the studio. I’ve had good luck with studio mates who respect that, so we have good guidelines to achieve boundaries.
I remembered when I first moved to Taller los Guayabos—I wanted to build sheetrock wall everywhere to keep my privacy—the rest of my studio mates were like “Are you crazy? You’ll destroy the space! Keep it open!”.
BC: How do you set your studio space up? Specific equipment or types of space? What is essential to your practice?
AAP: Studio planning is super exciting for me. I feel like a responsible architect who is really thinking about the client's needs. It’s also quite similar to when you have to move to a new house or a new city, which in my personal experience has been more than 30 times. So, you learn from it. But, it feels like there is always something that needs to change in order to get things up and running.
For my practice, it’s essential to be able to express my work. Then, comes all of the commodities. There is always a way to make work, maybe different from the way you have thought about it before, but there is always a way.
I think I can make work in any situation. But also, I think the value of finding the way of making your work better, more responsible, more enjoyable, safer, etc. is a great virtue. Well, this is the conceptual thing…but I have to say… the essential of my practice has been keeping things, so I have collected a lot of things…which has its consequences.
Here is a “to do” list for the new studio:
- Organize a little bit of the tools and materials. - Set up the woodshop so we can build things that the new studio needs. - Put up metal shelving to start organizing materials, objects, and tools. - Set up ventilators. - Finish up the dust/ wet room. - Set up an organized and effective office. - Make a good social leisure space. - Test it, test it again, change things, improve things.
BC: What will be the first artwork you work on in your new studio space?
AAP: Hehe, that is a nice positive question! This studio will give me more space and capabilities to assemble, collect, and store materials, so I can explore more intrepid work.
I thought my first piece was going to be an unfinished work that I started in the beginning of the year, which consisted of a rotor that moves objects emulates a planetary system. This rotor was made of secondhand materials, so it weighs a lot. In order to attach it to the ceiling, I will need to make sure that the ceiling is capable of holding the weight. Before doing that, we need to take care of the ceiling and adobe walls exposure to humidity, since it is now the rainy season.
With bigger work comes the question of where I am going to store it or who is going to collect it. This will not stop me from making it though.
I might need three weeks before I can start working again. We need to set up the woodshop, the dust collection, the ventilators, the wet/dust room, offices, the terrace bar. It sounds pretty chaotic. There are some pieces from the last studio we still need to finish, so those are priority.
There are big aspirations of making new pieces here. But, we need to be careful now, since I spent some good savings on moving and the renovation of the space, and also incomes are quite uncertain now with the pandemic. So, I need to plan where to invest now.
One of my objectives this year is to make the most of what I have now in the studio, complete projects that are pending, and take regional trips. In other words, to make the most of it. In my experience, in any moving you go through, you need to go through all your stuff…and you realize that you have a lot of gems that have been put on the side.
Black Cube’s First Named Fellowship
An Interview with Sabrina Merage-Naim — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube has recently announced its first named fellowship, the Sabrina Merage Foundation Artist Fellowship. This named fellowship will focus on an artist who is exploring in the expansive area of diversity and inclusivity, which is in line with Sabrina’s philanthropic work. In effort to introduce readers to our new fellowship and the support behind it, we interviewed Sabrina about her motivations for working in this field and how she hopes to support tolerance and acceptance of diversity.
Sabrina Merage Naim founded the Sabrina Merage Foundation in 2008 with the intention of sparking inclusivity and promoting tolerance between diverse cultures. Sabrina is the daughter of Black Cube’s Founder, Laura Merage, and is the founder of Echo Capital Group (ECHO)—a venture capital firm focused on early-stage investments in consumer product companies founded by young, driven entrepreneurs who are developing concepts for the Millennial demographic. In addition, Sabrina is the Vice President of Corporate Strategy at Consolidated Investment Group (CIG), her family office investment firm which invests across numerous asset classes, including real estate, private equity, public equity and funds.
Black Cube: We would love to introduce our audience to the Sabrina Merage Foundation, and the work your foundation does. Can you share a bit about your philanthropic vision to support diversity and inclusivity? How did you come to focus your work on this intersection?
Sabrina Merage-Naim: 12 years ago, I was a recent college graduate coming into the workforce at the onset of the Great Recession. At school, I had experienced the dichotomy of the incredible open-mindedness of being on a college campus juxtaposed by numerous instances of bigotry and racism that same year. Swastikas were graffitied on the walls of dormitories, racist slurs were being hurled at black students, and more. This was not unique to my school at the time and unfortunately, these instances on college campuses around the country have not slowed since. I knew I wanted to do something to have a positive impact on the world and was often inspired by my parents’ philanthropy, but I didn’t have a clear direction until I saw this imbalance at the educational institutions that are meant to infuse us with knowledge, empathy, and camaraderie. I made it my mission to seek out organizations, individuals, and movements that sought to bridge the divides between people. Fast forward to today and I have had the privilege of partnering with true change-makers, innovative grassroots campaigns, films, organizations, and more. Today, messages of inclusivity are more needed than ever. Whether we see these divides widening in political dialogue, social rhetoric, or otherwise, it is beholden to the members of society who can make their voices heard, to do so for the benefit of all. The Sabrina Merage Foundation has seen some incredible movement in the work that we support through our partners and we will continue to do so for as long as these conversations need to happen.
BC: What an intense experience it must have been for you, and other students, to see those acts of racism occur on your University campus. We are all lucky that you saw that as a call to action. Even today, we are still in a moment of extremes – expanding political divides, growing social inequalities, severe weather events, false information, and the rise of hate groups. I’d like to unpack what inclusivity means to you because it can mean so many different things. Does inclusivity mean acceptance of all beliefs? What do you envision when you think of a strong and clearly defined example of inclusivity? Are there any organizations that exemplify these values to you?
SMN: I believe we will all thrive when we begin to appreciate the beauty in our differences. That doesn’t mean acceptance of ALL beliefs because there are many belief systems that exist to oppress others. Those belief systems that think themselves to be superior or more worthy of others or who create rhetoric or actions that harm others, need not apply. And in fact, those individuals that subscribe to these extremist and harmful groups or movements are exactly the ones we aim to reach. We aim to bring people back to a point of balance and moderation where we are all better equipped to dismiss the false news, the extremist views, and the social inequities. To take it a step further, once individuals are equipped to protect themselves and their families from extremism and bigotry, we seek to embolden allies to be ambassadors for change and provide them with the tools they need to have productive and meaningful conversations. We’ve seen this work achieve successes in numerous formats ranging from documentaries to schools to community theater. At the simplest level, allowing more space for empathy, education, and open dialogue in a variety of settings and ways is what we aim to achieve.
BC: Building off of this, how do you think the Coronavirus and its affectual situations (e.g. social isolation and economic turmoil) impact the conversation of inclusivity and equality? Do you see any new ways of promoting equality emerging or developing while in quarantine?
SMN: Two important pieces that have arisen during this global pandemic. The first is the realization and acceptance that this virus could negatively impact any person on this planet regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, etc. This realization has, in some ways, acted as an invisible link that has brought us together. There’s very much a feeling of “we’re in this together”. We have seen a number of uplifting stories of virtual community bonding, the heroism of our frontline workers, selfless acts to benefit strangers, and so much more. During this difficult time, we truly see how communities break down barriers to bond and rise up together. The second item has to be the acknowledgment that although this virus doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race or religion per se, it does discriminate in other ways vis a vis our elderly populations, low-income communities, those with mental health issues, the prison system, and beyond. It is beholden upon us to open our eyes to the difficult positions that people are in outside of our immediate circles and have those conversations and take action where we can. There are those who do not have the luxury of adhering to shelter-in-place laws. They need to work— and provide for their families— in whatever way they can. Those individuals with mental health issues who are in isolation are at high risk and need to feel a connection with community members. The economic turmoil is and will continue to disproportionately impact lower-income communities who have lost jobs, wages, and don’t necessarily have savings to ride out the storm. It is naive to say that this virus is non-discriminating as a blanket statement. We need to open our eyes to the many experiences of others. This is true during the time of COVID-19 and it is true at every other time in history.
BC: Given your commitment to uprooting the underlying causes of inequality, what excites you most about supporting site-specific art and artists’ civic role?
SMN: I have seen first-hand how art moves, inspires, awes, and brings people together. We communicate through art, express through art, educate through art, connect through art. Art is boundless and, in my experience, one of the most effective ways to create dialogue of sometimes sensitive or controversial issues. Black Cube has a unique ability to amplify the voices and expressions of artists who otherwise may not have the means to bring their installations to public spaces in this way. There is a civic engagement that happens when the public is exposed to site-specific art through Black Cube that I have yet to see mirrored anywhere else. I believe that most people crave the experiences and conversations that Black Cube art instigates but are often held back by the sometimes intimidating experience of the “white cube” gallery. Black Cube artists are able to bring the conversation to the public where they exist and in a palatable and intriguing way. With this setting and foundation, we are able to capitalize on the complex conversations that we need to be having in order to positively progress as a society.
TWYMF Artist Brunch
Artists Answer the Questions Asked — Written by Black Cube
Since early 2019, Black Cube has hosted monthly potluck brunches for artists at our HQ outside of Denver, CO. The idea was simple – to offer a space for our local artists to gather for a meal and to raise questions or topics that are important to them. Each brunch features a different artist, who in turn poses a few questions to the group and selects the main brunch ingredient for us to serve.
In light of the current pandemic and the requisite cancellation of the physical brunch (they will continue virtually), we thought it would be an apt moment to reflect on the topics past artists have raised. And, for each artist to respond to one of their questions under the lens of our current socially isolated reality.
Below are the questions from artists who’ve participated in our TWYMF brunch: Joseph Coniff, Jessica Langley, Viviane Le Courtois, and Sophie Lynn Morris.
Joseph Coniff Black Cube: During our TWYMF program, you posed the following questions to artists who attended the brunch. Why did you pose these questions to the group?
1. Who do you make work for? Joseph Coniff: I find the time I spend making things to be important for both my mental and physical wellbeing. With that said, I rarely think about who I'm making work for. If I feel out of whack, there's a good chance I haven't spent enough time in my studio. I posed this question at the brunch to see if others have the same relationship to making art and to learn more about what motivates people.
2. Is art a productive way to present ideas? JC: It can be. Social practice being a good example. I think this really depends on the objective of the work (why it's being made) and how it's executed. I was curious to hear what people's thoughts were about the importance of the "idea" within art. And what people's opinions were about what an idea is, as it relates to art. Does art need to (or should it) present ideas? My art school education suggests that it certainly should. And I believed in that for a while. Now I have more of a centric view on the importance of ideas within art. My concern with an overarching concept or structure as to what art should be is that this type of thinking creates and defines parameters. Defined parameters are limiting and constrictive, two things I believe shouldn't be associated with any creative endeavor. I enjoy the thought of something being initially created without a defined meaning. I probably like this because I tend to overthink, and I believe my work suffers from that. I make far less than I should simply because I often can't place what I want to do within a context I'm happy with at that immediate point and time.
