2013 Draft Urbanism
Jul 16, 2013 - Sep 02
Draft Urbanism, the Biennial of the Americas’ 2013 exhibition, brings together the most engaging discourses in art, architecture, and film from across the Americas. For the seven weeks of the exhibition, four full-scale architecture installations will address key urban issues on-site in downtown Denver. Additionally, billboards, posters and other urban signage already part of Denver’s visual context will be appropriated as places for exhibiting art. Dispersed throughout downtown, the public is invited to visit each work by car or on foot and, in so doing, transform downtown itself into a living, urban museum.
Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Mine Pavillon, 2013.
Larimer St & Speer Blvd
Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s Mine Pavilion has multiple overlapping identities. Its simple form combines several building types rendering it a billboard to drivers but a tunnel to pedestrians. Mine Pavilion’s height evokes a tower while its intermediary site conjures a bridge, and its materials and structural detailing echo a mining building. Also the project is contextual; every typological reference once defined the site. For example, in 1958, it was a mining settlement when gold prospectors flocked to Larimer, forming Denver City. Mine Pavilion also addresses how to connect the isolated Auraria campus to the city. Historically, it was considered that a better bridge between the campus and downtown might mitigate the problem. However, the architects’ approach is to create an urban zone in the grassy plain of the median. In the site’s rich tradition of discovering new value in the land, Mine Pavilion is 21st century prospecting.
Alex Schweder, The Hotel Rehearsal, 2013
1535 Welton St
Alex Schweder’s The Hotel Rehearsal hybridizes two mechanisms of urban mobility: the automobile as an icon of suburban sprawl and the elevator as an icon of urban density. Merging the two, Schweder’s mobile room parallels Denver’s urban trajectory. Ethnically, socially, economically, and culturally, the once clear distinction between city and suburb is rapidly blurring. In 2010 for the first time, more racial minorities inhabited the suburbs rather than urban areas. Apartment towers are built beside single-family homes, and malls have popped up downtown. The Hotel Rehearsal is a prototype for this increasingly mixed context.
The Hotel Rehearsal also presents an alternative perspective on the surface parking lot, an underused and disliked fixture of downtown. Hotels have replaced many of the lots, but instead of converting an entire parking lot, Schweder suggests that each space can be individually and temporarily developed. The hotel room becomes a dynamic building block for a small-scale provisional city.
plan:b arquitectos, Skyline Cloud (2013)
Skyline Park between 15th and 18th Sts
Skyline Cloud is an array of identical shade structures in Skyline Park, a notoriously empty space despite its central location. The architects’ deploy shade as an urban material, a generic platform on which many different activities and events can play out. controlling the climate and visual atmosphere of the site, plan:b’s installation encourages spontaneous social activity.
Skyline Cloud’s urbanism is defined by its overlapping uses. The shade structures’ form is part umbrella, part space frame, and part cloud. The installation is distinct in that its shifting identities are also defined by ever changing patterns of use. Its character is a function of what people are doing beneath and around it—businessmen eating lunch, kids playing, a crowd watching a movie, couples napping, the hubbub of a beer festival, among other scenes. The fabric cloud, and the shade that it provides, is social infrastructure enacting a program of civic participation.
June14, The Mirror Stages (2013)
16th Street Mall between Cleveland and Court
Located on 16th Street Mall, The Mirror Stage by June14 Meyer-Grohbrügge&Chermayeff is surrounded by diverse socioeconomic and ethnic populations. The project creates a collective identity for this group by adding butterflies—mall-goers share a common perspective on their new companions creating a type of social unification. Each of the butterfly cages encloses a different piece of site furniture, engages a different set of buildings, and is a unique size and proportion to strengthen the perception that they are a cohesive group of outsiders encouraging investigation.
The Mirror Stage solves visual problems at various scales. At the block scale, cables connect to the tops of adjacent buildings, subdividing the void above the street. Guiding one’s gaze upward, they reshape the compressed space of the mall into an expansive volume. The butterfly habitats concentrate one’s attention creating an escape from the mall’s cacophony. If the cables alter the visual identity of the mall by way of distraction, the cages do so by way of focus.
