By:Brittany Noland, Emily Haggstrom, Tessa Harvey Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:The Nature of Things
Galleries and Museums of the Biennial
Denver’s Biennial of the Americas brought civic leaders, heads of state, government officials and ambassadors from around the Western Hemisphere to celebrate cultural diversity along with the cohesion and collaboration of our partners within the Americas. However, it was evident that to stay in line with the theme of classical biennials, Denver would need to include not just strength in politics but its support for the creative arts and the communities across the Americas.
Notable citywide cultural and artistic centers housed exhibitions that would feature art, ideas and innovations of the diverse cultures of the Americas. With 39 participating venues, guests and locals had the pleasure of visiting a variety of exhibits in locations across Denver and its surrounding metropolitan area. Featured below is a sample of representative galleries and museums that participated in the Biennial.
Museo de las Americas – Liberadores
The Museo de las Americas was one of the satellite locations for programming and was an intrinsic part of the Biennial experience. The opening on June 24 of the exhibition Liberadores, curated by executive director Maruca Salazar, was the first of the Biennial events in the city. Selected by a jury, the exhibit features artists from across the continent including Xavier Cortada, Miami/Cuba; Ana Maria Hernando, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cliff Fragua, Jemez Pueblo, USA; Liliana Folta, Argentina; Oscar Muñoz, Popayán, Colombia; Daniel Salazar, Denver, USA; Fernando Sanchez, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Paula Winograd, Bogotá, Colombia; and Seth Wulsin, New York, USA/Argentina. The exhibit was comprised of a variety of media from sculpture to film, and covered everything from the liberation of the Pueblo in the Southwest to the Chicano movement in the 1960’s.
July continued to be an exciting and busy time for Museo. Museo hosted a film night in collaboration with Su Teatro which featured films by internationally renowned performance artist Guillermo Gomez- Peña and director Daniel Salazar. Guillermo also held the world premiere of a performance piece created especially for the Biennial called Strange Democracy. In his honor, Museo held a garden party that was attended by community members, Biennial staff and Mayor Hickenlooper. Other highlights from the month included a performance by the Colorado Chamber Players. The gallery transformed into a magical space as music composed by Silvestre Revueltas, Miguel Chaqui and Astor Piazzolla filled the air. That same week, Miguel Tarango presented a web discussion, called Digital Isolation. He arranged a conference with participants from around the continent that included a professor, a performing artist and a graphic designer. They enlightened guests with their thoughts on how digital media can isolate cultures from one another based on their access to the Internet.
Flobots.org, the non-profit organization founded by the Flobots, brought two local groups of youth, Bridges Without Borders and the Minor Disturbance together for a slam poetry presentation. The youth explored how borders and walls intersect lives. Their poetry reflected on relationships between countries like the United States and Mexico, and Palestine and Israel.
During the month, Museo also hosted workshops and tours of the Liberadores exhibition and hosted the second annual Museo de las Americas Summer Camp. This year’s theme was heroes, to coincide with exhibit and Biennial ideals. It incorporated visual arts, dance and music to provide students with a more holistic experience and was sponsored free of charge for DPS students in grades K-6.
The Museum of Contemporary Arts, Denver (MCA) – Energy Effects
MCA curators, Adam Lerner and Paul Andersen approached the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs to construct an exhibit that would correspond succinctly with the themes of sustainability, innovation and art for Denver’s inaugural Biennial. After careful consideration and thorough planning, Andersen and Lerner retooled an exhibit that had been in the works to include artists from across the Western Hemisphere, and finally Energy Effects: Art and Artifacts from the Landscape of Glorious Excess was produced.
