DENVER — The place we came from is not the same since we departed, and our home today has already changed since we arrived. Migration changes the migrant, but environments are fluid regardless. Artist and animator Annette Isham’s new project Pangea expands her ongoing investigation of land migration to complicate the nostalgia of place and the uncertainty of population drift.
Building a vision of Earth’s next supercontinent 200 million years ahead of time means Isham’s images teeter between cinematic dreamscapes and absurd fairy tales. The viewer can slip from an edge into an endless forest, or observe as the sea swallows figures without commotion. Spinning kaleidoscopes, collage, and costumes are some of the tools Isham uses to make any filmed movement uncanny. In “Dim Descension” (2021), her camera descends into a dense green forest with a mirroring effect that transforms the wooded trail into an arched cathedral nave. The frames of the film eventually peel back like pages in a book. With seemingly simple interventions, Isham transforms the woods into an ecological Pantokrator, judging the traveler’s necessity.
A reoccurring theme for Isham is the gathering of several dozen Venus of Willendorf that shuffle over mountain ranges and through suburbs, commuting endlessly within the digital landscape. The nomadic nude’s journey can be observed now at the alternative art space The Yard (Colorado Springs, Colorado) in Venus: A Place to Hold (2021) but only on-site and through one’s phone, meaning viewers have to be physically anchored to a point on the globe to consume the art on a device unbound by place.
Since the Venus is a symbol of fertility and one form of imaging the future, the icon will be featured in the upcoming work Pangea which will conclude Isham’s position as Resident Artist at Platteforum (Denver, Colorado). The residency’s selection process for Isham was a little different from other professional residencies. Platteforum’s Board of Directors narrowed the pool of prospective residents and the institution’s high school interns ultimately selected six finalists. Isham will collaborate with students in Platteforum’s after-school program called ArtLab, which has existed in some form since Platteforum’s founding in 2002.
In 2017, Kim McCarty, the executive director of the institution at the time, and Michael Gadlin, then a member of the Board of Directors and the institution’s current leader envisioned a distinct youth program and sought to expand it. This year, a $274,000 grant from Caring for Denver Foundation enabled ArtLab to serve up to 30 students from 18 schools across the city. With one application, a student can stay in the program for three years, working with three to four Resident Artists each year to learn professional practices, techniques, and exhibition development. Artists come through the ArtLab program, not the other way around, noted Gadlin, making the artist residency experience unique among others in the state.
Producing a new body of work for exhibition while planning meaningful engagements with interns is possible because the Platteforum pays artists a $350 a week stipend for the six-to-eight-week residency on top of a $200 pre-residency planning stipend and housing for out-of-town artists. Artists may also receive compensation for accepting additional responsibilities, such as $250 for contributing to Platteforum’s ArtMoves podcast. It is a modest income, but considering most artist residencies in the state have no stipend or charge artists for the pleasure of using a barn on a parcel of land, it is notable.
Isham was planning an audio recording workshop when I visited her at the residency studio, a space as large as the exhibition room with windows overlooking the sleepy Platte River. She noted interns had a subdued reaction to a project talking about “home,” so a field trip to record sounds of the city was in the works. Isham hopes student recordings can be soundscapes for her upcoming exhibition.
Since ArtLab interns research and produce their own art and presentations on topics that range from gun violence to climate change, and have worked with previous resident artists, Isham noted the interns pick up skills and directives quickly, making them valuable to her goal of building new work. In fact, students are paid minimum wage for their time on site. Galdin highlighted that many participating interns attend Title 1 schools and belong to families that need some financial contribution from their high school children, which prompted ArtLab to budget wages for the students. It is likely one reason the last round of applications had 57 students apply for 21 open spots. ArtLab plans to grow the cohort to 40 later this year.
In addition to scaling in size, ArtLab interns can access the institution’s food pantry and expanded services, including mental health support. A contracted licensed therapist leads group discussions on social-emotional tools and offers resident artists and interns one-on-one sessions with costs covered by Platteforum.
Some American art residencies charge applicants for space or for the prestige of a name, and most residencies have an application process that would put a graduate school submission to shame. It is refreshing to see a creative residency work as hard for its community and artists as the artists and community work for it. “We are the megaphone, not the message,” Galdin said, quoting his predecessor McCarty. The announcement coming through the speakers is art residencies can be bolder than a cabin in the woods and a free drawing class for patrons.
Editor’s Note, 5/10/2022 11:50am EDT: An earlier version of this article stated that Platteforum received a grant from Caring for Denver Foundation in 2017. This has been corrected to 2022.