3. Funding options/ideas for artist run spaces? JC: I like the idea of the community coming together to help keep artist-run spaces operating. Possibly through the donation of work for benefit auctions or other fundraising efforts. Keeping operating costs low for these spaces provides a freedom to show work from younger or less established artists or work that doesn't have a commercial or monetary aspect to it. For me, as a viewer, these are the types of shows I'm interested in seeing. Without these spaces, art communities and the overall culture surrounding art will suffer tremendously. We all need to do what we can to ensure these types of spaces can continue to operate and provide us with an alternative to the commercial and institutional art-viewing situation. My hope with this question was to start a larger conversation about how we together as artists can support and help artist-run spaces continue to sustain and grow.
BC: In light of the radical changes we are all experiencing because of COVID-19, how do you think art audiences have changed under social distancing? Will these changes in audiences impact the kind of work you make (both short-term and long-term)? JC: This pandemic obviously will and has affected art audiences and institutions. We’ll see in time what everything looks like on the other side. This is a hard question for me to answer simply because I have nothing to compare this present situation to. One positive is that we have the internet. Imagine a pandemic before the internet. I can’t see my work changing too drastically, aside from the time I’ve had to concentrate on making and developing work. This “Stay Home” and social distancing lifestyle has been productive for me; I’m enjoying the isolation.
Jessica Langley BC: During our TWYMF program, you posed the following questions to artists who attended the brunch. Why did you pose these questions to the group?
Jessica Langley: This topic is something I consider in my work and in my life. It is the underlying threat to our existence, and yet also a great reminder of how truly powerless we are as individuals. I wanted to highlight the feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, while also questioning the art world’s role in the solution. There are answers out there, but it isn’t something we can solve over brunch. However, I wanted to tie in comfort food (biscuits and gravy), but vegan, which is an ethical choice that many would argue has a positive effect on the environment. So, while on the one hand, I, alone, cannot change anything, I do acknowledge that collective action is needed on a broad scale. I accept that dichotomies exist within the questions I posed. While I feel dread, my hope springs eternal. What can I say?
1. Existential Crisis, Climate Change . . . how is everyone feeling? JL: I think I wanted to connect with people on a more emotional level about this issue because I think that just feeling connected to people helps. In an intimate setting I wanted to foster a sense of oneness. It doesn’t solve any problems, but it helps to know that other people feel the same fear.
2. Climate Change & Climate Justice and the present day art world - Is any part of the art world engaged? JL: While I think there is some movement in the artworld to become more intersectional, I also think most of the artworld is driven by capitalism, which is doing nothing for Climate Justice. Does the artworld give a voice to marginalized people? Is that enough? Can it do more?
Amidst this global pandemic, we are seeing that system breaking down when laborers everywhere are no longer able to do their work. People will hopefully realize that endless consumption, the speed of travel, corporate greed, and policies that continually exploit resources in poorer countries are no longer options.
3. What can artists/cultural producers do collectively to change culture? JL: The hopeful side of me wants to believe that there are solutions, and I wondered if anyone else present was aware of programs, ideas, practices so that perhaps we can spread those ideas. I had also hoped that perhaps we could brainstorm ideas to either raise awareness, raise money, or … I don’t know! What can we do?!
BC: COVID-19 has had unintended impacts, particularly with regards to the environment. We have witnessed the mass shuttering of businesses, fewer drivers on the roads, and less global travel. It is still early, but we’ve already seen significant drops in air pollution and carbon monoxide emissions. In light of the radical changes we are all experiencing because of the outbreak, do you feel that this has the potential to influence the climate change conversation? JL: Sadly, I have also seen fake news appear of claims that dolphins are swimming in Venice and other hopeful things, which is so frustrating and only fuels people’s confusion and distrust. I fear that desperation will overrule any progressive thinking in this situation. I am not confident that many voters are aware of the situation globally and really only think about their immediate needs. I think it depends on what people will consider valuable after all of this. How long will people be fighting for sick leave or fighting eviction? When most people in some of the richest countries in the world can’t afford to eat, perhaps only then will people start to question the system that is in place. But, I think there is always potential!
Viviane Le Courtois BC: During our TWYMF program, you posed the following questions to artists who attended the brunch. Why did you pose these questions to the group? Viviane Le Courtois: I asked those questions because we were in the midst of finalizing a decision to move Processus and transform to a private studio/ business rather than a shared space. I was going through big changes in the way I wanted to work, focusing on my work, rather than accommodating others. I was looking for community thoughts about how we work, how we will work, how we could share more useful ideas… but now everything is transforming suddenly, and we all have to change the way we make art, exhibit, travel, eat meals, gather and teach. Collective versus individual has always been a debate in art making and in my work. Shared spaces are best to get connected; individual spaces are best to refocus on what’s next. The increasing costs of having a space forces us to work individually in smaller spaces or to may be move to more remote locations. I am always debating on where I should be and how I should work next. Change is good, routine can get stuck in a perpetual cycle.
1. Do you think the future of the artist studio is collective or individual? In which condition do you prefer to work/ get the most ideas? VLC: This time of social distancing is going to change how people view others and how people interact in shared spaces, gallery openings and teaching environments for years to come. I think that there will be a decline in shared space, as more people make spaces to work from home, and work remotely when needed. We are all learning how to communicate and think differently. How to adjust our work to be more independent… More things will be going online, at least until a cure or vaccine is found. Many artists may retreat to their own studio or house to work to avoid being with other people and because of economic reasons. At this time, my opinion is changing daily as I am reconsidering my future social and interactive art practice, my future teaching, curatorial endeavors and studio situation. I believe, individual studios will still exist for the upper class or those lucky to own a space. We created a shared studio to be able to afford a larger space, now that that idea is not possible anymore, we have to return to a home space and make a built a suitable space to continue to support others but without the close human interaction. Around the same time as the COVID-19 arrived in America, we knew that our studio would not last too much longer due to the increase in city taxes and rent in January. In February we made the wise decision to move out of our space in June, and to redesign Processus into a private art business and studio rather than a shared workspace at least for now. Art and life will blend even more. Now that we have seen everyone’s background and office on Zoom and social media, we can share everything remotely. The ideas will evolve to match our needs and times and new things will happen.
Some days, I just want to be by myself away from any communication devices. I have been home for nearly 2 weeks, and I have been on the phone, in Zoom meetings, answering emails, posting on social media, teaching online and I had no time for art or for writing about art! Working with people is always more productive, face to face communication is always easier, especially when teaching. I will definitely be more aware of other people’s distance and habits, whether in a shared space, at an art opening or while teaching art. I spent my time with people in everything I do, but at this point I am reconsidering how much time I want to be with people in the future, and how I want to travel. Artists will want to get back together after this, but it might take a while. Some will be paranoid about sharing spaces, others won’t care. Having managed a shared space for 5 years, it is coming to an end, and we will figure out what comes next, how can we make work for people who do not have the equipment or offer short term residencies to one person at a time. Artists will have to lock themselves in their individual studio, log onto Zoom meetings for studio visits, and need to have everything online to be seen. But we have to set time aside for art, for cooking, gardening and relaxing. It is so easy to become tangled in technology. I will find the balance again and a more private space to create.
2. What are things you have ideas for but you have not finished them because you don’t have the right tools or space? VLC: Studio space, storage and traveling breakable artwork is always an issue. Being tied to physical jobs and health insurance is the main barrier. I want to keep exploring new materials and ways of working. I want the time to create, I want to find a simpler way of living and creating art. Over the last few years, I have acquired the equipment I need to keep creating in one space. Now, I need to redesign the way I work to fit my living space and personal studio, create routines. I now have equipment to work, I just need the time for new ideas to germinate in a completely changed environment for social forms of art. Some ideas might not be possible for a while. I really want to archive and go through what I have done over the last 30 years and start over into new directions, may be now is the time for freedom and introspection, behavioral studies and microbiology?
3. How do we create the right environment for ideas to spread? VLC: Many ideas are spreading online right now, especially on social media, as the virus spreads around the world. More art than ever from museums and galleries is available online, more art instruction is being shared, more people are collaborating to help each other find resources to teach or to help the community. But, we are bombarded daily by information and news that it is hard to find the time to think about our own needs. If Mycelium, viruses and good bacteria or antibodies were spreading at the same rate, it might not be an issue. There is currently an imbalance between what information comes in each of us and what can get out creatively. The right environment will have a balance between hands on creative work and technology, between in person interactions and online presence, between life and art.
I think creating an online platform for ideas and resources for global artists would be great, but we still need in person sharing and connections. Since there is no central effort to support artists in the U.S., it is a full-time job for artists to find the resources and apply to funding or look for the right opportunities. We need a community of people, curators, writers and philanthropists… to make this happen, we need less competition, we need to stop asking artists to work for nothing or to make work to fit someone else’s idea. As we are forced to use more technology, maybe it will speed up the process and the need to be connected, the need to help each other research new ways to create and live. We still need to sit and eat together, make work together and have in person discussions and random encounters with new people. We still need to touch and be immersed in spaces and see art in person. It is hard to imagine the world as it was just a month ago!
Sophie Lynn Morris BC: During our TWYMF program, you posed the following questions to artists who attended the brunch. Why did you pose these questions to the group? Sophie Lynn Morris: I recorded a version of my Black Cube TWYMF talk that can be found on my Instagram stories highlights here. Below is an (*edited) transcript of that talk.
1. What is the effect of social media and “scrolling” on artists and art making? SLM: So my first question for the chat was “what is the effect of social media and scrolling (so that would be the Instagram scroll) on artist and art making”. I think a lot about how Instagram and posting your art affects the public's understanding of art, and there's this very close relationship between artists and the general public. And when I think about this topic, I always think about the Museum of Contemporary Art and their Instagram feed which is very... special.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a good selfie, but I personally don't appreciate the way that artists continually want to distance themselves from the Kardashians and yet the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Instagram feed is essentially Kim Kardashian’s selfie book, and not much different. And of course what I mean by that is that their feed is about 75% selfies with the art and most of the captions are geared towards teens, (they have a big teen program at the Museum), which is great but then I think a little bit about accessibility and just what what the public's perception of art is going to be because of those captions and images... I don't know if it's for better or for worse… once again, that's why it’s a chat, not a lecture.