With an established exhibit, MCA became one of the citywide cultural partners that would lend to the creativity and imagery of the newest international event to descend on Denver. MCA’s large scale exhibit, Energy Effects, explored the U.S. culture's definition of energy and its relationship to sustainability. The exhibit encouraged visitors to discuss energy in an enlightened way and to look at other perspectives on energy. Andersen explained that people have more than they need to sustain life and it is that leftover energy, that excess, and what people decide to do with it that really gives a culture its identity. "Art doesn’t fit easily into discussions of conservation because, it’s by nature, an excessive practice; it’s not something we need in order to survive." - Paul Andersen
This large scale exhibit started in the parking lot across the street of the MCA with a life-size, site specific, recreation of Gonzalo Lebrija’s, Entre La Vida y La Muerte, originally done in video and lambda print. The installation, which featured a remodeled classic car, hovered over a large metal core in the center of a carved out pool in a nose dive into what appeared to be a head on collision of object and earth. The recreation paid homage to Lebrija’s original work done two years earlier.
Inside the MCA, visitors were left captivated at not only the sheer size and scale of each piece but the amount of energy that had to have been spent to create these enormous works of art. Hanging directly overhead, completed by Orly Genger, were hundreds of mathematically rigorous metal catenary surfaces enveloped entirely in beige cashmilon. This arduous piece spanned the entire width of the third story above the museum hallway. Some sections of this organic looking piece had additional sub-divided curves that hung from its ends, which then was subdivided again and hung off the next until it appeared to sag almost seven feet off the ceiling. It looked as if a blanket of crocheted cashmilon was covering an area of coral reef.
What was so interesting about pieces throughout this exhibit was the time, effort and desire to see experiments carried out. Each work was clearly time tested through logic and mathematical equations, and some were even outside the traditional view of contemporary art. The exhibit featured not only art, but it also illustrated events, scientific experiments, and phenomena.
The exhibit's relation to the Biennial drew towards the connection of energy and conservation and how to develop a more complex understanding of what conserving energy truly means. “Art doesn’t fit easily into discussions of conservation because, it’s by nature, an excessive practice; it’s not something we need in order to survive. If you use your energy to create art, scientific experiments, or a spectrum of things in between, it’s not bad,” said Andersen. So as people conserve their energy it also challenges them to use that excess energy to create amazing works of art that provide aesthetic effects for people, instead of creating something like war.
The exhibit also featured a 126-pair collection of used sandals created over 17 years by Viviane Le Courtois; a Titan IV Rocket Engine that was considered for a mission to Saturn; two B61 Thermo-Nuclear weapons that were never used; a full-scale particle accelerator created by an artist who built the machine solely from a set of blueprints; a small-scale view of the Statue of Liberty built within the eye of a needle in which the artist worked through his heartbeats to create; and a video of a man’s journey across America.
Capsule – Objectophilia
During the summer months, it is typical of many people to clean out their closets and garages to hold yard sales. They do this to get rid of things they don’t need, reorganize their houses, or downsize. With every object they find in their house there is one question that arises, “Do I need this, or should I get rid of it?” Many people consider it for a second and move on to the next object without ever worrying about it again. There are, however, a large number of people who are caused great anxiety over getting rid of their belongings. Some of these people are considered hoarders; their houses end up so full of unnecessary items, that the space can get to the point of being unlivable. Sometimes, people’s appreciation for and inability to detach from objects turns into objectophilia, a condition described by artist, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, as a love of objects so intense that individuals form emotional relationships to inanimate things.
It was this idea that inspired Murphy to resurrect her former gallery, Capsule, for the month of July, to put on a show that spanned 20,000 square feet of space over two locations. Objectophilia was a vintage-inspired show of impressive scale. The second largest exhibit of the inaugural Biennial of the Americas showcased the works of 48 artists and was also the only exhibit that featured works from the Denver art scene. This was important to Murphy, not only the show’s curator, but a known local art activist, who stated that it is, “Important to see that Denver has culture and doesn’t just import culture.” Seventy percent of the exhibit was comprised of works from the Denver area.
