Urbanscapes provide a centrally-located space for people to coalesce: a place where we can exchange ideas, experiences, intimacies, and aesthetics. At its best, such spaces provide us with the ability to express our identities and beliefs, while simultaneously better understanding those of others. At its worst, these spaces become an echo-chamber for dominant modes of thought that reinforce traditional hierarchies. As such, urbanscapes can be thought of as contested zones that possess the ability to promote social and cultural diversity or, conversely, limit the scope of human imagination and intelligence. To this end, residents of (and visitors to) a particular urbanscape determine its social, cultural, aesthetic, and economic mores.
Like most cities, Denver, Colorado is a nuanced milieu of relationships effected by socioeconomic and demographic contingencies. Specifically, the Mile High City has experienced a population boom over the course of the past decade that has radically altered the city’s objective realities.
Certainly, the influx of new residents has afforded Denver the ability to prosper in ways it had not previously. But when a mid-sized city’s population increases by more than 100,000 people in just seven years, problems inevitably arise. To wit, home prices and rental rates have skyrocketed, traffic flow has reached nightmarish levels, and gentrification has become so widespread that those who benefit from it feel emboldened enough to joke about its effects.
Another negative outcome of Denver’s population boom is the displacement of artists from their studios and homes. Unable to keep pace with soaring rental rates brought on by the influx of new citizens, as well as the burgeoning marijuana industry, galleries and studios across the city are shutting down. While, generally speaking, the outlook for many local artists looks bleak, some Denver-based residents with the means to do so are helping out.
One creative resident supporting local artists is the poet, cartoonist, and comedian Sommer Browning. A year ago, she opened GEORGIA, a pop-up art space located in her detached garage. According to her website, GEORGIA “aims to blur space and purpose, to bring artists, musicians, writers, fabricators & thinkers together, to bring them together in a garage, to bring them together in a garage for a short period of time.” During the short period of time in which it’s existed, the space has received positive reviews, feedback, and accolades for its efforts.
Earlier in the year, Browning asked if I would curate a show for GEORGIA. After agreeing, I settled on a show concept that explored the complex nexus of aesthetic and cultural relationships within the city of Denver. The show, titled URBAN AGGREGATE, champions the strengths of the city’s creative population, while simultaneously calling attention to the social and cultural problems it currently experiences.
Of the show’s concept and GEORGIA’s relationship to it, Browning recently noted that “what is seen and experienced in the city is unintentionally replicated inside the home, and vice versa…I say home purposely, to add the concepts of personal space, family, and privacy to the notion of the urbanscape.” She continues:
I think when some intentionality is offered to this relationship, community is the result.
When we offer some of ourselves, our intimacies, our personal relationships, our privacy to the city, and when we invite the political, the economic, the cultural into our homes, we create a third thing, a third place; we create community. Community has a power neither the city nor the home alone can have. It is a place that is more defined than the urbanscape. It can provide protection and support for those inside of it, in a way that harkens to the security of family and home. And it also exists with more freedom and abides broader rules than the home, which is traditionally overseen by a single authority, with a specific and deliberate goal.
GEORGIA, and perhaps all DIY art spaces, strives to be a bridge and to become that third space. Third spaces ask and answer different questions of beauty, commodity, and work than traditional art spaces do. Third spaces invite aesthetic, cultural, and social conversations into personal and private spheres.
Browning’s notion of GEORGIA as a “third space” results, to her mind, from the addition of privacy, security, and the personal associated with domestic spaces to the broader, more public realm of the urbanscape. This comingling of disparate spaces affords us the opportunity to experience something wholly new, yet resonating with echoes of its discrete parts.
In many ways, the work on display in URBAN AGGREGATE embodies the ideas of which Browning writes. For instance, Sueyeun Juliette Lee contributes a poem-film titled “To Be Alive, The Softest Splendor” to URBAN AGGREGATE. Of her work on view in the show, she writes:
The relational experience of intimacy—of discovering yourself in a shared moment of human connection and vulnerable safety—invokes a special attention, one that focuses heightened interest on fine details. The glorious beauty of a turning hand, the gentle play of light catching on someone’s hair.
Conversely, Ashley Frazier notes that her Remnants Series, also on display, consists of “broken cast bricks and bottles…which draw reflection on the urban landscape.”