2. How do we encourage each other to be honest in such a small arts scene? SLM: The second question I posed to the group is “how do we encourage each other to be honest in such a small art scene”. This is my way of talking about critical dialogue in Denver and the types of conversations that we’re having about art. That could be art critic to an artist, artist to artist, artist to critique, or even speaking out about institutional or social problems that we face in the art world, and I find a lot of the time people are scared to be honest about how they feel because they fear the repercussions of: seeing a person at an opening, having an art critic not write about them, etc. So, in order to illustrate this point, next slide.
What I just posted was a screenshot of a Facebook post that stirred the pot in Denver, the pot that needed to be stirred, that was practically boiling over, and it's the pot of Ray Rinaldi articles that are on everyone's CVs in this entire town, especially mine, I would know, my entire bibliography is basically Ray Rinaldi articles. Don Fodness called out Ray Rinaldi because he wrote an article about a show at the Arvada Center that had three jurors. However, Ray Rinaldi only mentioned one. Was it an accident? Was it on purpose? The question becomes a little more interesting when you learn that the curator, he mentioned is a man and the two curators that he didn't mention are women. The point of mentioning this isn't that I'm trying to figure out which art critics in Denver are sexist and which aren't, the point is that Don Fodness, by posting this, and speaking out about something that was important to him, and a lot of other artists in the community, judging by the 150 likes on his post, that probably he will not be written about by that art critic... forever? For the rest of the year? And we have to understand that... that's just... happening.
So the slide I just posted is all the people I think of when I think of art critics in Denver. You have Michael Paglia, Ray Rinaldi, Kealey Boyd, who just followed me on Instagram, shoutout Kealey Boyd, she writes Hyperallergic articles that are really great sometimes, hope she would write more, Susan Froyd, on her page on Westword or on her Facebook it says “ not a critic, just a fan”, so I don't even know if I should be including her, I put a little pic of Torin Jensen, and I screenshotted my friend Michael Bibos’ blog, which I actually think is the best art writing that I've seen in a long time, Denver or otherwise. The important part about this isn't really to say anything besides “look at who we’re working with here people”, we have a group of approximately 7 people and… What do they have in common? What kind of work are they looking at? What are they talking about? Do we care? Is it good? I don't know.
3. What do we want the Denver art world to be, and how can we make it like that? SLM: The next two questions that I wrote are: “What makes being an artist in Denver special and what makes it horrible?” And “ what do we want the Denver Art world to be, and how do we make it like that?” And the only way that I could think of that was appropriate to talk about these (video cuts off but I’m supposed to say “ questions is the Bingo meme”).
The Bingo meme is where you take a section of the population that you want to make fun of, like “girls on Tinder”, “ students”, or, in this case, “obnoxious vegans”, and every square is filled in with a cliche about that population that you want to make fun of. As you could imagine, being an artist in Denver Colorado is a naturally hilarious occurrence.
Feel free to read the bingo card, fill it out for yourself, and see just how much you deserve to be made fun of. I personally filled out the bingo card as well and I got a double bingo.
At this point, you're probably wondering if there's prizes for getting a bingo. The answer is simple. Johnny Defeo put it best. The best prize of all is “congrats, no one cares about your work, and you’re poor for the rest of your life”, which might be true in most cities in the United States for artists.
4. How can we address the studio space “crisis” in Denver? SLM: My final question is how we can address the studio space “crisis” in Denver. I wrote crisis in quotation marks because artists are not a protected class and we aren't experiencing a crisis for space in the same way that, say, the homeless are experiencing a crisis for space in Denver. However, maybe someone cares about this issue, and maybe it should be fixed.
The important part about studio space is to remember that there's no HR department for the art world. This is an internal problem, and as creative people I think we need to creatively solve this and do it ourselves. I have a pretty random idea, if you have another idea of how we can band together and find studio space, maybe you found a commercial space that's got really cheap square footage, maybe you have an old landlord who's not all there and rents for really cheap because they don't know any better, all great options for artists. so, without further ado, this is my idea for studio space.
I grew up a few blocks away from East High School and have always been enamored with this strange room under the Clock Tower with 360-degree windows on all sides. And I asked my sister, who went to East High School, what was inside of this room, and the answer is… absolutely nothing. It's a gigantic empty room. My point in sharing this is that Denver is not New York and it's not Los Angeles, because space does exist here. It exists in public schools, it exists in the thousands of churches all over our city, and it exists in government buildings most likely. And my idea Is that we should fill all of those spaces with artist-in-residence, and all it would take is a little bit of coordination. I've spoken with a couple of principles at different high schools about my idea, and there's two ways that it could possibly work. One is the barter system. In exchange for a space to make their work for an extended period of time, hopefully a year, the artist would serve as a resource to the school. This could look like almost anything. An artist could provide portfolio reviews to seniors who are applying to Art School, start teacher at the high school probably doesn't have time to provide I want attention, being overworked and underpaid. After school programs would be an amazing option. Artist could perhaps collaborate with arts classes if there wasn't an issue or provide internships to students. What do the students want? It could be absolutely anything.
The other way that this could possibly work is by making a donation to the school's art department. I personally would much rather give the art department of a school $1,200 in exchange for a space then give it to a developer that doesn't really give a shit about me or my little art practice. In that example, I just got a studio space that cost $100 a month, which I think is pretty affordable, and that high school just got $1,200 to their probably already non-existent art budget. it could go really far for that school and make a direct impact in our community. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten very far on this because principals are extremely busy, and have a lot to do, and may not have time to indulge my personal fantasies of having an art practice inside of the clock tower of their school.
BC: In light of the radical changes we are all experiencing because of COVID-19, the closing of art spaces has created an immense pull for art organizations to turn to online methods of gathering. How do you think this is going to impact artists and art making (both short-term and long-term)? SLM: I noticed that too. Lots of these “online galleries” are popping up, which is funny because that’s how most people viewed art before coronavirus too, on Instagram. There’s basically no difference between this and how it was before besides that people are going through the trouble to make these online gallery websites and 3d models you can “walk” through with paintings hanging on digital walls. We should have been doing some of these things the whole time, because we can, and it will (hopefully) increase everyone’s audiences to be more global. It does feel very “I’m living in a simulation” though. Some things just can’t be viewed online. We already knew this but it’s really obvious when you’re looking at an inch thumbnail in someone’s online digital gallery of an extremely detailed oil painting. Maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe you can get the gist of things just fine online. No one pays attention at openings, anyways right? So they might as well be looking at a thumbnail? Cause everyone is too concerned with socializing and partying at openings. Cortney Stell herself wanted to do a series of parties that weren’t openings, just parties, if I had that right. I really hope she does that after social distancing is over because I’m sure we could all really use a party.
In the short term, there’s a possibility that some artists will do really well with the extra time on their hands. Time is the resource artists need the most but have the hardest time getting because, you know, money exists. I saw a hashtag the other day called #coronavirusartistresidency or something like that. If you lose your job, you might as well make the most of it and spend extra time on your hobbies or passions, right? Maybe this is what we have always wanted!!! Might also be a good time for people to hide behind their internet personas and leave some snarky comments on photos of people’s art on Instagram that they hate, too.
In the long term, I’m curious to see what type of work people make this year. I’m already tired of Mona Lisas with face masks, and I haven’t even seen one yet. I’d like to see how artists interpret this time and weird energy, and not just see them paint some Clorox wipes. Could be a good time to ponder the void and all your existential dread, get out those lonely feelings and make some really depressing shit. Kind of reminds me of that scene in “Me and You and Everyone We Know” by Miranda July where the museum curator is working on a show about digital culture, and they come across a piece about AIDS, and the curator says “E-mail wouldn't even exist if it weren't for AlDS. Fear of contamination. Fear of bodily fluids.” I’m sure we will see lots of disinfectant related stuff, social isolation technology stuff, weird YouTube hand washing tutorials, painting still lives at home, etc, either way.
I think this time might also recontextualize some work people have already finished. Some of the stuff I made for Black Cube’s Drive-In is feeling extra relevant now because it’s about emergencies and the ridiculous obsessive hoarding of resources and why that’s a metaphor for relationships and trauma. But now people are literally hoarding resources so I wonder what that means for my work and if it will influence a new direction for me. I hope everyone is able to get in the studio and come out the other side with a whole bunch of new stuff to share. And I can’t wait to see everyone again soon.
Inside the Cadet Chapel
An Interview with Jaimie Henthorn — Written by Black Cube
Black Cube: You are a trained choreographer and dancer, when did your work start to bridge into the field of contemporary art?
Jaimie Henthorn: What I considered a fine art practice and dance ran in parallel lines for years as strangers, as far as I was concerned. During my BA at Northwestern, and Chicago generally, we learned about the meshing and melding of disciplines by the Bauhaus or Judson Dance Theater. I danced, including learning from Robert Battle and Juliard instructors at Perry Mansfield and dancing with Khecari Dance Theatre and Wise Fool NM in Taos. My studio practice then began to explore built space with large scale installations and direct mark making. I did away with the canvas and the frame and then, during my MFA studies in Scotland, I realized I didn’t need to make marks any more and could feature the body itself. This was the big “ah-ha” moment and I never turned back. The focus of my research developed into working with the body as my instrument and built space as my context.
BC: Much of your work deals with the combination of the choregraphed human body and modernist architecture. Can you orient us around this interest of yours, and why it has been an ongoing area of research?
JH: Modernism is a convenient subject given the vigor of the theory and prevalence of buildings in the built landscape today. It is old enough that we can reflect on it and new enough that we still care about it. Plus, I really like its aesthetic, bizarreness, and controversy.
Each of my performance investigations engages a modernist building in deep conversation with the human body. I am interested in the way we move, learn to move, and are instructed to move in relation to these architectural structures, specifically in terms of power and identity. Coming from a dance background, I utilize the ‘moving body’ as my research tool to expose the relational dynamics between built environment and human subject.
BC: Designed by American architect Walter Netsch, the Cadet Chapel is the most visited man-made tourist attraction in Colorado and the most recognizable building at the Air Force Academy. Why did you choose to engage this iconic space for your fellowship project?
JH: Part of the answer is in the question. This is an icon of the state and proved to be the most recognized building of Netsch’s career. Being on the Air Force Academy campus added an interesting layer to the social context – the adoption of the Chapel into military culture and values was apparent. I find the more there is to unpack with a particular structure, the richer the research process and the stronger the outcome of the project.
BC: This project required multiple layers of permission for both filming on site at the Air Force Academy and collaborating with the Cadet Honor Guard. Can you speak about the process for obtaining permission?
JH: Seeking permissions comes with the territory of working with known modernist buildings. Many are historically registered in one way or another. I sussed out the permissions route and waited to receive the artist fellowship and alignment with Black Cube to communicate with them. The proposal had to be approved by the resident architect and the legal team. In order to work with the cadets who practice drill, I was required to use the Cadet Honor Guard. Then, once we had footage, it all had to be screened by their legal team. These processes were tedious and drawn-out, but it is actually quite informative to get inside the communication loops of the organization to learn more about it and get to know people.