Billboards & Urban Signage
Absolute Vitality Inc., Absolutevitality.us Promo 1 (2013)
51 Kalamath St
Absolute Vitality Inc., a legal company registered in 2010 by Wyoming Corporate Services as a service provider for Shell companies in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was purchased by arts collective AIDS-3D in 2010 to function as a special purpose vehicle for their projects. The main purpose of the corporation is to employ a new multi-pronged strategy of diversified balanced growth to offer collectors a low-beta (risk), high-alpha (reward) conceptual investment vehicle unmitigated by oppressive EU tax schemes and the fickle tastes of the art market. For Promo 1 (2013), which uses a stock image of a pleasant-looking, albeit generic face, a pithy slogan in italics and a URL where more information is promised, we’re presented with a piece that at first seems to be a real estate speculator’s ad – but there’s a twist. The goal of Absolute Vitality Inc. is to purchase, document, develop and ‘flip’ parcels of land as artworks (in tax-friendly jurisdictions). Perhaps Daniel Keller, the company’s CEO, finds it crucial to address the intentionally ambiguous ethical questions raised by making a company that aims to profitably churn out earthworks like subdivisions, asking: what would sub-prime land art look like? Consequently, this morally ambiguous billboard mirrors that of its commercial brothers.
Timur Si-Qin, Mirror-mammal (2013)
Influenced by philosopher Manuel De Landa’s strand of materialism, Timur Si-Qin’s Mirror-mammal (2013), a stock image of a model with water running down her face, displays his interest in the relationship between evolution and art. While perhaps difficult to see at first glance, this can be unpacked by turning to the title itself: the mammalian diving reflex is one that lowers the heart rate when cool water touches the face, something which preserves the body but is also a physical effect associated with relaxation and, moreover, pleasure. Furthermore, the title also refers to mirror neurons, neurons which fire when an animal acts or observes the same action being performed by others. Thus, the mirror neurons of the mammal diving reflex should make the viewer feel calm—one should receive pleasure from them. As a matter of fact, these neurons are central to the “feeling images” that are principal in commercial image culture.
Jeromie Dorrance, Cognizance (2013)
Interested in the kinetic dream-like quality of video, Jeromie Dorrance works with figures that become cryptic, no longer embedded, floating into a terra incognita. As a society that is mistrustful of visionary states and accepts only an alert mundane state of consciousness, viewers of Dorrance’s work are thrown into haphazard worlds, eliciting a psychological response that some may find uncomfortable or jarring, where figures become obscure, unrecognizable, if not completely obliterated. In his video, shown in the vertical LED screens at the Denver Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall, Cognizance (2013), we move from the abstract to the figurative to the abstract, and in the process worlds are created, distorted and then blended in to further realms before disappearing. The work is open enough for each viewer to find his or her own meaning in it, and as such, in the words of the artist, the piece reorganizes “the lens of culture, creating a universal experience for each viewer.” And indeed, the title itself leaves much to discover. As a Denver inhabitant, Dorrance may be suggesting that he has understanding that only an insider could possess but, then again, it remains open.
Michael Snow, 7.47 (2007)
Michael Snow is a Canadian avant-garde filmmaker known for his groundbreaking work in the 1960s and 1970s. Deemed “structural films,” his La Region Centrale (1971) provided a mechanized view of landscape while Wavelength (1967) is built on a 45 minute long zoom. In 7.47 (2007), originally produced for Times Square in New York City and shown in a new version for “Draft Urbanism,” the viewer is confronted with an LED clock, set at 7:46 that changes over a span of three minutes to 7:47. The drama of the moment is highlighted when the frame zooms-in on the clock, as if we were meant to expect something of great importance. While one could speculate on the numbers themselves (is the 7:47 a reference to aeronautics?), the cipher remains undecipherable, the meaning of the numbers themselves cannot be recovered. Instead, we get the passing of time, the changing of one moment to the next, the present becoming the past. Shown on a large LED screen at the Denver Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall, the work further challenges viewers by showing a video of a clock, a representation of it, rather than the clock itself.
Amalia Ulman, Polite, Forgiveful & Forgetful (2013)
Amalia Ulman’s work is often concerned with class differences and representations of beauty, as well as their effects on social stratification, cultural capital, class imitation, and seduction. For her billboard Polite, Forgiveful & Forgetful, the aesthetics of which borrow from a generic greeting card, Ulman has taken up a direct address to the viewer – “you.” The piece enacts its title, kindly suggesting that one be humble. At the same time the piece is full of a sense of nostalgia and precariousness; a sphere of dandelion seeds that can be destroyed at a single blow of the lips. Of the words that are legible amongst the scratchings and nullified words on the right side of the piece, one is immediately drawn to the word “secret,” to an unknown known amongst the illegible scripts. Here is where Ulman’s interest in seduction is most clearly present. In that we will more than likely not investigate further. She is suggesting that we don’t care, that we are ambivalent, is something that could have dire consequences. Who this piece is addressing, nevertheless, remains a secret.
