Travelers at Denver International Airport might wonder why the opening lines of “Moby Dick” are affixed to a baggage carousel or be startled by a classic country-western ballad playing from what appears, at first glance, to be a carry-on bag.
The quotation from Herman Melville’s masterpiece and the C&W music are examples of the “Friends and Neighbors” public art project commissioned by DIA in advance of Denver’s 2013 Biennial of the Americas in July. And helping out on the airport project are MSU Denver students and a staff member of the University’s Center for Visual Art.
Ryan McFarlin, a senior communication design major, helped Mexican artist Ximena Labra install her text-based pieces incorporating excerpts from novels, short stories and poetry. Madeliene Kattman, a sophomore art history major, Stefanie Gerber Darr, the Center Visual Art gallery manager, and alumnus Evan Lee Miller (’12), will soon start a performance series at DIA created by conceptual artist Humberto Duque.
Works by Labra, Duque and two other airport-commissioned artists are on display at the CVA. They got involved after Labra and Duque called on Center Visual Art Creative Director Cecily Cullen to recruit students to help with their projects.
“Ximena specifically asked for a student who was creative, competent, reliable; she had a long list of requirements,” Cullen says. McFarlin fit the bill.
Labra’s work consists of more than 80 large-font quotations from poetry and classic literature about travels and the travel experience. The quotations were created by McFarlin and Labra’s team at the airport and installed on walls, windows and carousels.
It wasn’t easy duty. McFarlin worked with Labra and her assistants for three weeks in December, sometimes clocking 12-plus-hours days. In return, he earned some money and gained invaluable insight into how an artist works and adjusts when things don’t go according to plan.
His takeaway: “If you have an idea, you just do it.”
Kattman, Darr and Miller are among seven performers for Duque’s “Lightning Blues Express” project. The airport describes it this way: “The artist has curated songs of farewell which will emerge from the crowds as the performers mingle and move about the concourses while pulling a small wheeled-audio system.”
The songs are played through an Ipod hooked up to an amplifier. The artist’s idea, says Cullen, is to startle people “out of their travel-thinking mode.”
“My interpretation is questioning what homesickness really means,” Kattman says. “It’s supposed to arouse questions.”
Both projects will run through July. “Lightning Blues Express” will involve two performers at a time roaming the concourses on four-hour shifts, though the exact schedule is still being worked out. The students are paid for their time and received a stipend to buy business-casual clothes so they fit in with many DIA travelers.
“This is concrete and unique workforce training for artists,” Cullen says. “It’s rare to come across this type of opportunity, so we’re very pleased to be able to help make these important connections for students that offer experience with public art and international artists.”
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