The Nature of Things

By:Susannah Connell Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:The Nature of Things

An Artist Exposé By Susannah Connell

The Nature of Things was chosen as the primary exhibit for Denver’s 2010 Biennial of the Americas. Located in the newly renovated McNichols building, the exhibit was showcased over three floors as well as on the exterior of the Civic Center Park location. Serving as the main showcase for 24 artists from various countries within North, Central and South America, The Nature of Things gave a beautiful representation of the varying artistic styles throughout the Americas.

Artists were hand picked based upon how their chosen aesthetic fit into the overall Biennial themes of sustainability, innovation, community and the arts. The Roman poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) served as the inspiration for the exhibit, laying the groundwork for a discussion of the Western Hemisphere and the voices within. Through differing countries, diverse backgrounds and innovative artistic mediums, Denver was bestowed a brilliant gift of cultural history with a fully encompassing perspective of the Americas.

Lime Green Corinthian over Saturn Dublin, JerόnimoHagerman

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The Biennial of the Americas main stage was held at the McNichols Building in Civic Center Park. As the face of the Biennial it was only appropriate that the building’s facade be outfitted with its own unique site-specific “vegetation intervention.”

The iconic three-story Greek revival temple’s Corinthian columns were draped with pink fabric representative of canopies over outdoor markets in Mexico, and then topped with planters that emblemized palm trees of the southern part of the Western Hemisphere. Created by outdoor artist Jerόnimo Hagerman, Lime Green Corinthian over Saturn Dublin, 2010, presents an aesthetic dynamic that connects outside visitors to a familiar place, while drawing the locals in to a scene they might only find in a city somewhere in Central or South America.

These Corinthian palm trees hover over the handmade lime green Acapulco chairs that lie in wait for visitors to stop and rest their feet in the cascading pink shade, while contemplating their relationship to nature. Once inside, through the expansive windows, visitors can perch atop pink tinged palm trees and observe the art that is both inside and out.

Hagerman creates a tropical fantasy to change visitors' current realities and to draw them into the complexities between, “the human dimension and the vegetative world.” Each of Hagerman’s projects were meant to lure the viewer into a different place and time. They provoke social awareness and present a situation for people to react around them.

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United, Cypher13 Design Studio

Welcoming the public to have a seat and begin the exhibit with an open dialogue on the Americas is United, a 17-foot long interactive, three-dimensional foam map of the 35 nations commissioned for this event. The piece provided functionality as a comfortable gathering place while also prompting open discussions with its white color. The geographical shape was the creation of Cypher13 Design Studio out of Boulder, Colorado. The design team of Todd Berger, Alex Henry and Lucian Foehr created a platform for guests to cross borders physically and mentally all while opening a space for the most important detail — communication.

Continental, Karlo Andrei Ibarra

La Naturaleza Powered by a single solar panel and glowing in neon light is Continental, a text piece created by Karlo Andrei Ibarra of Puerto Rico. Stating, “I live in America,” but written in the Spanish language is meant to help viewers think past the standard idea of America as the Western Hemisphere. The word America is typically used to describe the United States of America, which in turn allows the other countries completing the continent to be forgotten and the former to be over-emphasized. In one neon statement, Ibarra continues the conversation of borders and restrictions within the Americas and what it truly means to “live in America.”

E Pluribus Unum, Sandra

La Naturaleza In a coin installation containing 347,208 pennies, E Pluribus Unum by Sandra Nakamura of Lima, Peru comments on the undocumented population of Hispanic workers living in the U.S. Each penny represents one million U.S. tax dollars paid by this population since the 1970’s. The pennies are not attached to the floor, seemingly free, yet all are tails side up showing the Latin phrase, E Pluribus Unum translating to “Plural Unit.” It is a translation of unity around the ideals upon which this country was founded. Nakamura quantifies a previously unknown population that clearly opposes that philosophy, by contributing to the system, yet surviving legally outside of it.

Arroz Riso Arborio and Moongate Escape, Lucia Koch

La Naturaleza In a double photograph installation entitled respectively, Arroz Riso Arborio and Moongate Escape, artist Lucia Koch of Sao Paulo, Brazil has created extensions of space within the McNichols Building. Typically working with light for architectural interventions within spaces of transition, Koch created two site-specific pieces using photographs portraying bottoms of cardboard boxes with windows to the outside world that she envisions.

Slow Walking Machines, Martín Alonso

La Naturaleza Upon first glance, Slow Walking Machines by Martin Alonso of Santiago, Chile appear to be static, yet wheeled objects. It takes a moment to realize that they are in fact moving, 12 inches a day at most, due to the auto vents on the machines reacting to the natural changes in air temperature. This unexpected observation is the very lesson Alonso is teaching his viewers as it applies to simple everyday happenings as well as larger social and cultural stereotypes. His lesson is: Slow down; don’t be so quick to judge or make assumptions; things may not always be, as they seem.

Rorschach America, Armando Miguelez

La NaturalezaIn a twenty-five piece series of ink silk-screens, Armando Miguelez of Mexico City, Mexico has created his own test in Rorschach America. Miguelez has doubled the image of many of the American countries to mimic the classic psychological inkblot test. Continuing to challenge one’s perceptions, this new test applies to geographic boundaries, expectations and presumptions about the nation state. What are the perceptions now?