Erdem Taşdelen, Postures in Protest (2013)
“Draft Urbanism” is fundamentally an exhibition about the urban condition, and nothing has been more urgent than the tension and uprising resulting from current changes in the urban fabric in Istanbul. For “Draft Urbanism,” Erdem Taşdelen has responded directly to the invasion of public space in Taksim Square. Living in Vancouver and of Turkish descent, Taşdelen has chosen a stream of adverbs that could describe the recent protests in Turkey, thus communicating the sentiments of one urban context to another. As modifiers of verbs, that is, of actions, adverbs allow us to understand how a specific action transpires. In black and white, the viewer sees a mounting list of adverbs, all of which can be said to describe the strength and fortitude of those who are protesting the privatization of public space. His work, which is typically concerned with self-presentation as a performative gesture, in this instance, can also be seen as calling into question the individual’s role in how the city develops.
Gustavo Artigas, Landscape (2013)
Working with deadpan humor and notions of surprise, Gustavo Artigas’ practice has revolved around the dynamics of games and performance, and Landscape (2013) is no exception. The image appears to be a landscape image rendered in false colors – a wisp of blue cloud and a yellow sun in a green sky above an arid red landscape. Or, alternatively, the red seems to be a pier on a green sea. However, the image was created by a man urinating onto a thermo-sensitive surface. Consequently, Artigas reverses our whole understanding of the piece and placed in the context of “Draft Urbanism,” whose themes are both urban space and beer. One might wonder whether this billboard, placed in an urban space, near a bar, might be toying with the second half, with the imaginary landscapes that can be created in an inebriated state.
Cyprien Gaillard, Untitled (2013)
Cyprien Gaillard’s work has often used beer to think through larger social topics. The Recovery of Discovery (2011), and Angkor Beer Series (2010) are two examples. While the first was concerned with social expressions of entropy as well as issues of preservation and destruction, the latter was concerned with memory and the urban setting. For “Draft Urbanism,” Gaillard created a billboard that appropriates detail of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Last Judgment triptych from 1482. Like other Bosch triptychs this one shows first the Garden of Eden, the Judgment on Earth and finally the Underworld, and thus the entirety of the Judeo-Christian cycle. By showing a detail of an angel banishing a sinner from the garden, which might be the beginning of humanity as we know it, with a slogan appropriated from a Coors Light advertisement (the billboard is itself a small block away from Coors Field), perhaps Gaillard is suggesting we take a train ride to a more sinful yet desired place. As we have been banned from paradise, we must seek it ourselves out in the world.
Zach Reini, The Point of No Return (2013)
Zach Reini has described his art practice as “reductive in nature, searching for ways of conveying ideas with as little information as possible,” in part in response to the oversaturation of our digital world. The Denver native’s piece is a graphic rendering of the Braille translation of its title, The Point of No Return, and it challenges the necessity for legibility of mass communication. And indeed, there is no point of return since the piece is both illegible to the non-Braille reader but also impossible to decipher for someone who is seeing-impaired as there are no raised dots that can be touched. We are, in other words, caught in a double bind. Located on Broadway and Lawrence, amidst some of Denver’s more lively barrooms, Reini’s piece may simply be a banner for the bar patrons that are found on the street each night in this part of downtown.
Isabella Rozendaal, New Orleans 2011 (2011)
Having previously investigated the nature of Dutch tourism as well as American hunting culture, documentary photographer Isabella Rozendaal is interested in the humorous and the tragic, the beautiful and the awful, the sweet and the provocative. Rozendaal is capable of suggesting larger issues with an economy of means and New Orleans (2011) is a typical example. The photo, exhibited on the cusp of two distinct neighborhoods, takes the innocuous, a road sign at an intersection, and charges it with the political. Every city is replete with clues as to how it can be read, and Rozendaal’s photo—which has the name of the city where it was taken—exposes that New Orleans is a city clearly divided by racial and religious lines. Like Michael Snow’s 7:47 for “Draft Urbanism,” Rozendaal reveals the store of information that is hidden in plain sight but crystallized when reexamining everyday objects through art.
