This new piece of public art is part skatepark, part picnic and part… storm water attenuation?

Matt Barton’s “Community Forms” are made from simple shapes and basic materials, but that raises a puzzling question.

What is it exactly ?

Public art, of course. The sprawling concrete patch of winding paths and curving walls is the latest offering from Nomadic Museum of the Black Cube, the region’s most prolific producer of pop-up art installations – and this piece fits the mold. It is a large-scale sculpture located in one of the busiest places in RiNo.

But it is also a place of gathering. With its polished surfaces and low, flat mounds, it is suitable for human recreation. “Community Forms” offers an irresistible invitation to come in, sit, picnic, play, nap and ride.

But it’s also – and this is crucial and, yes, a little odd – “an infrastructure support system that helps model stormwater mitigation.” In other words, it is a drainage ditch that channels rainwater away from an open field where it collects and stagnates to the city’s runoff systems.

If you are going to

Community Forms is located in the Taxi Development, 3455 Ringsby Court, Denver. It’s free.

This technical description of the room comes directly from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has partnered with the project with RedLine and the development of mixed-use taxis where it is installed. The agency contributed $ 34,000 to the project.

FEMA wants to get the country to think creatively about what a weir system can look like, encouraging communities and developers to invest in versions suitable for the design of the typical concrete ravines that direct runoff into areas. urban. These ditches do their job of course, keeping cities dry and healthy, but no one would describe them as beautiful.

The “community forms,” measuring about 100 feet by 30 feet, are small by FEMA standards, but they serve as a model for what is possible on a larger scale.

All of these functions guided Barton in his creative process. He had to keep this basic function in mind when imagining an environment that could be user-friendly, while also fitting into the Taxi Campus, a sprawling site off the South Platte River that is home to apartment complexes as well as venues. for small businesses, coffee shops, art studios, open space and more. Taxi prioritizes design and has long set the tone for the city’s contemporary architecture.

Barton brought specialist skills to the table. He is an art professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and known for creating rich three-dimensional sets that viewers can interact with. For a recent project, for example, he used plants and beams to transform the Understudy Gallery in downtown Denver into a giant environment that was both a terrarium and a sound sculpture.

He is also a Westerner, and this has influenced the configuration of “Community Forms”. Its bumps and undulating mounds are modeled after the earth in rocky places like Monument Valley, Utah. They are abstractions, of course, and only 2-3 feet tall, but they appear to be forged, like a canyon, by thousands of years of water flowing through them.

It should be noted that Barton is also a long-time skateboarder and is familiar with the pleasures and politics of skating.

Skaters and bikers are invited to take advantage of the “Community Forms” as much as the lunch hour workers at Taxi and as much as the pupils in recess at the learning center next door and as much as the volleyball players whose the sandy ground is adjacent to the room.

And skateboarders will no doubt find a dream landscape here, loaded with the kind of smooth, flexible contours that inspire daredevil tricks. The room might not have the official ramps, pipes, and pyramids of a traditional skateboard park, but it does come close. Presumably the bones will be broken in the “community forms”.

Barton likes the place to challenge skaters, and not just physically.

He breaks it down as follows: There are two kinds of places where skateboarders skate. The first is in spaces – parking lots, basketball courts, public squares, stairwells – where they come uninvited and do their thing. Skateboarders, especially those who see themselves as urban outlaws, love these spaces, even though they may have trouble using them.

The second place skaters flock are the public skateparks, designed and built specifically for skating. These are great places to do tricks as safely as possible, and Barton recognizes their value. But they can feel programmed and lack the romance of skateboarders who claim the urban concrete that everyone shares in a city.

But “Community Forms” is neither of those two things. It is not an official and programmed skatepark nor an invaded territory. Skaters love concrete drainage ditches, but part of the appeal is that they can be discovered and conquered by the (often) desperate teenagers who roam them on four wheels.

This “what is it” quality is part of what makes “Community Forms” such a compelling work of art, according to Cortney Lane Stell, executive director of Black Cube and curator of the work. Black Cube surely doesn’t have a mission to create ordinary skateparks or playgrounds.

“Community Forms” doesn’t just challenge skaters to consider who they are, where they fit in and what makes them tick. He also asks everyone to think twice about the rigid definitions we have of community spaces. Our tendency is to clearly label things as “work” or “play” or “commerce” or “transport” sites.

But this article on Taxi does not allow for this dismissive categorization. It’s art but not art, a skatepark but not a skatepark. And, at the same time, it is a drainage ditch that invites everyone to see their personal place in the ecosystem.

Once you break expectations, you create possibilities. In what other ways can a city eliminate duplicates, improve the environment, and improve aesthetics?

Equally important, how can he create more places for people to come together, without hierarchies or expectations as to who belongs? Between school kids and BMXers and tech workers taking breaks at Community Forms, it will be hard to tell the outlaws from the innocent, owners from intruders.

What is it exactly ? Hopefully we’ll never find out.

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