Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Direct Connect Denver

Direct Connect Denver's "What If..." as seen at one of 3 venues, GroundSwell Gallery.
Late summer of 2013, Don Fodness and Sabin Aell approached me and my partner (at GroundSwell Gallery), Danette Montoya about putting together a project for artists in Denver.  The basic goal was to create a project for as many artists as we could manage to collaborate with other artists internationaly.  Almost right away, we four felt the awesome energy of people who work well together.  Not only did we begin to organize and define this project, "What if..." but we also began to organize and define ourselves as Direct Connect Denver (DCD).
Might as well make a logo! Should I put in a TM?
The purpose of our new group began to unfold as this:  to create opportunities for ourselves and other artists in Denver and to connect directly with artists, galleries, and general culture in other cities and/or countries through our art work.  The realization we've all made was that most of the events defining success in our careers have been connections, relationships, and experiences with other people in our field.  Read about DCD and "What if..." in Westword and at Colorado Public Radio's website where Danette was interviewed about the project. 

Direct Connect Denver is now our four person team devoted to creating one project per year for  artists to engage with other artists/galleries/communities nationally and internationally.  Our first project, "What If..." just opened on March 14th in Denver, CO, USA and March 15 in Berlin, Germany with over 100 participating artists.

The framework of the project was this:  Sabin Aell catalyzed the relationship with Neurotitan Gallery in Berlin to do a collaborative art swap with artists in Denver.  Each team, DCD in Denver and Neurotitan in Berlin, enlisted 53 artists/art-groups to participate in the project.  Each artist/art-group was asked to pose a "what if...?" question and then was paired randomly with another artist/art-group in the opposite city.  The "what if..." questions were swapped and having receive the question, each artist/art-group had to begin an art work in response to that question.

 I was one of those artists and the question that I posed was, "What if I finally took off my East-Coast-Conservative-Protestant baggage and got naked?"  My partner was Xueh Magrini and her question to me was, "What if all is just an illusion?"  Xu's artwork, as seen on her website, was delightful to see because, being randomly paired, her work fit right into my hope for this project: to let loose! 
If you know my work, you know that I'm not prone to work loosely with pastels and I tend to draw very formally, so you can see what of this collaborative work was made by Xu (though elaborated upon by me) and you can see where my style works in.  I felt that this artwork was an invitation to keep working on artwork for myself (as I have been learning to do in the last year), but to also make it more vulnerable by showing it outside of my studio (or this blog).

All 53 artists in Denver and all 53 artists/art-groups in Berlin got to work responding to their questions knowing that their work would be finished by the asker.  After a month of working, all of the artwork (in Denver) was due to GroundSwell Gallery so that we could ship the artworks to Berlin for the artists there to finish and then exhibit at Neurotitan.  Likewise, Neurotitan had to collect all of their artists works and send them to Denver.  (Organizational note:  Always send all the artwork in one package, one time if you can.  Sending multiple packages on different schedules does not seem to make a schedule run smoothly.  Repeat: Ship everything at once.)  In late January, early February, artists received the artworks that their collaborator started in response to the question they had asked.  Everyone had to work on responding to his/her own question AND responding to another artist's interpretation of that question.  Finally, all of the artworks in Denver were exhibited at Hinterland (Sabin's gallery on Walnut St.), Showpen (Don's gallery/artists' residence on 9th & Santa Fe) and at GroundSwell Gallery.
Left: Sara Guindon & Sophia Martineck, Center: Andrew Huffman & Vela, Right: Travis Hetman & Johann B├╝sen.  These 3 artworks each became an enmeshed synthesis of the collaborators' styles.  Sara and Sophia's styles seem one in the same, Andrew Huffman transformed Vela's (barely discernible now) gnome into his more rare stream-of-consciousness work and Travis had to break from his negative-space and work within Johann's frenetic overload of imagery.  In my opinion, these are awesome collaborative efforts.  (click on this image to see it larger...  find the gnome?)

In my experience I found it interesting that I had had an idea in my mind of how I would respond to my own question, but when I received my artwork from Xu, I had to re-think, re-imagine my visual "answer" to my own question.  As an organizer of this project, having looked at everyone's original questions, it became evident that some asked "what if..." with a plan for themselves and others asked as though "anything can happen!"  I can't say for sure, but I imagine the latter askers may have felt more free as they attempted to work on another artist's work and deal with the existential problem of answering our own questions.  Of course there is also the issue of working right on another artist's work.  I applaud the artists who boldly negotiated this problem for themselves and created excellent works while dismantling (ahem... destroying...) their partner's input.  I think it was important for artists to see this as a project where it was appropriate and expected that we just do-what-we-have-to-do to make an artwork. 
Left: Tyler Beard & Andres Villareal, Right: Jeffrey King & Nat Hamon.  Both Tyler and Jeffrey dismantled or destroyed their partner's work as a means to making work that is their own.  I point out that their partner's work is collaborative in that it is used as the medium for the artwork seen here.

Finally, I'll just say that this project has been a joy to co-create because of the co-creators.  The best parts about working with Danette at GroundSwell Gallery for the past 3 years have been our ability to lay everything out honestly, our naturally mutual objectives and our equal willingness to work hard with attention to the balance between our workloads.  Working with Don and Sabin on this project has resulted in a similar working style and the four us seem as surprised as we are delighted and motivated to continue working together.  Group projects are not often this easy and fair.

Direct Connect Denver plans to document this project carefully and create a pdf book as well as a print-to-order book of the artworks.  DCD also plans to do another project in 2015.

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