G.T. Pellizzi, Transitional (2013)
“Transitional.” G.T. Pellizzi’s use of this word is, interestingly, itself in transition. “Transitio,” Latin for “I move” or “I transit,” is then finished after a line break with the three letters that carry it into English. With a line break in the middle of the word, Pellizzi highlights a transition from one language to another (from a past dominant language to today’s) but also a state of incompleteness. Indeed, located by large empty lots and warehouses in this desolate stretch of Denargo Street, one wonders if Pellizzi’s work isn’t suggesting that one arrives merely to be in transit. The piece also contains a subtle existentialist undertone referencing the impermanence of all things, particularly ourselves, as passersby or commuters encounter the sign. Spray-painted in red capitals on a yellow background, the work calls up construction sites, places that exist only temporarily, that is, between the destruction of one thing and the construction of another. The precarious nature of the word and the references to a construction site also hint at the relationship between art and real estate development, as well as its ties to the current economic situation.
Jennifer Osborne, Untitled (2011)
Jennifer Osborne’s entry Untitled for “Draft Urbanism” is a picture of a man, drinking from a German beer bottle, with a painted face. In East Germany, a subculture of Native American role-playing has flourished for decades. Inspired by the novels of Karl May, these individuals gather in the German countryside to live in teepees, hunt, and perform rituals. Although many of these participants have never been to America, Native American cultures symbolize the personal freedom many longed for during the rule of the German Democratic Republic. Moreover, in talking about the relationship between settlers and Native Americans, East Germans were able to speak about their own situation – in code. Today, these subcultures still exist and one can even visit “old West towns” in Brandenburg, where gunfights are performed on the Mainstraße on the hour. Osborne’s image brings the relationship between America’s first people today, alcoholism, and the urban condition into relief.
Liam Gillick & Simon Critchley, Drive Safe (2013)
Philosopher Simon Critchley and Conceptual artist Liam Gillick have created a provocative billboard that at first glance mimics a standard caution one would find in any city (“Drive Safe!”). With the second phrase, they are making a manifesto-like call to the arts to recover their revolutionary potential. The text, which states “art must shed its empty defensive irony where every artwork can be reduced to a one line gag on a billboard like this and recover its seriousness, commitment, and capacity for resistance,” is printed upside down, and negates the call to drive safe (after all, it is both difficult and dangerous to read while driving). Taking these two elements, Gillick, who has a propensity for institutional critique, and Critchley have created a work riddled with questions. Is this a critique? Does it make fun of critique? If it is taken as a critique, then is there a speculative element to it, is it a call for a potential art and a potential future? But then, isn’t it subverted by the greater more practical message? It is exactly this state of paradox, this endless questioning, that in part achieves the second, upside-down text and as such is perhaps the first glimpse at an art that it calls for.
Jon Rafman, 75 Na Podskaiku, Humenne, Presov Religion, Slovakia, 2013 (2013)
Jon Rafman’s work is inspired by the rich contradictions that technology and digital media present. In his 9 Eyes series, which refers to the nine camera lenses of the Google Street View truck, images are easily identified through their pinpoint map localization, yet simultaneously mystified, as the viewer is ultimately denied full access to the contexts they arise from. While street views bring the world closer, the detached gaze of the automated camera leads to an alienating sense that, like the individuals in the street view, we too are observed — simultaneously by everyone and no one. In his entry for “Draft Urbanism,” a picture of armed forces standing near a group of Roma people on a street in Slovakia, many questions arise out of the unsettling ambiguity of the scene. Raising key issues about privacy in public space – a theme dramatically reinforced here by the unnerving presence of the militant force, as well as our own gaze as viewers – one of the central aims of Rafman’s art practice is to show how technology opens up previously unimagined fields of information, while also raising moral questions, asking what it means to be human in the context of these new and ambiguous digital realms.
Mario Zoots, Untitled (2013)
Within the urban context, the various ad images we see combine into a visual collage. Using collage or (digital) manipulation as his underlying principle, Denver-based artist Mario Zoots has created a body of work where the limits of portraiture are tested. Manipulating and/or distorting the “sitter’s” face, Zoots deletes, pixilates, draws on, paints over, and covers the faces with a variety of objects. But, can we call it a portrait if the face is no longer recognizable? In Untitled (2013), a picture of a face that is slightly faded and pixilated has quartz shooting from the eyes, the act of looking becomes physical, solid. There is a menacing quality to the image. One wonders if this isn’t a play with the tale of Medusa, where looking turns one to stone. If so, then it would seem that Zoots is suggesting that the very act being called for to appreciate his work is riddled with pitfalls. We build as we see, our visions become crystallized, manifest.