One the one hand, Lee focuses on “intimacy” and vulnerability; on the other hand, Frazier attends to hard, industrial materials such as brick and broken glass that engender meditations on urban decay or city planning. Taken separately, each contribution evokes oppositional responses or fosters different, imaginative contexts. When placed in close proximity of one another, though, they enter into a conversation and gesture toward the “third space” to which Browning’s gallery attempts to generate: a space that crosses emotional, psychological, and aesthetic boundaries in service of something new and, hopefully, greater.
Other works within URBAN AGGREGATE demonstrate an engagement with a “third space” as well, but do so more hermetically. Sarah Bowling constructed her wall-hanging sculpture Pin Cushion, for example, out of mortar—a decidedly hard, commercial, and urban material.
But as it’s titled suggests, it depicts a soft, domestic, pillow-like object. The object’s materiality, then, functions in contrast to the image it represents. But when considered as a whole, something synthetic and new emerges. Likewise, the collaborative busts constructed by Diego Rodriguez-Warner and Matthew J. Mahoney provide a portrait of two artists working together on a single object in order to aestheticize their friendship: an aesthetic community of two.
Moreover, the busts are aggregate or assemblage-based compositions constructed from the city’s detritus: ketchup packets, plastic forks, paint rollers, beer boxes, and firecrackers, etc. And invoking the notion of “community” that Browning, mentions, Sammy Lee’s A Very Proper Table Setting is a wall-hung tabletop made from cast, Hanji paper shaped into the topography of cutlery and dishware: the public sphere communing in a domestic space for a meal on the aesthetic plane.
an examination of the current status of the world, reflecting on the aftermath of a turbulent year, echoing the highs and lows of 2017 through a sea of rising and falling pillars, riddled with arrows, resting upon a pile of rubble and debris, lamenting on the results of a warring nation.
With pointed, wooden pylons shooting upward from the floor, coupled with arrows, rubble, and debris, the artwork focused on the social and political tensions in the aftermath of the 2016 election.
But when re-oriented modularly within the context of URBAN AGGREGATE, the sculpture becomes womb-like, engulfing Eric Baus during his sound performance for the show’s opening and the poets Elisa Gabbert and Anna Moschovakis for their reading the subsequent week. A monument to turbulence transforms into a cradle for self-expression and creativity. While King Me’s URBAN AGGREGATE-version will foreground tenderness, the resonance of a fractured country remains embedded within the sculpture’s timbers. In other words, a public statement of political defiance re-imagines itself as a protective vessel: a conceptual “third space” manifesting itself tangibly.
The artwork of Suchitra Mattai functions similarly. It interrogates concepts of colonialism and post-colonialism, immigration and displacement, as well as the Other within Western (i.e. white) culture. Indeed, Mattai’s work provides a decidedly political and globally-minded critique of systems of power and race relations. To this extent, her artwork unabashedly engages the public sphere and the issues attendant to urbanscapes and other contested zones in which ideological discourse takes precedence. To this extent, she notes that urbanscapes have “become increasingly similar from region to region (in the US)” and the “echo chamber seems to resound deeper and deeper.” The artist fears that the “urban space,” which was once “a node of vitality and heterogeneity in the arts, social consciousness and political awareness,” has now become just the opposite.
As an anodyne for the homogenization of urbanscapes, Mattai hopes to find “more spaces for experimentation, for exploration, and for welcoming the different, the ‘other’.” And, echoing Browning, her work offers us a clue to where these alternative spaces can found. While her art foregrounds the political and the global, the objects she creates more often than not come from the domestic sphere: an assemblage of textiles, fabric, found/modified cross-stitched images, furniture, and household items. A global politics of the other created from domestic spaces. A public statement shrouded in the fabrics of the personal: a “third space” that asks and answers “different questions of beauty, commodity, and work” than traditional spaces.
If the residents of an unrbanscape truly do determine, or at very least, shape its social, cultural, aesthetic, and economic mores, then it is the hope of URBAN AGGREGATE that forward-thinking and socially-minded artists living in Denver can discover new ways of constructing those mores. In doing so, alternative solutions to your city’s civic problems, more nuanced understandings to one another’s differences, and new creative realities can begin to develop through the creation of a third space.
URBAN AGGREGATE opens on Friday, 21 September at GEORGIA, located in the alleyway behind 952 Mariposa Street in Denver, CO. Opening night will run from 7pm to 11pm and feature a sound performance by Eric Baus at 9pm. The show will continue through the weekend with open hours on Saturday and Sunday from 12pm-5pm. On Monday, 24 September, GEORGIA will host a reading by Elisa Gabbert and Anna Moschovakis at 7pm. For further information on this event or other GEORGIA-related happenings, contact GEORGIAartspace@gmail.com.