The cadet honor guard was chosen for me as the performers by Air Force Academy, and I had a chaperone at all times. This degree of control over my actions was hugely influential over the final outcome of this video work. Through the duration of producing my work at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I experienced a meaningful collaboration with the cadets—one that revealed their rapidly evolving sense of self and a more direct correlation with the Chapel to that sense of self than I could have imagined previously. Experiencing the space where young cadets form their sense of self and identity, under the pressure of power structures that demand an orderly veneer.
BC: The video is scored by American electronic music producer Kate Simko, in collaboration with the London Electronic Orchestra. Why did you want to work with an electronic dance music composer on this work?
JH: Once I knew this would be a video with AFA cadets as the subject, both due to permissions, I wanted it to do that sort of magic thing that I had seen with military-style movement as dance. I was obsessing over Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation video and also step dance use of drill movement. Knowing I would be sticking with the cadets choreography for the most part, I played around with overlaying music on drill competion videos sourced online. I know Kate through friends and knew about her fascinating innovations with creating the London Electronic Orchestra and scoring and performing orchestral arrangements. Its freshness and beauty evoke something I can’t describe and that means many things at once.
BC: You approached two highly charged subject matters in this artwork: the military and the church. Yet, the video itself manages to present neutrality, focusing more on the cadet’s body movements in relation to their built environment. Do you agree? Was this intentional?
JH: I mostly agree, yes. I think the video presents neutrality as far as aligning with one camp or another about the relative value of these huge institutions. This video is about humans and the structures we build and live in and with. I also want viewers to really see the content for what it is and not shut their mind to it or even be concerned with it supporting their own agenda. I do think there is a charge to the work in the way it brings up power structures - architecture’s implicit involvement and the cadets’ vulnerability.
BC: Repetition and mirroring are key techniques that occur throughout the video, both conceptually and visually. Can you explain some of the moments when repetition and mirroring occur? Why did you utilize these methods?
JH: The mirror became the driving concept of the work once I understood to what extent the Chapel as emblem of the AFA is instilled in the cadets. I really don’t think it bears much religious meaning for them – instead they see their inspiration, goals, their cadet selves reflected back at them. This is employed as a motif in the video with left-to-right and top-to-bottom mirroring effects. And the video as a whole functions as a mirror as well, journeying forward and then back again. This gives the viewer time to reflect on the experience while still in it. Because of the symmetrical and regular nature of the forms and movement, these motifs and even the video running backwards integrates fairly seamlessly.
BC: Black Cube’s fellowship is intended to help artists grow in their art practice and often experiment in uncharted territory. How did this project help you grow? Were there moments when you were challenged or inspired?
JH: I learned to turn out a more finished product. I feel confident in my abilities to fine tune a concept and create a compelling concept. Then moving from project to a finished artwork has felt elusive, something I would land of if lucky but not have much control over. I could now define and describe that process from working as a Black Cube fellow, and hopefully repeat it!
The challenge and inspiration were both wrapped around that process. I felt confused and disoriented at times in pursuit of a final video product. I was also wildly pleased when the collaborative elements we had worked so hard for came together in a way that aligned with the original vision. That was magic.
The Role of Temporary Monuments in Public Space — Written by Livy Snyder
For several years, the removal of controversial monuments were decisions made by Historical Commissions and Mayoral offices. In response, artists and art historians have fostered forums, developed spaces, and created artworks to address the complicated issues around preserving and replacing historical artifacts. Temporary monuments have been a successful and innovative approach to disrupt and revise old patterns of collective memory connected to controversial monuments.
In response to the current sociopolitical climate of monument removal, Director and Chief Curator of Black Cube, Cortney Lane Stell, conceived the recent temporary monuments exhibit, MONUMENTAL, in partnership with the Denver Theatre District. Stell commissioned a series of thought-provoking artworks that instigate a wider public discussion about public monuments and their relationship to the identity of Denver, Colorado.
LS: Why focus on monuments now? And why in Denver?
Cortney Lane Stell: The wider United States has been having a conversation about public monuments, particularly confederate monuments. It has been an interesting and dynamic debate to witness our communities wrestle with complicated histories and how they relate to present day society. It has brought about very important conversations with relation to cities and their identities. So, it was in the water, so to say. Furthermore, given the growth Denver has experienced over the past few years, and the subsequent changes in demographics, it felt like an apt moment to bring about a wider conversation about the images that represent our city. Given that we are a contemporary arts organization, we wanted to have this conversation with artists through commissioning new artworks that respond to the concept.
LS: MONUMENTAL brings about this “wider conversation” in the Denver area. What does the project include? What was your curatorial approach?
CLS: The project includes local, national, and international artists, all of whom created temporary works that speak to aspects of public statues, monuments, and icons. This temporary public art project, which is a partnership with the Denver Theatre District, is curated and developed by Black Cube, and produced collaboratively by both organizations.
For the international aspect, I set out looking for a project that would speak to a wider lens from a global perspective. Nationally, I sought out a project that would look at a national identity, specifically an artwork that would offer reflection from the perspective of American identity. Locally, we approached the project from a “call for entries” approach, in order to offer our community a wider and more democratic avenue to respond with ideas for monuments to our city.
Lastly, we wanted to rope in some additional community programming, so we partnered with the Denver Theatre District’s arts incubator space, Understudy, to produce a monument workshop (with artist Rian Keranne) and a zine publication (with Lighthouse Writers Workshop). The additional programming was intended to help spur a wider community dialogue on the subject matter.
LS: What do Denver’s current public monuments reflect?
CLS: Well, that’s a tricky question because we do not have a public archive of this information. In fact, a lot of ‘monuments’ in our city are on private land and not publicly recorded. I think, generally, we see a lot of the same thing we see in other cities; meaning, lots of bronze statuary honoring men… mostly businessmen or political leaders. In Denver, we also have a good chunk of Western influenced monuments—think of the horse and frontiersman of the Pioneer Monument off of Colfax and Broadway. Meredith Sell wrote a nice article in 5280 magazine that has a concise, but interesting, review on the subject as it relates to female representation.
LS: You mentioned MONUMENTAL includes local, national, and internationalartists. The local aspect involves a project called Temporary Monuments to Denver. Can you describe this project?
CLS: The local artist aspect involves the loose charge for artists to produce a monument to their city, Denver. Each artist was asked to produce an artwork for a large-scale, outdoor, concrete monument base, positioned outside of the Colorado Convention Center. We commissioned three artworks by three separate artists, in chronological order: Nikki Pike, Noah Manos, and Jaime Carrejo.
Nikki Pike produced two artworks for her temporary monument to Denver. The main work was a series of performances that inaugurated the entire project. For these performances, Nikki decided to reallocate the material budget for her project and pay underrepresented local creatives to engage the monument base for at least 2 minutes on opening day. She had a fairly diverse group of performers, including a Native American teen and a transgender individual, with content ranging from music to poetry. It was lovely to see Nikki empower her community, and particularly individuals who are not typically celebrated in public monuments. For the remainder of her exhibition, she placed a text-based sculpture with the phrase “WE the privileged.” The sculpture took visual reference from Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture and paired that with a provoking remix of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution “We the people.”
Noah Manos’ work Our House was a salt sculpture of a Denver Square-style house, intended to erode. Salt is an essential nutrient and has been used since ancient times in activities ranging from cooking to religious traditions. From an expanded perspective, I was interested in a monument that was meant to disintegrate because it contrasts the most common idea of a monument as something permanent and enduring. The house referenced in the sculpture is the artist’s home, sketched from memory. Within the interior of the salt house, the artist placed an acrylic pyramid containing two materials: anthracite (or raw coal) and terracotta clay slabs that hold pressings from debris gathered from local construction dumpsters. The work speaks to Denver’s growth, the illusive nature of memory, permanence, and materiality.
Jaime Carrejo’s monument, which is currently in production, is a triumphal arch composed out of chain link fencing. Triumphal arches are erected to celebrate a person or commemorate a significant event. In this work, the artist is constructing a monument to immigrants—past and present—paying homage to the immagrents who have helped build our cities. Triumphal arches are often associated with the Roman Empire, but can be found throughout the United States (my favorite is in Montana at the entrance to Yosemite). Developed by a process based on cloth weaving machines, chain link fencing is inexpensive and modular, which makes installing lengthy stretches of fencing relatively quick and easy. The fencing material carries a strong conceptual weight when paired with a conversation about immigration. Chain link fencing is lauded for security purposes, as its design provides easy access control and clear visibility – think of its current use in detention camps along the U.S.-Mexico border. Jaime’s installation, like the others, will change over time. Two weeks after the sculpture is installed, the artist will cloak the arch with a hand-sewn blanket of artificial carnation flowers. The carnation flowers reference Denver’s Carnation Gold Rush, the post-World War II period when the Denver Metro Area was home to a thriving carnation industry. This industry, which was once the largest producer of carnations in the world, took use of a lot of immigrant labor. I’m still digesting this work, as it is not yet complete, but I hope this gives you at least a sense of it.
LS: You then broaden the scope to include works by national and international artists. Tell us about their role in MONUMENTAL.
CS: The national artwork is a tryptic of billboards by the artist collective For Freedoms, which shows three iterations of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” painting. This work is part of a larger series that reflects on Rockwell’s Four Freedoms (Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear, Freedom from Want, and Freedom of Worship). I chose to focus on the “Freedom of Speech” painting, as I felt the conversation was most connected to public monuments. Essentially, the artist collective shot a series of photographs that appropriated the compositions and settings of Rockwell’s works. The artists replaced the white males depicted in the Rockwell works with diverse individuals who better represent our current population as a whole (and not just ethnically diverse, but age and gender were also factors). I decided to focus on two-dimensional work for several reasons. Mainly, I feel that our nation is so big that the icons and monuments that pervade our society are decimated in different ways than public monuments. Here in Denver, being a part of the wider country is more about cultural values, celebrated histories, and public icons. For example, the Rockwell works were largely not experienced as paintings—their power came in their circulation in The Saturday Evening Post, then later on war bonds and stamps. So, given all of this, I felt that the For Freedoms version of the “Freedom of Speech” could help encourage a wider conversation about what we think our culture looks like, if the freedom of speech is available to us all equally, and the historical context of these two topics.