David Zink Yi, Untitled (2013)
David Zink Yi’s Untitled (2013), exhibited a few blocks from the industrial rail yard in Globeville, is a photograph of a miner lowering a cable into an unseen shaft in a mine near Lima, Peru. Zink Yi spent several months in this country, working on various projects, around the area of the silver mine in the department of Ayacucho in central Peru. In the distance of the picture, we see the light of another miner or rescue worker peering into the same lack. The lighting in the photograph gives off an eerie quality much like photographs from the late nineteenth, early twentieth century of séances and ghosts. Without a context we are left to wonder whether this is a standard operation or whether it might be something more sinister. As we go deeper into the earth, we also go further back into its history, one layer covering whole societies of people, animals, and further. As locals surely know, Denver is also a mining town. Founded in 1859 as a gold rush town, it didn’t produce very much gold, but rather, silver. And indeed, silver is immediately called to mind in the photograph, as well as the darkness necessary for analog photography. But we may wonder whether, in the words of Nietzsche, “If you look long enough into the void the void begins to look back through you.”
Steve Rowell, Ludlow (2013)
Steve Rowell’s Ludlow (2013) is a direct reference to the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, a watershed in American labor relations, where the Colorado National Guard and the Colorado Fuel and Iron company camp guards attacked a colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families. With a death toll of some twenty persons, the attack also resulted in the striking miners destroying property, further conflicts and, after the House Committee on Mines and Mining investigated, in child labor laws and an eight-hour work day. Ludlow is now a ghost town and a sense of conflict and desolation is apparent in Rowell’s photograph of a man inside an odd shaped grave, with one hand jutting out. From the detritus scattered throughout the image, one can discern that this is not a historical photograph from the beginning of the twentieth century. Nearly a hundred years later, Rowell reminds us that this struggle is still present. Rowell, a member of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, a research organization involved in exploring, examining, and understanding land and landscape issues, aims here to convey a site of memorial through an economy of means.
Douglas Coupland, Welcome to Detroit (2012)
Famous for coining the term “Generation X,” Douglas Coupland is a Canadian novelist and artist whose work has investigated postmodern religion, the effects of technology on the individual and society, human sexuality, pop culture, and post-apocalyptic scenarios. An ongoing project since 2011 has been the creation of a series of slogans and aphorisms dealing with issues and sensations particular to the early twenty-first century condition. The aphorism, WELCOME TO DETROIT / THE WHOLE WORLD IS NOW DETROIT is a reaction to Detroit’s long-term deindustrialization and depopulation—as well as a chilling foreboding what politics and arts will generate new meanings for a city whose twentieth century raisons d’être have largely vanished. Coupland’s slogan functions as a welcome sign much like those one would find entering other cities of speculation like Las Vegas and Reno, as well as a welcome sign into a new and unmapped era in human history. He says, “Think of Detroit as one million primates needing 2,500 calories a day sitting on a cold rock in the middle of the North American continent, with nothing to do all day. It is an unparalleled crisis of purpose, and Detroit just happened to get there first—but sooner or later we’ll all be there.”
Julieta Aranda, 99 Bottles of Beer (2013)
Julieta Aranda’s 99 Bottles of Beer (2013) is a black and white image that resembles a piece of paper that has been jammed in a laser printer, or, alternatively, a gene sequencing. From left to right, it moves from pixilated obscured lines to lines crammed closer and closer, overlapping, ending in final darkness. In fact, the image is a gel print of genetically modified wheat and barley, key ingredients of beer, which is as culturally embedded into our lives as the text superimposed on top of the gel print from the eponymous American folk song, a song often sung (by children) on long car rides. Like other work of hers that is concerned with the dissemination of information and agency in contemporary society, as well as some of the slogans she incorporated into her exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York (2009), 99 Bottles of Beer questions the super structures that shape and direct our lives. Since Occupy Wall Street in 2011, the number 99 can no longer be seen as a merely arbitrary starting point of a song.
