Artistic Duo, SANGREE, Shows Denver Both Past and Future
Photography by Sara Ford
Near the entrance to an abandoned underground bus station in downtown Denver are two large square glass portals that reveal a subterranean archeological dig. Enclosed in weight-bearing glass, one window reveals masonry walls that intersect in a T-shape below the sidewalk’s surface. Darkened dirt at the foot of the partition exaggerates the brightly lit greys and blues of the roughly hewn stones. The second skylight to the underworld displays a wall that zigzags and a set of steps that lead deeper into the well, away from the viewer. Nearby in an open shipping container that serves as a pop-up museum or base camp, a three-dimensional model provides a blueprint that completes the puzzle of this curious urban discovery. The ‘dig’ reveals only two very small sections of a massive buried urban development. The diagram articulates that the first portal displays the outer wall of a private residence.
The second dig site is the corner of a bodega and the steps lead to a large public patio space beyond the sightline of the viewer. Craggy walls of the dig sections create shelves and crevices. Abalone shells carefully rest in these niches and an unadorned long neck vase sleeps on its side. What appears to be a smart phone case made of mother-of-pearl perilously clings to the dirt wall. This discovery is not attempting to betray the viewer, rather reward the careful one. The ancient smart phone among ruins is the clue that the archeological dig is fictional.
Photography by Sara Ford
Presented by Black Cube, a nomadic museum, this project titled Unclassified Site Museum is the first public art installation by SANGREE’s two members, Mexico City natives Rene Godinez Pozas and Carlos Lara. The installation below the streets of the historic district in lower downtown Denver will remain until construction begins on a condominium development that covers the entire block including the windowed wells to the mythical ancient civilization. The artistic duo modeled their concept after urban spaces of Teotihuacan, a Mesoamerican city built 1,000 years before the Aztecs claimed it. It was one of the largest cities anywhere in the Western Hemisphere before the 1400s, peaking at a population of 100,000 between 100BC and AD 650. Ceremonial spaces, private residences and public yards rubbed shoulders like the cities of today. Just as Teotihuacan changed hands as empires rose and fell in its valley, the site of the art installation was once home to Colorado’s first gold coin mint, a public transportation hub and soon to be plush private residences.
Photography by Cortney Stell
Although the artists provide objects and schematics, the imagined subterranean culture requires the visitor to animate it and fill the gaps in the story. Like Alice struggling through the doorway to see the lovely garden in Wonderland, Unclassified Site Museum possess an element of genuine discovery, amazement and stupefaction that is derived not by visual beauty but the questions it raises. Age, scale, context and meaning are undeclared or only insinuated, allowing for a revisionist history and contemplation of the consequences of future growth. Before 1848, parts of Colorado were within Mexican territory and Denver was situated just outside that border. Today, in the shadow of Denver’s building boom and changing political climate, SANGREE creates the opportunity to discuss the cultural heritage of the land that is overlooked. Preservation of that history is not in spite of progress; it is in service of that expansion.
The Mayans, one of many cultures hosted by Teotihuacan, reflected social and political changes in their building campaigns. When Mayan society changed from egalitarian to autocratic, elite families constructed tall slender pyramids that mimicked ceremonial structures. Denver’s history has hosted fortune seekers, outdoor enthusiasts and oil tycoons. Like Teotihuacan, Denver has not always enjoyed an upward trajectory. Art has the power to change how we see and how we remember the past. SANGREE’s Unclassified Site Museum manages to invoke historical recollection and ponder the future, simultaneously.