No white walls for Black Cube art

No white walls for Black Cube art

Barbara Lawlor

In the middle of Kirby’s Field in Gold Hill, a black cube-ish structure stands stark against the long dry stalks of browning grass and darkening sky. Tubs of ice snuggled bottles of craft beer. Pans of pasties, a miner’s lunch, still steaming from the oven, moist and rich with simple flavors, meat, potatoes, carrots, rutabaga and cheese were offered next to batches of miner’s beans.

People in various degrees of dress up, or not, gathered in small groups around the displays in the field, which used to house softball games and still is the venue for the local Bocce Ball tournament every summer.

But on Saturday night, Kirby’s Field was the site of a launch, a reception for the artists of the Gold Hill Art Project, a first in the small historic mining town. Being one of Boulder County’s historic mining landmarks is one of the reason Gold Hill was chosen to host this event; first time for Gold Hill, seventh for Black Cube in the last year and a half.

Black Cube is a non-profit nomadic contemporary art museum, based in Denver, of an experimental nature that nurtures an artist’s ideas and guides them through a year-long program that culminates in the production of a site-specific popup exhibition.

Black Cube’s Guest Curator Laurie Britton Newell attended the reception, introducing the artists and welcoming visitors from all over the Front Range. She had forewarned them about being Gold Hill specific in attire and expectations.

“There is limited cell reception and no gas station in Gold Hill.”

“Wear footwear for rough terrain. The art installations are accessible only by foot and bring water, sun protection and a warm layer of clothes.”

“There is street parking in Gold Hill, but only on one side of the road.”

Newell explained that the Gold Hill Art Project brings together art installations in cabins and spaces on hillsides and in the forest in the historic town. She was struck by the dialog between past and present.

“The exhibition is a site-specific exploration of different versions of history that incorporates Gold Hill’s unique stories to conjure ideations beyond any particular time or space.”

Newell was relieved that the dark cloud moved slowly away from above Kirby’s Field. “Thank you for the good weather, God,” she said to the guests. “This is all about taking a journey outside your environment.”

She thanked the Gold Hill residents for engaging in the project and not minding that for every weekend for the next month, art lovers will be following maps guiding them through g the side streets and forest paths to find the exhibits on display in unexpected places.

Black Cube executive director Courtney Stell says most people think of an art show as being in a white cube, artwork hung in a sterilized empty space.

“We use a black cube to bring art to a unique environment,” says Snell, who is the Gallery Director at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design.

Ceramics artist Molly Berger’s work hung on the side of the small barn in the field, rumored to have once been the town post office.   Mining artifacts, tools of the trade has shed their years of rust and dirt and been rejuvenated by a coat of porcelain. Many of the pieces had been found in local homes or tucked away in sheds and became part of a larger work of art that included the bright artifacts against the natural wood wall of the barn.

Inside the barn, the walls are hung with mats inscribed with quotes from Gold Hill residents, referring to events of the past. One of them is long time resident Gretchen Diefenderfer’s statement about the Fourmile Fire that came close to wiping out her house on a ridge above the town, and the town itself. “I would rather have the house burn than the town,” she said, illustrating the love that resident have for the little town they call home.

Inside the Black Cube in the field, people were encouraged to look into the viewer that contained photographs of the historic buildings in town.

The second artist on the tour, Artist Fellow Jennifer Ling Datchuk, found her space on the hillside overlooking the Gold Hill School intersection west of town. A dirt path lined with small boulders winds downhill towards a flat place on which sits a rectangular structure. In front of it a red velvet rope stands out in contrast to the pine needle, dusty background.

Black Cube Artist Fellow Jennifer Ling Datchuk is an artist based in San Antonio, Texas with dual Eastern and Western family histories. Her work involves a variety of materials from porcelain to embroidery, exploring the emotional power of domestic objects and rituals.

Positioning her artwork near the site where a chinese laundry and bathhouse is reported to have stood in the 19th Century, she researched the Chinese involvement in the Colorado Gold Rush. Her artwork is based on a story about Asian laborers who worked in the laundry because they were forbidden to mine gold, but were permitted to clean the miner’s clothes. According to the story, the Chinese workers collect gold dust from the dirty clothing when it floated to the surface or gathered in the drains.