Now, onto the international perspective. I set out to select a work that could somehow speak to our species, meaning humanity as a whole. Andreas Greiner’s Monument for the 308 is a 24 foot-tall sculpture of a broiler chicken skeleton and is a monument to the human impact on our planet. The use of this animal is in line with scholarly conversations about the Anthropocene, the proposed new geological era that marks the overwhelming impact of humans on the Earth’s surface geological processes. By producing a chicken, dinosaur-scale, the work refrences dinousours and how they representing past a geologic era (thus inferring a connection to our current era). So, why the chicken, you may ask? The broiler (or 308) chicken is the most commonly eaten chicken. It has no natural habitat and it’s eaten world-wide. We have genetically modified this chicken to grow fast and produce a lot of meat. Years from now, its plentiful bones will be found en masse in the sedimentary layers of landfills across the world. Greiner aptly drew a comparison to the monuments of previous geologic eras (i.e. dinosaurs) to draw powerful parallels. This chicken sculpture is also 3D printed. This technology seems god-like, as we are able to produce a physical object out of an almost objectless digital file. In a similar god-like manner, we have also created an animal that is more of a commodity than an animal. It is a species that cannot live on its own. This is made evident by another work by Greiner, in which he adopted a 308 chicken and placed it in a petting zoo to have a better life. Much to his surprise, the chicken quickly died of a heart attack as it was not engineered to survive in a free range environment.
CLS: Because contemporary artists help us digest, reflect, or think of the world in other ways.
Denver is growing, and always changing, and it seems like an apt moment to have artists help us think about our community, what the aesthetics of our city say about our values, and our relationship to our wider country, and beyond.
It’s also important to note that we approached this subject through a different structure by it being a curatorial process. Monuments normally go through a bureaucratic process filled with committees, public response, and lots of flaming hoops. Though this process has its flaws, it is also important to have input from a community if you are installing something permanently. By freeing artists from this process, we were able to engage more controversial subjects, nonarchival materials, and support artistic voice.
LS: What were your curatorial inspirations?
CLS: First and foremost, monuments are important aspects of cities, towns, and landmark areas; they are also common subject matter for artists and art organizations. Furthermore, conversations about monuments can sometimes blur the boundaries between public art (for example, in Denver Lawrence Argent’s I See What You Mean and Luis Jiménez’s Blue Mustang have monument-like stature in this community).
When I organize projects, I always ask myself “Why have the conversation with this subject matter now?”. Meaning, there needs to be some context as to why the subject matter is relevant to the moment. Here, I must also recognize that although I always try to keep a firewall between myself and my husband’s, Dmitri Obergfell’s, art practice, this project has been influenced by his work. Dimitri’s sculptural work looks at the tensions between monuments and vandalism – in other words, the tension between those who have the power to erect public statuary and those who anonymously respond to it. With this common conversation in our household paired with the rise of the national conversation regarding confederate monuments, encouraging artists to engage the issue seemed timely. So, then, the question became “Why have this conversation in Denver?”. Denver is a place that has controversial monuments and a severe lack of diversity represented in public and private monuments. That, compounded with the city’s growth, warranted a further investigation into developing the project.
The curatorial work took two directions. First, refreshing myself on artists who are working in the subject (locally, nationally, and internationally). Second, analyzing the field through understanding the art organizations that were tackling the subject.
There are a few key organizations/curators who have been doing interesting work in the field. First of all, Ralph Rugoff’s work with his exhibition and catalogue Monuments for the USA has been on my mind for a long time. I love the freedom he found by engaging the concepts through sketches and a publication. This approach allowed the project to incubate ideas that could be impossible or impractical to produce and welcomed a plethora of critical and imaginative approaches to the subject. I was also informed by The Fourth Plinth project in London. Basically, after struggling with a permanent work for a plinth in Trafalgar Square, they decided instead to activate the space with commissioned temporary works. This project was a dynamic way to engage a plurality of artistic voices and was very influential in developing the Temporary Monuments to Denver element of MONUMENTAL. The biggest difference and twist with ours is that we charged artists with the idea of producing a monument specifically for the city of Denver, instead of simply commissioning new artworks. Another deep interest of mine is the nonprofit org Monument Lab. This Philly-based organization is dedicated to commissioning artwork related to public monuments. They have produced super amazing projects, including Tania Bruguera’s Monument to New Immigrants, Sharon Hayes’ performative sculpture If they Should Ask, as well as Hank Wills Thomas (of For Freedoms) celebrated Afro pick sculpture All Power to All People.
Some works that inspired me are John Gerrard’s stunning video of a virtual flag of billowing black smoke, Anuar Maauad’s casts of molds previously used for the memorial busts and statues of local government officials in Mexico, Ivan Argote’s intervention of placing ponchos on colonial monuments in Bogota, and Marta Minujín’s proposal for a full-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty (amongst others). Side note, it was surprising to find in my research that the subject matter is dominated by male artists.
I’m sure there are other influences, but those are the main forces at play here.
LS: Many have criticized the public monument; how does MONUMENTAL reflect Denver’s culture and community?
CLS: I think we see ripples of a community that is trying to build off of the failings of our past (or what many see as failings). Generally, the artists are critical of the lack of diversity seen in public space. They also embrace a more complicated, nuanced, and dynamic space for public monuments… seeing space for celebration of the ethereal, the changing, the hidden, and the underrecognized. I don’t think these values are necessarily representative of the wider Denver culture, but I do think they are values present in our creative sector.
My hope is that this project helps create a conversation and also an understanding of how monuments act in a social way. If we, as a community, can come to understand how monuments play a role in commemoration and placemaking and, therefore, play a large role in how we construct our collective sense of history. By engaging artists and visual culture with this subject, the politics of remembering can unveil how we see public space and how we see ourselves fitting within it.
On the ‘Monument for the 308’
An Interview with Artist Andreas Greiner — Written by Cortney Lane Stell
Monument for the 308 is a 24-foot-tall sculpture of a broiler chicken skeleton by German artist Andreas Greiner. This artwork, which resembles a dinosaur skeleton in a natural history museum, is positioned within the great hall of the Denver Central Library. The artwork focuses on human’s impact on the world, as seen through the genetic changes this animal has experienced because of humans. Today, these chickens are bred in staggering numbers with an anatomy manipulated to serve human meat consumption. Monument for the 308 pays tribute to an animal species of our time and acknowledges the reciprocal dependency between broiler chickens and humans.
Andreas Greiner’s Monument for the 308 is a part of MONUMENTAL, a series of public, contemporary artworks and community engagement programs that explore, question, and transform the role monuments play within society.
Cortney Lane Stell: Can you describe how you came to the concept for the Monument for the 308?
Andreas Greiner: In everyday life, we hardly ever are aware of the billions of domesticated birds being bred, although they are all around us. Bred as our livestock, they are one of the most plentiful animals on earth as our livestock, domesticated into perfect, little meat factories. And even closer to home (at least if you live in the city), the hybrid broiler chicken is the most bought animal in western supermarkets. It's so ubiquitous in our modern lifestyle and so symptomatic of it as well.
However, most of us encounter it as an abstracted pre-packed piece of meat in supermarkets or an already cooked meal.
I wanted to dedicate a monument to the broiler chicken, one which will stand as a symbol of our (post-)modern times –– a sculptural magnification of the human intervention into these birds, their relationship to the environment, and human-designed anatomical changes. Just like their ancient ancestors, the dinosaurs, broiler chickens might one day become indicative of the early 21st century. If, in thousands of years, humans still exist and still exhibit natural history, then perhaps the broiler will be chosen to represent this unique moment where we are witnessing the merging of nature and culture.
CLS: How does this work fit within your larger practice?
AG: Very generally, I am interested in the boundaries of my practice as an artist. Especially the boundaries between culture, of which art is an integral part, and nature—the realm of the non-human life—though technology is broaching this boundary increasingly. As such, I often use unconventional image, working with technologies, such as a CT-Scan, or electron microscopy to illuminate (literally) artistic subjects that rarely make it to the front pages of the arts, or even human perception and consciousness. For me, art is a way of metaphorically pointing out our human condition, the status quo of society at a certain moment in time.
CLS: Given your interest in subject matter that falls outside of the canonical arts subject matter, and also your interest in relating to the human condition… what does it mean for you to display the Monument for the 308 at a public library in the United States?
AG: The books in The Denver Central Library contain a lot of human knowledge and cultural heritage –– in a way that mirrors how the enlarged bones of Monument for the 308 also store a specific part of cultural heritage. This history is not written down in words, but expressed through the shapes, proportion, and forms of the bones; this information tells us a lot about the current human-nature relationship and how we co-create other living non-human beings on earth. The sculpture is a giant representation of the human-inflicted changes upon this species, for within its physiology and anatomy, there is a record of artificial change.
For example, in the sculpture you see the right foot-bone is broken, which is the reason for its death. Further, you can also see non-finished bone cores, still waiting to merge and become finished bones. All of this indicates that the chicken is of young age. Proportionally, the large leg bones are to carry vast amounts of meat and to keep up with a fast-growing upper body.
Furthermore, the Monument for the 308 might mirror our contemporary urge for efficiency and consumption but also for overproduction of waste. Of course, humans cannot escape their own metabolism and its needs, but the leading capitalist culture and ideology has distorted those needs and thus, enhanced our current ecological problems on Earth.
CLS: You have produced a smaller Monument for the 308 sculpture, which is on view in the natural history museum in Bern in Switzerland. There is a tension between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ in the work. Are viewers often riddled with the question of its scale and authenticity?
AG: The work is always authentic and non-authentic at the same time. I hope the viewers debunk this ambivalent quality. On the one hand, it is obviously 3D printed—I am not hiding the traces or mistakes of production—they are present on the surface structure, like translation mistakes in a book when it is translated from one language to another. The way that the sculpture is assembled references on the stereotypical presentation style of dinosaurs in a natural history museums, but upon closer inspection, it might become obvious that it is fake.
The real (small) chicken bones, on the other hand serve as a model for the 3D prints and are in fact telling an authentic story about our present culture. They are specific real time markers of our current civilization, and of a potential future archeology.
CLS: You mention a conceptual interest in the human penchant for overproduction of waste within this work. I believe you also have an interest in the ecological crisis within your wider art practice. This is contrasted by the broader contemporary art world, which is globalized and produces a lot of waste. How do you reconcile these tensions within your practice? Do you weigh the message of the work against the carbon footprint? Can you explain how you wrestle with this and how it impacts your art practice?
AG: I agree being a part of the globalized art system, especially the art market with worldwide biennials and art fairs, makes it hard for artists to criticize environmental problems truthfully and without contradiction. "Living the dream" of being an artist is an enormous privilege, one that cannot be easily be disentangled from its material conditions and geographical logistics. If the art world really wants to make a difference and contribute to cultural action against climate change in 2020, producing art works with a message won’t be enough anymore. We all need to act towards a cultural change of less consumption—ironically by acting less, consuming less, producing less.