Objectophilia was made up of art created from plates, trash, books, Christmas bulbs, rope, doll heads and many other, sometimes quirky, objects. One striking example was that of a dog named Sparky. The sculpture created by Claudia Roulier was structured using a taxidermy form as his base. His taxidermy eyes gave him "life;" he was like Frankenstein, made up of mismatched parts. He had sprigs of synthetic hair sprouting from his head, nuts, bolts, screws, even an old bike chain protruding from his painted body, all standing stoic on ceramic feet. Objectophilia was made up of art created from plates, trash, books, Christmas bulbs, rope, doll heads and many other, sometimes quirky, objects.
Being near a large mass transit station and close to businesses, the location off 16th and Delgany in downtown Denver got a lot of unforeseen foot traffic. Passersby would wander into the space to take a look around, probably never having had the intention of viewing art when they set about their day. A group of construction workers from across the street even walked in one day. They were overheard muttering about how they didn’t understand art; nothing they saw made sense to them, until they saw Sparky.
Objectophilia was a show of layered messages. It exemplified the love of objects and simultaneously a frustration with the restrictions of keeping objects, and for one artist, a hatred of her mother’s hoarding. It also channeled the destruction that creating objects can have on Earth. The viewer experienced an almost voyeuristic feeling when viewing all the items that belonged to someone. It was a feeling as if one was looking into the past and experiencing certain emotions, depending on how the items were arranged. Whether they loved the objects, wanted nothing to do with them, thought there were too many of them, or had a blatant yearning for nature, the show certainly tied into the ideas of innovation, art, sustainability and community of the biennial. Objectophilia was comprised of non-traditional art and most assuredly left a stamp that Murphy hoped it would - that Denver's art scene is strong and thriving.
Denver Art Museum – Shaped by Culture: New World Landscapes
While there are great civilizations that existed throughout pre-Colombian Central and South America, most have disappeared or been conquered. However, there are many that still exist and continue to thrive in the very regions they’ve been rooted in for centuries. And while there are many of these civilizations and sites to explore, it is Edward Ranney’s depiction of Peru that stands at the forefront of the Denver Art Museum's collaboration with the Biennial of the Americas. Shaped by Culture: New World Landscapes, is a presentation of 30 black and white photographs from historic pre- Colombian sites in the Americas.
Encapsulated within the existing New World department, which displays work from before the Spanish Colonial era, photographer Edward Ranney captures the existence of Mesoamerican creations through the lens of his camera, showcasing the enigmatic architecture of the ancient Incan and Moche civilizations. Shaped by Culture: New World Landscapes, is a presentation of 30 black and white photographs from historic pre-Colombian sites in the Americas. The depictions allowed visitors to understand the culture of these ancient people and their magnificent creations.
“Ranney has shown a singular devotion to the Americas,” said photography curator Eric Paddock, who worked closely with the artist and chief curator Margaret Young-Sanchez to select the works. “His work has developed, and his knowledge of these places and the relationships between their environments is both beautiful and wise.”
His photographs reflect the passion Ranney has for the region, the rich culture and unbelievable knowledge of the indigenous people. Displayed within the photographs are sacred temples, sacrificial sites and huacas, alongside barren coastal plateaus and valleys of a lost empire that spanned countries. Further stills reveal carved out agricultural ridges that make up the countryside of Peru and stone work so precise that architects and stone masons still remain confounded at the spectacle.
These images are part and parcel to the current landscape in Peru and have been adopted from the old culture into the new generation of Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Chileans and Bolivians. And while sites continue to be discovered and explored, people like Ranney will continue to illuminate the surviving beauty of these places and what they represent. It is Ranney’s perspective that gave visitors an unblemished understanding of the past and present of these cultures and how each one has been absorbed into the current landscape to create a natural environment that will continue to be alive and revered for decades to come.
Shaped by Culture: New World Landscapes by Edward Ranney will run through September 26, 2010, in the Denver Art Museum’s New World Galleries.
The Counterterrorism Education and Learning Lab – Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere
When this inaugural event was being produced, it was important for both the C.E.L.L. and the Biennial to address the most salient issue of modern time in conjunction with Western Hemisphere allies. While most galleries sought to show their dynamic cultures through art and dance, the C.E.L.L. broached the poignant issue that faces each country throughout the Americas, some more personally then others — terrorism.