Sofia Borges, Estudo da Paisagem #20 (2010)
With her photographs of dioramas depicting painted landscapes, Sofia Borges blurs the realms of art, politics, science, and historical documentation. The diaromas, which are located at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, depict rural, exotic, and romanticized landscapes of America in a bygone era. By photographing these dioramas, and by making a representation of a representation, Borges presents a second level of an ideal American landscape and indeed, Estudo da Paisagem #20 conceals as much as it reveals. At first glance, the Borges’ image is tranquil, reminiscent of dated postcards from the birth of tourism or an earlier projection of the West. But, on closer evaluation one notices that there is a fire burning on the horizon. As such, questions regarding destruction and creation come to mind as well as the associated politics of such issues. If it is necessary to destroy something to create something new, what are the ethics of this destruction?
Pia Camil, Rise Into Ruin (2013)
Interested in failed modernist architecture as well as the traces of history, Pia Camil has shown a proclivity to decaying urban structures, such as abandoned billboards. Her practice has explored the urban ruin – including photographs of halted projects along Mexico’s highways. Camil’s “Draft Urbanism” billboard depicts a billboard. This self-referentially begs for the viewer to become self-conscious as to what they are looking at. But Camil goes a step further than mere mirroring. The image shows the opposite side of the billboard, that is, the backstage, riddled with chaos, detritus, and deterioration. Camil’s work is, however, imbued with a sense of hope, something which is reinforced by the vibrant colors. The phrase “rise into ruin” suggests the cyclical nature of the world, the phoenix that arises from ash to become, inevitably, ash again.
Travis Egedy, Reality Engineering (2013)
Travis Egedy’s recent work is concerned with power relations and the creation of reality and identity. Acknowledging the fact that technology plays an inextricable role in our lives today, Egedy is preoccupied with the ways in which humans can free themselves from the gadgets and machines that define much of our interactions with the world and with each other. With this in mind, one way to understand Reality Engineering (2013) is to see it as a commentary on the illusions products like smart phones offer us. The billboard depicts two stock image hands holding smashed iPhones with a flow of blood-like substance uniting them. Whether this is a commentary on recent scandals in the technological industry is unclear. But we can also see it as a commentary on how fragile these definitions and devices are. For many today, to be is to be connected.
Laurel Nakadate & James Franco, Six Performances in the Room where Anna Nicole Died (2013)
Laurel Nakadate and James Franco are currently working on a number of videos that explore beautiful, haunted and historically important spaces in order to try to connect with the extraordinary individuals who spent time there. Screened three times a week at the Forest Room 5 bar in the Lower Highland district, their video, Six Performances in the Room Where Anna Nicole Died (2013), shot in Hollywood, Florida – in the hotel room where former model and TV personality Anna Nicole died—Nakadate and Franco hosted a slumber party in an attempt to convene with Anna Nicole. They invited strippers to appear along side them in the video, referencing Anna Nicole’s beginnings as a stripper. Under the direction of Nakadate and Franco, the women appear to be going through acting exercises, repeating words and phrases, raising the question as to whether this is mere rehearsal for the great beyond or whether through repetition one can shed one’s ego and commune with higher orders, much like Sufi Dervishes in their whirling.
Kate Sansom, Sun Dreams!All Tours!! (2013)
Kate Sansom is interested in advancements in computing technologies, and the future of ubiquitous user interface. More generally, when the objects of science fiction become substantiated. For Sansom, the ultimate development of urbanism is in fact non-urban: the goal of the images making up Sun Dreams!All Tours!! (2013) is one of escape, leisure, celebration of natural landscape, sex, and drink. Sansom’s piece—positioned at a bus stop, in front of the aquarium, next to the historic South Platte River Trail—does not specify a single destination, but instead suggests the limitless potential of virtualization – that in an augmented, improved reality these ideals would be possible everywhere. This is supported by the fact that the green laser path, reminiscent of Denver’s transit map, suggests that the experience of such exotic, tropical desires could be found within this very city.
Corina Copp, Eyes Up Here (2013)
Colorado native Corina Copp is a playwright and poet whose work often engages with cinema, slippage, and the boundaries of meaningful communication. With a keen sense of rhythm and parataxis, Copp manages to fit vast worlds into poems, where startling images are montaged with a linguistic richness, setting her apart from many contemporary poets. For Eyes Up Here (2013), Copp pushes sex into the foreground much like any run-of-the-mill advertisement. But while the poem declares “feelings are what you have between your legs” and is characterized by a manic anger, it slowly fades into a quieter space, more melancholy in an “empty melonish courtyard.” Suggesting language as a gift to be looked at, despite the tainted space it may arise from, the poem nevertheless displays how difficult it is to take words at face value, since we encounter a number of filters – ranging between conversation, exclamations, and long breathless lines. With a shift in scale, from mountains to mouth, one is also reminded of “Draft Urbanism’s” hop and malted theme.