Personally, I haven’t travelled by airplane since January 2018. I try to change my eating habits: no meat, no fish, no industrially produced animal products. I am against energy from the brown coal industry in Germany and I participate in demonstrations against it. Politically, I vote for green solutions. Nevertheless, I can’t escape the fact that, for example, my artwork Monument for the 308 is currently exhibited at The Denver Public Library, thus had to be shipped over to the U.S. and then transported to Denver. One of my assistants flew over to assist with the installation in person. This one transatlantic flight has produced nearly double the amount of the ca. 2 tons of carbon dioxide that an average person should use in a year in order to prevent a rise of temperature of more than 2 degrees Celsius (according to the IPCC). Statistically, an average German person exceeds this limit 5 times over, causing average emissions to already reach around 10 tons of carbon dioxide per capita in a year. An average U.S. citizen exceeds this limit more than 8 times by emitting 16 tons of carbon dioxide per capita in a year. I am sure if we were to calculate the average footprint of a contemporary globalized artist like myself, this ratio would be even worse. Sadly, there seems to be a strong connection between consumption, artistic success, and the resulting pollution. Currently, I am struggling with this and I am trying to find solutions.
In 2019, the intensity of the struggle I have with these hard facts is obvious as it has become part of my recent artworks. Calculating the carbon dioxide emissions of my projects and integrating them in their display (e.g. Change the system, Mars on Earth, 880), is an effort to begin to understand and visualize these rather abstract relationships. The tensions also drive me to keep finding opportunities to develop my practice into a larger eco-friendly practice. Together, with the curator Lutz Henke and landscape architect Violeta Burckhard, I am founding a cultural NGO that wants to establish a network between culturally active people interested in planting trees and promoting the planting and protection of trees and forests as an artistic, aesthetic, and cultural act. We hope to plant and protect thousands to millions (billions) of trees in the near future. Trees are essential, we breathe with them as they convert the carbon dioxide we produce back to oxygen. In 2019, a study of the ETH in Zurich stated that an immense reforestation of the planet could potentially stop climate change. It would be great to see our project contribute to this goal.
CLS: It seems like a lot of your work relies on empathy from the viewers, whether it be relating to common species such as chickens, or less commonly considered species such microorganisms. By working with, or using, other species does your work attempt to reject the privileging of human existence over nature? Do you intend to provoke a more expansive sense of empathy with viewers?
CSL:I feel that as a species we have a hard time facing the reality of the climate crisis, we see this in the large amount of society that simply chooses to deny this reality. Your use of the broiler chicken is very interesting because, for me, it can bring the conversation easily to the individual. Meaning I have the choice to choose what I eat and how it effects the wider world. In some way, it can function similarly to how the impact of using plastic straws has brought the large overwhelming crisis to the individual level. In Denver I have heard many viewers consider their eating habits when looking at the work. Given this, I have two questions… Have you experienced this effect with viewers? Also, did you intend to have this effect on viewers? It is really one of the first times I have seen people consider their daily habits from interaction with a contemporary artwork.
AG: The perception of an artwork is a tough, but important question. I guess just like me artists spend a lot of time trying to anticipate its perception. Art is part of an ongoing public discussion as well as a tool to for human culture to self-reflect on itself. The truth however is that I can’t control the public interaction - at a certain point I have to let go and leave the art piece to speak for itself. The very same art piece can mean something completely different from one place to another, from today to years from now, or from a societal level to an individual. To be honest I had some strong doubts during its production as I could not foresee the ways in which people would interact with my gesture monumentalizing a common broiler chicken. Therefore, while I am inspired and encouraged by this recent feedback, I cannot say that this was the goal of the artwork. I follow an inductive path where one question (artwork) leads to another and I mostly work on things that I don’t fully understand in the moment. By leaving part of the artworks interpretation open to the audience perception, it allows individuals their own interaction and relationship with the artwork. The reception and discussions surrounding this artwork in Denver have been a wonderful surprise for me. I am happy to hear that a work of art that I initiated has an impact into a direction that I personally agree with, namely to consume less meat in a more conscious way and stop supporting our industrial food production.
The Founding of Black Cube Headquarters a.k.a. BCHQ
An Interview with Laura Merage — Written by Cortney Lane Stell, Executive Director + Chief Curator
Cortney Stell: Laura, it's been a big year for Black Cube with the opening of the headquarters. I’d love to chat with you a little bit about your vision and motivation behind Black Cube’s new growth. But first, what did you envision when you founded our nomadic art museum?
Laura Merage: About 20 years ago, I read a statistic in an article that mentioned the majority of people living in the United States—some percentage like 98%—never walk into an art gallery or museum in their lifetime. I was shocked. From that point on as I encountered art institutions, this statement was something always brewing in the back of my mind. The realization came that as much as museums were working hard to bring numbers through their doors, it continued to be an uphill battle. It begged the question, why not take art out to people? Why not have our daily lives have components of art in it? No matter if we are consciously aware of it or not. So, the idea stemmed from that. Let’s take art into the public, so the public can enjoy art on an everyday basis.
CS: Black Cube has existed nomadically for three years. But, in 2017, you began looking for a building for the organization. Were you thinking the building would be a headquarters at that point? Can you speak about how the headquarters came to be?
LM: Of course. At that point, I wasn’t necessarily envisioning a headquarters for the organization. In my head, I was simply searching for a place for artists and people to gather. I felt Black Cube’s nomadic nature could be enhanced by having a space where the public, including artists, could congregate, as well as a building for the museum to host lectures, events, exhibitions, and more.
CS: So, would you say the headquarters was an addition to how the organization was already functioning? Or, was the intention for the organization to change?
LM: No, the addition of the headquarters was not for the organization to change. The vision was for the building to go hand-in-hand with how the organization was operating as a nomadic museum. In addition, to add programming that we could not have produced nomadically.
CS: It seems like the building signifies a deeper commitment to the Denver metro region. Would you say that’s accurate?
LM: Correct. It’s a very deep commitment. Black Cube is committed to this region and by establishing a headquarters, we are solidifying this notion.
CS: I’d like to talk about the physical aspects of the building. Can you describe your process in searching for a building? What was it that you were looking for?
LM: Yes. I was looking for a warehouse-type building because I wanted a space that had potential for flexibility. I wanted the building to have high ceilings and an openness, so it could lend itself well to gatherings and exhibitions. This narrowed my search very quickly.
CS: So, you didn’t want to establish a headquarters in areas like the Golden Triangle or RiNo?
LM: No. Because the type of building I was looking for doesn’t exist in those areas. I would have had to build it and I didn’t want to start that kind of a project. It wouldn’t make sense for Black Cube.
CS: What attributes did you hope the building would convey?
LM: Flexibility and comfortability. Again, I was searching for a space where I envisioned the public and artists coming together to feel inspired, supported by one another, and a part of a community.
CS: Well, you ended up finding a really unique warehouse building. Can you describe what stood out to you about the building?
LM: You know, I wasn’t initially looking for a two-story building, which this building is. But then, I thought it would be interesting to use each level for something different. As you know, we ended up leasing the first floor. The second floor seemed more fitting for Black Cube Headquarters. It has an open kitchen, which we’ve utilized for gatherings and meals with the community. Next to the kitchen is a large, open, flexible space for exhibitions, or whatever it needs to be for the organization. The high ceilings and open floor plan allow for large-scale art installations. The space also has the ability to be transformed in order to host intimate conversations or presentations. In all, it fits the bill very well.
CS: What did you find intriguing about the location?
LM: The building is located in the Light Industrial District. Because of this, people are usually surprised when they arrive at Black Cube Headquarters. This gives me joy, actually—to bring people to a part of Denver that they’ve never experienced because they had no reason to go there prior. It’s kind of like going on an adventure. But, beyond that, it’s also rewarding to bring art to a part of Denver that likely doesn’t encounter contemporary art very often. This, of course, is Black Cube’s mission and what the organization has set out to do.
CS: The entrance into the building is quite curious and is the only change to the original floorplan. Can you speak about what the experience is like when entering Black Cube Headquarters?
LM: It initially felt awkward, even jarring, when you opened the door directly into such a vast and open space. The solution was to create a long, dark hallway that you enter into first. It’s somewhat disorienting, but I see it as an opportunity to transition from the outside world and sensory overload of daily life.
CS: Speaking of art, we opened the headquarters in mid-September with an experimental group exhibition titled The Fulfillment Center. Can you speak about the conversations we’ve had about pushing the envelope with exhibition-making and how art is displayed?
LM: This organization is about looking at every angle for opportunity. We had so many conversations about how to utilize this building, which is so different from other art spaces. I feel in the beginning we had a tendency to look at the challenges. My task became turning perceived challenges into opportunities. I thought we should embrace the warehouse-nature of the building and the surrounding area and transform the building into a “warehouse exhibition space.” So, instead of having portable walls built to display artwork, we installed and assembled pallet racking shelves. This display encouraged The Fulfillment Center concept.
CS: What makes how the artwork is displayed in The Fulfilment Center unique?
LM: The exhibition is set in a very unique way. The viewer’s experience in seeing artwork that is installed on warehouse shelves is very different. Further, the exhibition structure impacted how the artists created their artwork. It encouraged the artists to think deeply about the whole notion of Fulfillment Centers in United States, and globally. What does it mean for our culture? What does it mean for my art? Should it impact my art? Should we embrace it? All of these questions that the artists began to ask themselves showed beautifully in the work they presented for the exhibition. I feel the artists’ deep research into the theme and opportunity to engage such a different display was so successful in connecting with the viewer.
CS: In discussing the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of the exhibition that really make Black Cube’s approach to working with artists unique and different, is the fact that we commission new, ambitious artworks that somehow challenge artists or help them grow. Is that something that you take pride in with this exhibition and the organization as a whole?
LM: I would have to say it is the aspect that I am most proud of. To support artists in this novel way is a source of pride for me. I feel such gratification when I meet with the artists we work with and see their happiness in being able to practice in a more sustainable way.
CS: How do you envision Black Cube Headquarters fitting into the wider cultural landscape of Denver? How do you think it compares with other organizations here, and how does it stand apart?
LM: I think it’s a piece of the puzzle that was missing from the art community here in Denver and in Colorado. I see how wonderfully Black Cube has formed partnerships with other institutions and organizations in the region. This aspect has been integral towards enhancing the visual arts in our state. I feel that the headquarters is a resource for a stronger art community and enhances our ability to accomplish that much more.