This act of washing clothes for residual riches caused the “Star Crossed Visitors to be labeled as opportunistic moneymakers. The monolithic concrete sculpture resembles a washtub or sink large enough to launder sheets or contain a human body. The red velvet fence is actually made of woven Asian hair.

The display stands out awkwardly in this setting and symbolizes the displacement of the Chinese migrants in Gold Hill. The display is made of concrete, mica, porcelain, hair and cotton rope.

Walking down the hill, past the Gold Hill General Store and the Gold Hill Inn and Bluebird Hotel, the guests reach the intersection of Lickskillet and Pine Street. There is a trail leading up the side of the hill, ponderosa pines etched darkly against the almost setting sun.

Large photographs lean against trees, startling in their vivid colors and shapes formed by his photochemical and darkroom processes, including placing natural items such as rocks and plants on 16 mm film. Stewart taught a a filming workshop called the Elements of Image Making and is working on his masters of Fine Arts at CU.

His images in the woods consist of hues and particulars projected on the film that could not be intended. His most recent film project examines the philosophy of science, ecology and 19th century natural sciences as a window into contemporary issues of globalization, climate change and social perspectives.

Many of the visitors who attended the opening on Saturday had never been to Gold Hill before and were in awe of the landscape as well as the historic miner’s cabins, school, museum and businesses that date back to the boom days of western Boulder County.

The project will be on display from August 6th – September 5th.  This exhibition is accompanied by a program of events that explore themes relating to the artists installations.

The following free program of workshops and film screenings will take place on Sundays and require pre-booking. To reserve a space on any of workshops please select a date and click link to register. Directions and further information will be sent once you have secured a place.

August 14, 10am – 1pm. Ceramic Bowl Making, a half day kids workshop with Molly Berger, ages five and over. During this workshop children will learn to pinch and coil building clay techniques to create a bowl and then decorate it with glaze.

August 14, 2 pm – 5 pm. Ceramic Plate Making, half day, adult workshop with Molly Berger. During this workshop participants will combine form and function to design, create and decorate their own hand-built plate, inspired by objects from the Gold Hill Museum and the mining era.

August 21, 10 am – 1 pm. Ceramic Tool Making, half day kids, five and older workshop with Molly Berger. During this workshop children will use their creativity to invent and prototype tools shapes out of clay inspired by inventions from the past to create new tools for the future.  

August 21, 2 pm – 5 pm. Create a Ceramic Drinking Set, half day adult workshop with Molly Berger. During this workshop participants will make their own set of drinking vessels, inspired by objects from the Gold Hill Museum and the mining era. Participants will have the opportunity to design, create and decorate their coffee mugs, tea bowls, juice cups, beer steins. August 28, 10am – 4pm. Pinhole Photography, one day workshop with Robert Schaller for  adults and kids aged six and older. Schaller is of the Handmade Film Institute, based in Ward. In this workshop Schaller will share his experience with pinhole cameras and guide students through how to construct a camera of their own. In addition to making a camera, students will photograph and develop strips of black and white 16mm film.  Bring your own picnic lunch.

August 28, 8 pm – 10 pm. Landmarks Film Screenings curated by Eric Stewart. The West is a place that exists as much onscreen as it does in reality. This program of short films traces the distance between the photograph and the frontier. With films by Thomas Edison, Zach Iannazi, Sarah Biagini, Marcy Suade, Andrew Busti, Zach Paranella, Curt Heiner, Alee Peoples,Erin Espelie, Eric Stewart and Taylor Dunne. Bring your own picnic dinner.

September 4, 10 am – 4 pm. Photogram Field Photography, a one day workshop with Taylor Dunne. Open to adults and kids aged six and older. Taylor Dunne is a filmmaker, educator and media activist. In this workshop participants will be immersed in the landscape of Gold Hill, where they will collect local plants, rocks and other materials and expose them to 16mm film to create photograms (camera-less photography). In addition to making prints, students will learn how to make plant-based developer to fix the film. At the end of day your handmade images will be combined into a short-film and be projected. No previous experience is required. Bring your own picnic lunch.

September 4, 8 pm – 10 pm. After Images Film Screenings curated by Eric Stewart. In ways both mournful and celebratory photographs connect us with the past and memorialize the present.  Through physical and chemical manipulation films by David Gatten, Taylor Dunne, Robert Schaller, Sarah Biagini, Eric Stewart and Mike Morris use photography as a metaphor for our aging bodies and fading memories.  Bring your own picnic dinner.


Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.