Daniel Jackson, Respect the Moustache (2013)
Daniel Jackson grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, which, like Denver, has a historical narrative of a pioneering spirit, full of cowboys and a frontier mentality. Collecting images of statues representative of this narrative in Denver, Jackson reveals how easy it is to turn this mythical past on its head and to show that it is as illusory as the mythical unicorns. In Respect the Moustache (2013), a herd of unicorns radiates pink and soars through space, rendered purposely in the style of Instagrams. By photoshopping a horn onto the head of these horses, the idea of a macho past is queered – the man taming a hot-blooded mustang is now riding a prancing unicorn. Playing with dominant myths, Jackson offers an alternative understanding of our social framework.
Jason Lazarus, Untitled (Phase 1 Live Archive, 2011-Present) (2013)
Jason Lazarus’ piece for Draft Urbanism, Untitled (Phase 1 Live Archive, 2011-Present) (2013), is a moment in a longer chain of signification – a sign of signs of signs that leads back to moments of protest and even further. Phase 1 Live Archive was exhibited in Lazarus’ solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago between March 19 and June 18, 2013, and is a repository of Occupy Wall Street signs, re-created from images culled from print and online media. Making these signs in conjunction with the public, Lazarus also made the signs available to them to carry throughout their museum visit. But does remaking a protest sign reignite the cause’s original passions? Or does it rather lend itself towards a feeling of failure, a historical moment of which one feels melancholy? In Denver, the signs are shown collectively on a billboard, unifying the visual evidence of a dispersed movement full of hell-raisers, prophets, failures and historians. Lazarus’ billboard, at West 17th Avenue and Federal Boulevard, stands a few blocks from the Denver Field at Mile High, where collective passions are regularly played out when the Denver Broncos play.
Suwon Lee, Ciudad Fantasma (Ghost City) (2013)
Not relying on the anecdotal or other narrative structures, Suwon Lee’s work allows the viewer to create his or her own meanings. In Ciudad Fantasma (Ghost City) we are given a vision of a city from afar. Lacking specifics and the gritty details of reality, the city remains in the realm of the contingent, something which is possible but fundamentally unknowable. Lee suggests that her work “examines the role of the artist as an interpreter of the world based on organizing principles and a systematic approach to image making.” With this in mind, Lee’s digital photograph that seems to hover between reality and utopia can also be taken as a suggestion of the role of the artist, both aware of the world but suggesting one which is better.
Ricardo Domeneck, Continental Scar Issue (2013)
Both formally precise and musically rich, Ricardo Domeneck’s poems are never afraid to tackle politics, philosophy, the body, and history. Written in English, Domeneck’s poem follows a precise measure like downtown Denver’s city grid. It traces both the geography and history of the Americas, mixing the current locale with his native Brazil, illustrating subtle tensions. In the first two stanzas, Domeneck jumps from one location to the other, juxtaposing landscapes, histories, and cultures. With this hopping from one to the other, the trail of tears from the Arawaté tribe can be located in São Paolo as well as in Colorado ski resorts—central conjunction between the two, as if this violence can be seen and felt just about everywhere. Indeed, one of the poem’s strengths is its ability to entwine loss and celebration. By the time we reach “Centennials for the Americas,” the poem slowly drifts out of a specific location to the idea of America, claiming that the transcendentalist thinkers Emerson and Thoreau are dead (and not only in a literal sense). In claiming “No more tickets to the funeral,” Domeneck is making an injunction against morbidity but also suggesting that the event is, perhaps morbidly, sold out.
Dmitri Obergfell, Free Money (2013)
In Dmitri Obergfell’s Free Money—exhibited at an intersection in Sun Valley frequented almost exclusively by car—the viewer is presented with a burning sports car with the slogan “the golden age was the age when gold didn’t reign” in all caps, superimposed. Taken from the Situationist International, a radical movement that criticized mid-twentieth century capitalism that investigated other possibilities for the urban experience, this particular slogan was written in graffiti throughout Paris, some fifty years ago. The slogan suggests a utopian past where money was not of prime importance. In conjunction with a burning sports car, Obergfell’s critique is quite clear. After all, cars are a symbol of status and freedom in America. Nevertheless, they are also a necessity—in Denver, as in other American cities like L.A., an automobile is a basic requirement to navigate the urban landscape. Obergfell, then, seems to be calling for a change in the system of values—perhaps proposing that our values are entangled in places they should not be. But questions arise: does reproducing text originally hand-painted on walls validate its claims when it is printed as a billboard slogan? Does it subsume it into a culture of consumption and spectacle? And what is the relationship of the title to all this?
Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberena, Baldio (Wasteland) (2007)
Working in a variety of mediums, Juan-Pedro Fabra Guemberena is an artist who is not limited to a single dimension, making use of humor, irony, and double blinds. Indeed, as one critic has suggested, “Blinding is Fabra Guemberena’s extended metaphor, deception one of its tenors.” For his piece Baldio (Wasteland) Fabra Guemberena offers two views of a demolished neighborhood in the center of Montevideo. The attentive viewer can see figures amidst the rubble, collecting scrap metal, salvaging bits of the unsalvageable. At first glance, however, these figures are merely part of the pattern, part of the fabric. This would then offer a first glimpse of a commentary as to the social situation of these people embedded in a wasteland. According to the artist, it is not known exactly why this prominent area of town was destroyed. It is a blind spot that seems to have been overlooked. The pictures are permeated with inexplicability, performing deception, but also offering a shadow of hope – after all, to make a shadow (as in the lower left hand corner of the left picture) something must still be left standing.
Kandis Williams, einführen ausführen (2013)
Kandis Williams’ large-scaled black and white collages are concerned with identity politics as well as with issues of violence. Characterized by repetition and striking geometries, her work explores the way in which violence is aestheticized. For einführen ausführen (2013), there are references to Native American culture – its aestheticization – and illustrates the ways in which marginal groups become faceless, part of a pattern without an identity. Shown in a bus shelter and within the context of “Draft Urbanism,” an exhibition that is about both urbanism and beer, these figures take on a sober critique of the contemporary and historical situation of Native American tribes. Indeed, much like in Ricardo Domeneck’s poem, we are subtly reminded that urbanism necessitated this facelessness. This change is reinforced by the title, einführen means “to insert,” “to establish” or “to import,” and ausführen means “to export,” “to accomplish,” “to effect” or “to carry into execution.” And, if we consider the meaning of Native American culture for East Germans conjoined with Williams’ use of German in the title, her critique seems to be that these subcultures are only further objectifying the cultures they seem to praise.
James Franco, Jack and Beer (2013)
Best known as an actor, James Franco has been exploring celebrity, superficiality, and personal identity through art and poetry. Given that so much of contemporary culture is flattened by the media machine, that nuances become broad strokes, and that ideas become sound bites, ad nauseum, Franco often plays with these notions, not without the deviousness of an enfant terrible. For Jack and Beer (2013), Franco has distilled DRAFT URBANISM’s context into its most visual common denominators: beer, car engine, and culture. Jack Kerouac, the placative name for culture here, is an apt choice not only because of the nearby Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, but also because Kerouac is famous for his novel On the Road, partially set in Denver. By placing these signifiers up on a billboard, on the road, Franco communicates, succinctly, the exhibition’s core themes.
Jeremy Shaw, Over the Edge (2013)
For “Draft Urbanism,” Jeremy Shaw reiterates a strategy he previously employed with projects in Vancouver and Berlin; appropriating and re-distributing an archival movie poster within the context of contemporary advertising to act as mirror for the city and society that inhabits it via the recent past. Posted on buildings, lampposts, cafes, and placed in local papers, Over the Edge presents a direct facsimile of the original theatrical release poster for Jonathan Kaplan’s 1979 cult film, Over the Edge. The obscure coming-of-age tale that stars a young Matt Dillon was shot in Aurora and revolves around themes of teenage rebellion and substance abuse, following a group of junior high students growing up in the fictional planned community of New Granada. In the film, the community development process has ignored the fact that many of its inhabitants are teenagers, leaving them with next-to-nothing to occupy their extra-curricular time. This oversight in urban planning led to a bored, restless, and anarchic teenage population that spiraled out of control, eventually resulting in youth riots and the tragic gun death of one of it’s protagonists (Dillon). Shaw’s intervention acts as a subtle, yet potent reminder of the fact that these social issues are still very present in any urban or suburban development and is especially poignant in Denver, pre-dating the nearby Columbine and Aurora shootings by decades. The fact that few remember this film lays bare the critique of how quickly we allow important lessons to escape our communal consciousness.