Mexico City Meets Prague
An Interview with SANGREE — Written by Hannah James
Mexico City-based artist collaborative, SANGREE, was recently in Prague for an international residency exchange between Black Cube and Centre for Contemporary Art FUTURA. In 2016, SANGREE produced the exhibition Unclassified Site Museum, as part of the artists’ Black Cube fellowship. For their alumni project, the artists spent four weeks at FUTURA. In exchange, FUTURA selected Czech artist Martin Kohout to spend four weeks in Mexico City at SANGREE’s studio. The international residency exchange was intended to provide an opportunity for artistic research and cultural connection between contemporary artists and new communities. SANGREE is an artistic collaboration between René Godínez Pozas and Carlos Lara.
Hannah James: Was this your first time travelling to Prague? What was your first impression of the city?
René Godínez: Yes. I think it is a very interesting city due to its architecture and historical monuments. What I liked the most was the mobility through the city and how easy it was to use the tramways and subways.
Carlos Lara: I arrived there by bus from Paris, so I didn’t even notice when I entered the country. In the beginning, I felt like it was a small town because the bus left me almost at the entrance of the city. It felt like a good old, small European city.
HJ: Where was your studio located? What was it like working in a new environment?
SANGREE: We had a studio at MeetFactory in Smíchov, which is on the west side of the river. It was an amazing space with many artists and activities; however, we spent most of our time at Eva Pelechova´s ceramic studio in Žižkov. At the beginning, it was sort of strange because Eva had a lot of her work in there and she herself was currently working on some pieces, so it felt a bit like we were invading. But over a couple of days, it felt more natural. It was a very intense learning experience.
HJ: Did you have access to new materials you wouldn’t otherwise have in Mexico City?
S: Yes, but we didn’t realize this until after we returned to Mexico. Ceramics are a pretty common medium and Mexico has a large tradition of pottery and clay. But, it seems very hard to find the right materials and in such a wide variety as we did in Prague. Also, we had access to some high-end glass and porcelain workshops, which the Czech Republic is known for. Having access to those kinds of places is not very common in Mexico City.
HJ: What type of work did you produce during this residency? Was it a departure from or continuation of your wider practice?
CL: We worked with ceramic and porcelain. We actually wanted to work with these materials during our Black Cube fellowship in 2016, but the timing was never good. In Prague, we had the opportunity to work with a very experienced ceramist such as Eva. She let us use her studio and provided us with all the tools and materials. She definitely guided us through the whole process.
HJ: Describe your most memorable experience in Prague.
CL: For me, it’s definitely the journey back home. We were loaded with ceramics and we needed to get them all on the plane. We bought a huge toolbox with lots of foam and wrappings. We had ceramics in our carry-ons, in our checked luggage, in our back packs, and of course, this huge 35 kg overweight container. We had to fit everything in a bus to Paris and then walk all around Paris with the nearly 80 kg of luggage. On our last day, we realized we were on different flights, so René had to stay one more night in Paris. But, he helped me bring everything to airport.
RG: During the residency, we didn’t have much free time. One month for working ceramics is not that much. We had to be in the studio every day, all day, at the studio. However, we had the opportunity to visit Kutná Hora, The Ossuary of Sedlec, which is a must if you are dark in life.
HJ: How did the contemporary art scene in Prague differ from Mexico City? Or, did you find similarities?
CL: What I really liked about the art scene was its infrastructure. Specifically, the studio facilities that don’t, or barely, exist in Mexico City. I mean, we came across at least 4 projects that were entire buildings, or former factories, devoted to studio spaces. Plus, they had a whole program of activities, shows, screenings, lectures, and concerts that made the exchange much more dynamic and exciting than the gallery or museum models.
RG: I also liked the amount of art spaces, museums, and galleries. Many of them receive support from the government and survive thanks to grants. I think it is a very active scene with many artists from abroad living and doing residencies over there. I think the liveliness of the scene makes it a good place for working.
HJ: As part of this international residency exchange, you opened your studio and living space in Mexico City to Czech artist, Martin Kohout. What was it like sharing your artist studio?
CL: It was not that difficult because we already share the space, so we are used to having people and other artists at the studio. Also, I believe Martin’s practice is more about working digitally on images and video, so I barely noticed he had been there when we got back. I was worried about how the neighborhood was going to receive him though because it is not an area where you see too many tourists.
RG: Since the first day we met Martin, he shared with us some good restaurants and interesting places in Prague. While we were in Prague, he was hosted in Mexico City by our best friend, Mariana Mañón. We sort of exchanged lives for one month.
HJ: Did you discover anything new about working collaboratively while abroad?
RG: It was interesting traveling and spending so much time together. It had been a while since the last time we spent that much time together, exchanging ideas and focusing on our work.
CL: It was definitely a great experience to focus 100% on our work.
HJ: Describe your most challenging experience during the residency.
RG: The language. It was not that much of a challenge though. We learned some words, but sometimes it was hard to get our food at a restaurant :P
CL: Overall, the whole trip was very enjoyable. The most challenging thing for me was having to produce, at the same time, some pieces for the inaugural show at Black Cube Headquarters and also some others for a show in Mexico City. The distance and time difference made all communications very stressful.
HJ: By the end of the residency, did your first impression of Prague change? If so, how?
RG: Amazing city, I definitely recommend to visit and spend some time there.
CL: It did. I mean, before this trip I couldn’t even locate the Czech Republic on a map. The city of Prague for me was like a gloomy, medieval, luxurious destination somewhere in far Europe. I thought everything would look like a medieval fairy tale, but I was very impressed and attracted to the socialist and brutalist architecture. After this trip, I learned a lot about the history of the country, and thanks to Martin about the so-called Cubist architecture. I was also surprised by how affordable life is over there, compared to other European cities.
HJ: How has this residency influenced your wider practice?
RG: We are currently working on the ceramic work we started in Prague.
CL: I think we will definitely try to work with glass now in the future.
Prague Meets Mexico City
Interview between Mariana Mañón, Martin Kohout, and a voice typing assistant — Written by Mariana Mañón
This past August, Czech artist Martin Kohout was in Mexico City for an artist-in-residence program organized by Black Cube and Centre for Contemporary Art FUTURA. The international residency exchange was intended to provide an opportunity for artistic research and cultural connection between contemporary artists and new communities.
This interview shows an odd conversation between Martin Kohout, Mariana Mañón (official Mexico City liaison), and the random comprehension of a voice typing assistant.
The interview is intentionally left unedited, as the voice recognition functionality acts as both a third participant in and interpreter of the conversation. In a way, the speech software’s “mistakes” parallel Martin’s own prior misconceptions about Mexico, revealing new ideas and reflections on his residency experience.
Okay are you recording? So Mariana, you can ask me the first question. Hello but it's stupid busy doesn't distinguish between sentences. We will have to do lot of editing. Next chapter paragraph Ritter delete make a new line okay forget it you're useless okay. So we will talk about contemporary artificial intelligence Technologies I guess right? Did you want to blow up the song?
Fuk fuk fuk fuk fuk fuk I already tried his my phone is always super annoying with this it stopped before you leave is not right in everything cuz I'm humble okay Jessie we can try this one.
Mariana Mañón: Martin, tell us all about your interests in Mexico City. All that's why the drug question where should I start? Okay it starts please on sale the work that you've been doing. That with a video of a frog. What is that about? But it doesn't have so much to do with Mexico City that's interesting. Can you tell us more about that piece? Over. I'm just testing it. Baby plastic pants delete last sentence.
Martin Kohout: Well I will probably first I should probably start with explaining what is in the video then and it's important for a minute. Mostly you just see an image of the very minimalist landscape with three big stones in grass that is moving in the wind that it's kind of moving in waves like underwater and there's smoke very light smoke covering the sky which is on the way and there's a there's a sun that is very bright and Shining but kind of burning as well and then every now and then you see a frog that jumps towards you but hits the glass of the TV and bumps off. The video is making 3D with an aesthetics that is very clearly artificial and Michael I did was create a situation that is at once both a bit comical or humorous and it's been over a fairytale kind of setup and at the same time it provokes you to feel this like humorous element in it because of how it’s depressing to see how the animal is trying again and again and always hits the glass and it’s trying to kind of get inside where you are but it's not kind of allowed to do it doesn't even access to it and atmosphere of the image which is kind of pale colors and in the smoke should make it unclear whether it's before I can test your fuel situation or right after something bad happened, things were burned and everything you do is silent but every time this frog hits the glass there is a sound for it.
MM: So they didn't answer question answered my question beautifully so my thing I know this piece it was actually already presented in the context of Natural History Museum in Prague. Erase that please replace Prague with Brno. So I took you to the Natural History Museum here in Mexico City so you can have a comparison with the one that you were working with. How was the experience compared to a comparison oreimo how was it for you?
MK: Well the first note to confuse the reader that this video describing as something I have been working on here and finishing that's a new version of the video and an earlier version that was much more simple it was only the frock on the plain background. Well the stars worried about period over. I'm just testing this is really glastonbury. So Indian museum you're asking about I was showing an earlier version of this video which was much more simple to fit the installation that I was working there with and this Museum in Brno was built in 1968 and opened a year later. It has three floors but in general it's smaller than the one you have here in Mexico City and even though there have been some updates in the exhibition in the museum in brno when you enter the space you kind of feel like you entered a Time Capsule because even many of the descriptions are still kept original and sometimes there is a sticker informing about some of the information being outdated but most of the elements are from the late 60s. And them it's also located very Central in the city but more many people don't even know about it Museum there or only recall did they actually have been there when they were children like when they were kids in school so it's awesome. So when you're there alone or less with Exposition where Taxidermy animals are not hidden behind the glass because of the closet to be removed some years ago due to it becoming unstable and dangerous. Especially the big pieces of glass for the big light dioramas and therefore it's a very unique experience where you were standing in front of the diorama and there is no barrier between you and the animal. It has a very strong atmosphere which is kind of you really have to think about all the layers of time present there and the speed of time they're inside. And saw why would the museum that you have here has different parts of the museum have different age. That say so we saw some parts that are very very new and something very original and I thought that there is quite nice because of you see this contrasts you can sell it to me immediately see how much different the approach and maybe also don't approach but the budget are in each of them. and of course I think of the movie thing that in terms of how much you learn from it or how much information you get from
MM: With the time that you had here it's been over a month now if you had more time maybe to actually produce something here what would you like or what do you think you will be producing or maybe even if you have any thoughts or some something that tracked you the most here in Mexico to develop a project here. What will that be?
MK: Well I think that I would be definitely curious to work with some of the craftsmen and small workshops I saw in Santa María la Ribera and throughout the city and try to work with materials that I’m normally not used to work with and do a lot of tests. And I also feel like I've been observing things and most of the month I spent by trying to learn more about the culture here in the city. It inspired definitely low-dose things that will in future resonate with the way I work with gyros in media did I already know so into tens maybe I would even make work in a similar way as I've been working until now but I think that the effect would be there and if I could be working on that right here it would be probably stronger cuz I could involve processes or people that are are local and therefore their contribution would be a bit more dominant than if I try to replicate it or work inspired by it back in and the other thing. And the other thing that I have been kind of thinking about that you're allowed in collecting notes for is my next future film or video project. And it sends I feel like that my stay at your has been really potent and I'm sure even if I would stay another month or even more it would Inspire or bring in ideas and observations that I could have been involved in it and work with.