“We recognize that terrorism is a global issue and that our Western Hemisphere allies and partners in this particular front are very important for that type of transnational security operation to happen. The Biennial recognized that and we ultimately hosted a forum in which 800 people attended. And while there are so many wonderful things to celebrate with our allies, there are also things in which we need to be very serious about,” said Executive Director Melanie Pearlman.
Located within Denver’s museum complex sits the C.E.L.L., a non-profit institute that is dedicated to educating citizens about the threat of terrorism and empowers them in ways to mitigate the threat. Through relationships with several think tank organizations, this organization continues to create programing that is relevant and timely through research of evolving and emerging threats.
It is the only exhibition of its kind, due to the difficult subject matter, that in itself is inherently violent, continuously evolving and extremely politically charged. Creator Larry Mizel, through other museum ventures, realized how powerful exhibits could be to convey very difficult subject matter. He felt it was important to address terrorism since the issue is not going away.
This 6,000 square foot state-of-the-art multimedia exhibit was created in such a way that content, related to new terror attacks could be updated within the exhibits system almost immediately. Foremost thought leaders from think tanks across the United States helped to develop content while Emmy® and Academy® award winning designers and videographers helped to align content the way viewers see it. To ease and orient visitors through the exhibit, questions about terrorism are illuminated on the floors and ceilings, while patrons journey through the exhibition. “We recognize that terrorism is a global issue and that our Western Hemisphere allies and partners in this particular front are very important for that type of transnational security operation to happen." - Melanie Pearlman
Just within the entrance, the exhibit climaxes virtually instantaneously with Faces of Terror, which flashes images of bloodied victims, crying faces and streets filled with mournful citizens. Just above the images, names of victims in these terrorist attacks from around the world scroll across a red-lit LED ticker screen that snakes through the wall and into the next room.
It is here that visitors are equipped with a card that represents a victim of terror whom they will follow throughout the exhibit to find out just what became of their stolen and shattered life. Within the automated doorway, visitors are led to Terrorism Within Our Time, which features a series of interviews and riveting videos regarding the history and evolution of terrorist attacks over the last 25 years. It explains terrorists' mind-sets, ideologies and tactics. It reviews the types of organizations and the attention they attract while simultaneously questioning the intent of these domestic and international terrorists.
Because terrorism is a global threat, the next doorway leads to Terror Strikes Worldwide. Inside visitors scan monitors playing 30 different Associated Press videos with commentary following attacks such as the bombings in London, Madrid, Colombia and Japan. Each video seeks to convey the ideologies these different terrorist groups and individuals professed in an attempt to justify their attacks. Across from these screens, is text from The Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism’s assessment on The Evolution of Terrorism and the Threats that Exist, which is embedded into a map of the world. Underneath is another exhibit titled The World Speaks – Condemning Terrorism and Condoning Terrorism. This displays quotes from demagogues inciting violence and on the reverse of the double-sided placard reads a quote from world leaders condemning terrorism.
The rest of the room displays exact replicas of bombs used in specific attacks, while the opposite wall features different everyday items used to create and/or disguise bombs. After a timed countdown, visitors are then led to a room with floor to ceiling monitors that show the outcome of a terrorist attack. These screens simultaneously flash intense scenes from the prior room’s display and shows women, children and men in a scene that only evil could perpetuate.
The last room guides visitors through facts and myths of terrorism and what is being done not only from the side of victims and policymakers, but from the terrorists themselves. Juxtaposed videos demonstrate how these groups continue to incite violence and what is being done to mitigate such violence.
With its sterile simplistic environment, access timed entryways, gripping sounds and vivid imagery; the C.E.L.L. elicits deep substantial emotions from its visitors. This exhibit may seem that it is not for the faint of heart, but each citizen should and must understand the roles of terrorism and just how to detect and defend against them.