Hijos de la Nada, An Audience-Specific Pop Experiment, Gabriel Acevedo Velarde

An awful act of national vandalism unexpectedly prompts racist attacks in the video installation, Hijos de la Nada by Gabriel Acevedo Velarde of Lima, Peru. Four Peruvian teenagers defaced architectural ruins in Chan Chan, Peru in January, 2010, and then uploaded it to YouTube. The reactions to the video should have been overwhelmingly horror over what was done to a national treasure, yet this took a back seat to the opposition over the vandal’s skin color. It is this very racially prejudiced reaction that Velarde blames the government for propagating and thus creating an even larger divide within the country he calls home.

Radicalizing the Local: Post Bubble Urban Strategies, Teddy Cruz

In Radicalizing the Local: Post Bubble Urban Strategies, architect Teddy Cruz asks Americans to take responsibility for shaping their environment. Focused upon the dynamics of the borders of Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California, Cruz uncovers how the same area, geographically speaking, can differ so greatly economically and architecturally. Both cities have reminders of each other within their confines, Mexican workers in San Diego and San Diego’s urban waste in Tijuana. Cruz’s ongoing research looks for answers to bring balance to such areas architecturally and socially.

The Epoch of Encroachment, Joseph Shaeffer

La Naturaleza Nature takes the world back from mankind in the Epoch of Encroachment, a mixed media installation by Joseph Shaeffer. Based upon smaller scale pieces that Shaeffer has developed over the last three to four years, Epoch examines the idea of nature as a conscious being, one that is capable of eventually protecting itself from man’s overbearing powers. Part artistic exhibit, part scientific testing and filled with objects representing both the natural world and the man-made world, Shaeffer certainly produces an intriguing argument for the fight over this planet.

Earthscrapers or Unnatural Building, San Fratello Architects

Harmoniously bringing together traditional manufacturing and natural architecture is the aim of Rael San Fratello Architects from Oakland, California in the ongoing research project, Earthscrapers or Unnatural Building. Through the process of three-dimensional printing and rapid prototyping the architects are able to ostensibly create any item out of any substance. Their current focus is on testing the most abundant material available (soil) for safety and strength so that it may be able to build structures quickly and resourcefully. With the help of their research we may again one day live amongst structures that are made by the earth, but have the strength for the future.

Clausurado, Victor Muñoz

La Naturaleza Clausurado, a series of five photographs by artist Victor Muñoz of Medellin, Colombia are all missing one major component of a normal, thriving city – people. Shown are beautiful photographs of unsettling images of the streets of his hometown. All of the buildings are boarded up and inhabitants have since moved on to safer places, leaving behind a skeleton of a city. This forced mass exodus is due to the constant warfare over drug cartels and the guerilla combat that the residents had no choice but to try to live through. In an attempt to take a stand against the wrong doings, the homeowners barricade their doorways and windows, protecting what little remains inside. Does this simple act of defiance indicate a return of life at some point or has this city lost its heartbeat for good?

Local Code: Real Estates, Nicholas de Monchaux

Taking urban planning to the next level is the idea within Local Code: Real Estates by architect Nicholas de Monchaux of Brooklyn, New York. Using San Francisco as a model and utilizing a digital mapping system over the city, Monchaux uncovers thousands of empty, unused city-owned pieces of land that are unable to be sold and are not maintained. Together these random areas of alleyways, ditches and neglected public spaces create one big opportunity for the city. These forgotten bits of land are often associated with spots of high crime and environmental issues. Through Monchaux’s projected renovations, these parcels would add positively to the community by significantly lowering costs on energy and environmental expenditures. These “spaces between places” may be small but collectively have the ability for change on a grand level.

Quasi Symmetry, Clark Richert

La Naturaleza Upon first glance, Quasi Symmetry, by Denver, Colorado artist Clark Richert appears to be a set of two beautifully patterned prints. However, like most of Richert’s works the general aesthetic is simple and pleasing to look at, but the pathway to the end result was far more technical than one would imagine. Quasi Symmetry represents the unstable controlled system that is capable of bringing balance to chaos known as the golden ratio, or pi, which can be measured by geometric forms. So it is not surprising to look closely at these patterns and realize that repetition is completely absent and the placement of all of the dots is a result of a very intricate template based in mathematics, science and nature. Since the 60’s and 70’s, Richert has been following the idea of “form follows function,” and so far it appears he has remained ahead of the game, as this suggestion is still relevant today.

Because There’s a There, Here’s Just Fine, Gregory Euclide

La Naturaleza The landscape of the Rocky Mountains takes center stage in Because There’s a There, Here’s Just Fine by Gregory Euclide of Le Sueur, Minnesota. Euclide has created miniaturized environments for various areas within the city of Denver, complete with small versions of the snow-capped mountains surrounding the urban spaces. This topography is not just a replica of the real land, but is created out of items, natural and man-made that can be found there. The process begins by Euclide pouring paint or an adhesive over the natural location. After the liquid has dried it has now captured different pieces of the land and is representative of its surroundings. The artist helps the viewers take a closer look at where many people think they want to live and where they actually live.