MM: Can you can you share a details of that fix that you've been taking? What notes have you been taking?
MK: So well I would say that it's not about the particular details as like an isolated sentence. But there are a lot of things in you would say almost like daily life. So it's the things I see on the way to the museum and maybe not so much when I go and visit cultural sites here and observe maybe how decorative Arts are involved in architecture. In Sony hear it definitely has an effect on the way I think about such elements and aesthetics in general. But and so those are definitely inspiring in the butt for the ideas that relate more to the content of my work I feel like those are usually interactions that have been like on the way to the place I want to visit and they are more like pointers to how things can be done and thought about differently or how some place or someone that has different priorities for achieving something then in the places I'm used to navigate through. Enso it might be little things as Four Lokos are just like not really exceptional but when I look at them in relation to how the same thing would be taken care of in Central Europe brings in load of ideas about why is it different or why can I buy why does it feel unusually and so on which I think is really interesting. So even for that purpose is taking notes about it for a film it wouldn't even necessarily have to be that I would then replicate the same thing in the film but being inspired by the thing being like red or understand differently I think I can apply this on other things but definitely there are things like that I really Infested by the does such as the police cars always having the signal lights on, just without sirens on, all the time wherever they go whatever they do even then the car is parked in the police person sleeping in the car at 4 in the morning the lights are blinking all the time as if the Space Heroes in constant state constantly state of emergency which and those kind of things are the things that's tourists don’t come here for until 1 but I really like to look at them and think about it.
MM: Okay so let's do like a Cheesy question let's do a pop 5 of Mexico City.
MK: So of course it's cheese quesadillas, cheese and mushroom sopes. Record it only recorded the... Well five things about Mexico City I would say in no particular order definitely it's the visual culture here either is mostly like the historical one but I mean in architecture in someone and how go to visual elements and the narrative elements are present in the space here. I really like how it's in architecture and someone I really enjoyed going to see a lot of pre-classical and classical Mexican art. I also really love how green and kind of wild wild and even though that I have been complaining about the sector there are not many parks even though chapultepec is one of the largest Parks in the northern hemisphere. But then also do I really like people here I feel that very warm and very kind and kind of curious also in a nice way. And of course the food unquestionably like one of the most amazing Adventures here and also very accessible. I like that I know that even if I would stay here for a long time I would know there is still a lot to explore cuz it's very rich in many things City the layers of history and culture and so on and it's definitely interesting to see how people relate to this tree.
We the Privileged
Nikki Pike’s Temporary Monument to Denver — Written by Hannah James, Program Manager
WE is a temporary monument to Denver by artist Nikki Pike. The monument opened on July 12, 2019 with a series of live performances by Colorado-based cultural laborers in the community. Following the inaugural performances, a sculpture was installed on top of the plinth that read “WE the Privileged.” The artwork references Robert Indiana’s widely recognized, text-based sculpture LOVE, as well as the Preamble to the United States Constitution. By changing “We the people” to “We the privileged,” Pike presents a moment for the public to ponder the power dynamics associated with traditional monuments.
The performers (in order of performance) included Gregg and Sage Deal, Dylan Scholinski, Martina Grbac, Jasmine Dillavou, Cliff Garrett, Su Cho, Bruce Price, and Sarah Scott. The performances took place on a custom, concrete monument plinth placed outside of the Colorado Convention Center.
This artwork is a part of the wider project MONUMENTAL, which is a series of public, contemporary artworks and community engagement programs that explore, question, and transform the role monuments play within society. Coproduced by Black Cube and The Denver Theatre District.
Nikki Pike, WE Artist Statement We is double-sided/two-faced project that addresses privilege resulting from capital resources. With the current state of reflection and various actions surrounding public monuments in the United States, WE takes two sides when presented as a public pedestal to contribute to the dialogue.
At the forefront, WE presents cultural laborers as living monuments. Cultural laborers are under-valued, under-paid, and under-represented. People who carry the role to contribute to the collective conscious through art are at the frontlines of fighting social warfare for social welfare. Cultural laborers are agents working tirelessly through innovative and authentic strategies toward social improvement through images, movement, sound, language, and action to fracture the broken societal system in which we live. American society set at the top of the global capitalist economy pollutes and contributes to horrific inequities and dehumanization. This inclusive WE challenges the system by highlighting local cultural laborers by throwing legacy, privilege, and access to resources into question. For MONUMENTAL, the funds to build a traditional static object are diverted directly to cultural laborers to demand reconsideration of distribution of capital—not only within the institutions of non-profits and arts, but to the overall corrupt global, capital economy.
On the flipside, in an effort to control traffic at the MONUMENTAL site, a sign is posted to the plinth that reads: WE the PRIVILEGED to remind the public (privileged and marginalized) who truly decides what history will be heard. People with capital wealth chose who to honor and who to write into history, how to spend their own and collective funds that determine how the human population is placed into labor, social circumstance, and environmental space. The privileged have neglected, ignored, and killed off people to claim what they believe is rightfully theirs. And so, this exclusive WE confronts and displays the truth of ignorance and makes a challenge to take ownership of the privilege that has harmed humanity forever. The challenge comes with a hope that each person in their order of privilege will reconsider their prosperity and leverage privilege toward others who are fighting to survive.
Gregg and Sage Deal, Invisible The plight of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is an invisible epidemic in the United States and Canada. In an official statement from Urban Indian Health Institute report: “Due to Urban Indian Health Institute’s limited resources and the poor data collection by numerous cities, the 506 cases identified in this report are likely an undercount of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Urban areas.”
Indigenous Women and Girls have a 1 in 3 chance of being raped in her lifetime. It is believed this number is much higher, but the lack of information dictates restrictions on precise statistics.
Dylan Scholinski, After-Wards Most of my childhood I was mistaken for a boy. Constantly in need of self-expression, I spent a lot of time hiding. I was asked, "Why don't you try to look more like a girl?" I couldn't even if I tried. Throughout grammar school and into junior high school, I was continually abused, both verbally and physically, for being too masculine. In order to defend myself, I frequently needed to fight with people and eventually was forced out of social activities or refused to go to events because of the stress it created for me. I became angry and rebellious. Resulting from a background of abusive and not supportive family members, teachers, counselors and peers, I eventually gave in to depression, and at the urging of doctors and teachers, my parents had me institutionalized.
This is an excerpt from “After-Wards,” an article I wrote in 1997, which was published in Volume 48 of the Hastings Law Journal. My full statement can be read here.
Martina Grbac, Have it All Having been on a prolonged maternity hiatus, Have it All marks a reentry into the creative sphere, both private and public. The title’s namesake is a song that exists in many versions that have ebbed and flowed over the past three years, and embodies the conflicting desires new parents face as they labor to understand and reconcile their previous and new identities. Finding inspiration and making use of children’s toys, games/apps, and videos developed through play, and fragments of those elements are incorporated into some versions of the songs themselves. This performance highlights the limited resources and creative (and often silly) solutions working parents sometimes resort to in order to continue artistic practice.
Jasmine Dillavou, Soft The piece I'm looking at explores Femininity, softness and womanhood through the lense of latinidad. As a Latina, growing up in a very traditional household, I learned that much of my existence has to go through a filter of image and stereotype that surrounds the way I look. Being a woman is hard enough in this world, but the cultural labor of presenting a certain way to the world, filling everyone's preconceived notions about who I'm supposed to be, is a job in itself. Often, I feel like I'm constantly trying to show people who I am, what I can do, proving and fighting and my white counterparts are getting to float by existing just as they are. I have to fight for people to see me as professional, as well-spoken, as raised well, as contemporary, as strong, as smart, as not what everything our President has told the world that brown folx are. Galleries don't want my type of political body, they want something easy, digestible, comfortable. I will always be shown in a special side room "Hispanic Arts" never the main floor. I will always be an easy token, simple. I am constantly mapping out who I am and who I am supposed to be.
Though to write
Is to engage
In a maze
Of incriminating ideas,
To be apologetic for such
Is equally self-defecating.
And even if the core substance
Of these dialogs
Reveals a stench from within
That is more foul
Than rotten meat.
I will not forgive society
For sniffing it.
For it is you, society,
That is born of titles,
Symbols and status
Su Cho, Revert Many of us experience disorientation, suffering from the strain of seeking our own identity and examining the framework that got us to where we are. There are certain aspects of ourselves that we cannot change. Our true selves. As I grew older, I began to let these characteristics fade into the background so that others could perceive me as I intended them to. This piece is about navigating through buried memories, the fundamental framework that builds upon itself to make us who we are. This performance speaks to bring in otherness, acceptance, challenging norms and inclusion. It is very important for communities to become more self-aware of their inclusiveness. Not only is it pivotal to understand diversity, but it’s very important that we acknowledge the fact that if there is no inclusion, then there is no diversity, which could cause more identity disorientation. This interactive sculpture is an adaptation of two different cultures, where I struggled in searching my identity of where I truly belong. It is very disorienting knowing that I can’t call myself either Korean or American. In this performance, I will be creating an amniotic sac like structure and will be performing a South Korean contemporary dance. I want to represent the thoughts of wanting to be free, not knowing anything and just being sheltered by the warmth. I will be emphasizing the means of being reconciled and hoping I will engage the audience that there are no other different worlds, and that we are one, we are equal, and we are all same. Not only does it speak from my own personal experience, but I am hoping the community will be able to relate their own personal experiences, whether that event is current or from the past. If we’re not who we are, if we’re not unique, if we’re not ourselves, and if we can’t incorporate our diversity as we want to incorporate, then we're not being the fullest artist or oneself as we can be. I believe that approaching all art is based upon the personal experience of both artist and viewer and is the ultimate medium for diversity and inclusiveness.
Bruce Price, Caged Caged is a performance dedicated to anyone literally or figurately caged.
4’33" John Cage, Composer
Movements - tacet 33" - tacet 2'40" - tacet 1'20"
Sarah Scott, Your Grief, Your Love From an ecofeminist viewpoint, one can see that the same mindset that causes the subordination and oppression of women is also causing the exploitation and degradation of the natural world. As a woman loving woman, I created Your Grief, Your Love as a monument to the places, ecosystems, and species that inspire, nurture and sustain us. The performance begins with a woman and a large egg on a pedestal in the middle of the city. What unfolds is a dance experience of love and ecological grief.
Talking With Your Mouth Full
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.