Welcome to New America, Rubén Gutiérrez

In a video documentary entitled Welcome to New America by Rubén Gutiérrez of Monterrey, Mexico, an otherwise small and remote group of neighborhoods near Lima, Peru take on big personalities as they each choose to represent a different American country. These residents may not have much, but what they do have they are very proud of and keep protected behind gated entrances and flags representing their chosen country. In the video, the viewer watches a soccer match between local teams of Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and the United States on a field situated at the center of all the neighborhood entrances. Hardships may have brought all of these people together, but the desire for independence and creating a new American history sets the tone for the future.

Milwaukee Murals Refitted, Santiago Cucullu

La Naturaleza In a floor-to-ceiling wall mural, Milwaukee Murals Refitted by Milwaukee artist Santiago Cucullu invites the viewers to make their own evaluations of the meanings within the work. The mural is a compilation of many separate images taken from various street murals found around the city of Milwaukee. The artist is allowing Vietnamese culture, Mexican labor leaders and local Milwaukee heroes to all share the same space equally. By not allowing any one subject to outshine the other, Cucullu opens the floor to new social discussions, giving these minorities back their voices that had previously been silenced.

None of the Above, Alexis Rochas

La Naturaleza Suspended high into the ceiling is None of the Above, a lattice of lightweight metal rods created by artist Alexis Rochas of Los Angeles. The spider web of interlocking metal rods and units expands into every possible inch of existing space from where it is located. To maximize space, the units have eight possible crossbars, and the metal rods reduce waste by having great strength, yet remaining lightweight. The structures can be taken apart, transported and reassembled easily, giving this idea even greater environmental benefit. Even if there is no obvious function for the piece yet, Rochas shows us the possibility for viable, sustainable building options in the future.

Dawn, Darío Escobar

La Naturaleza In Dawn, a sculptural series of painted baseball bats, artist Darío Escobar touches on multiple facets past and present of his hometown Guatemala City, Guatemala. The initial reaction may be to the gold coloring of the bats, reminiscent of the gilded idols once worshipped in prehispanic Guatemala. Yet the more modern eye could draw out the recurrence of the bats as a symbol of the industrial assembly line that uses the inexpensive materials and labor force within Guatemala. Escobar manages to weigh down a simple object with the burden of an entire country’s history.

Palas por Pistolas (Pistols for Shovels), Pedro Reyes

In the project Pistols for Shovels by Mexico City artist Pedro Reyes, viewers are given a beautiful example of finding possibility in a horrible situation. The project began in the city of Culiacan, Mexico, which at that time held the highest rate of handgun deaths in the country. With the help of the city government, 1,527 handguns were gathered and then melted down to become shovels. Not only are these weapons now purposeful objects for everyday use, but they are also being used to plant trees in Mexico City as well as Vancouver, San Francisco, Lyon, and Denver.

Silence Dogood, Miler Lagos

Silence Dogood by Colombian artist Miler Lagos, is a sculptural roll of newspapers that creates an impact that could only be achieved with his chosen medium displayed in such a large quantity. Unusual to see in this technological age of electronic social media and news distribution, the newspaper represents a former moment in time. Should people be accepting of this new way of spreading news? It’s not just a question of convenience anymore; the printed word’s impact on nature cannot be overlooked, as nations are faced with depleting natural resources. Once used as Benjamin Franklin’s pseudonym, Silence Dogood is yet again grabbing attention for critical social issues.

Untitled (fabric panels), Felipe Mujica

For Chilean artist Felipe Mujica, everything and everyone exists in relation to one another. For this reason it is clear why he chose to reinterpret the open space within the McNichols building with ceiling hung fabric panels. At the simplest level, the panels move the viewers through the space in a specific direction while giving them a glimpse of the possible final design of the building’s interior. Yet, as fluid fabric, light shows through and air adds motion to the panels allowing guests to experience a natural openness of the space. Similarly, the movement permits the mind to see the transitional and adaptable abilities of the panels, truly turning them into a work of art.

Po’ e Paisagem and Cantos, Brígida Baltar

Brazilian artist Brígida Baltar uses the most fragile of mediums (brick dust) to create objects that have always been seen as symbols of strength and endurance in Po' e Paisagem, a display of mountains similar to those surrounding her hometown of Rio de Janeiro and the U.S.'s own Rocky Mountains. Baltar began her exploration into brick dust after completing an excavation in her own home and the byproduct has since served as the vehicle for many works, including Cantos, a beautiful patterned floor installation. The artist has since added unusual materials such as dew and fog to her toolbox and enjoys employing such forms to showcase her surroundings and the natural architecture.

Paisajes and Invisible Cities, Estefanía Peñafiel

In Paisajes and Invisible Cities by Estefanía Peñafiel of Paris, France, one match is not enough. However, when multiples of this simple tool are employed, the results are dramatic and force the viewer to take notice. Typically thought of as destructive, fire is seen here as an opportunity for renewal in areas in need of community action. Penafiel shows that relentless actions from a cooperative effort bring about great change from even the most unlikely of instruments.