Melissa Furness

Melissa Furness, associate professor of Art in Painting and Drawing in the College of Arts & Media (CAM), has been invited as an ambassador for the 2015 Biennial of the Americas.

Her selection comes after a lengthy nomination, application and interview process. “I am completely thrilled at this exciting opportunity,” Furness said. “I will be participating in a 10-week residency in Mexico City during my sabbatical from April through June, during which time I will work on a visual research project that will be presented at the McNichols Building here in Denver in July.”

The program involves partnerships with ArtPlant, an organization that brings three artists a year to Denver for residencies, and SOMA, a contemporary art space in Mexico City.

“Melissa Furness continues to attract international attention through her wide-ranging creative work,” CAM Dean Laurence Kaptain said. “It is fitting that she would be selected for this special collaboration between Denver and Mexico, as her work is inspired by experiences of travel, including prior residencies in Hungary, Poland and Ireland. It is fitting that a talented faculty member of the College of Arts & Media will embark on a bold new creative program supported by the Biennial of the Americas, a privately funded entity. This type of collaboration (between public and private) exemplifies how creativity and mutual understanding are valued and recognized in Denver and across the State of Colorado.”

Ambassador artist exchange

Part of the project involves a residency exchange in which two Denver artists, Furness and Matt Scobey, will reside in Mexico City at different times and work with the community there in association with SOMA, while two artists from Mexico City will reside here in Denver in association with ArtPlant.

In the past, the Department of Visual Arts at CU Denver has had ArtPlant artists come and speak to visual arts students, and that will continue with these two artists this spring.

Community engagement was a large factor in selecting artists for the program. The specifics for Furnass’ work will be defined when she arrives for the residency. “I will begin by exploring the community of Mexico City. I will then submit a project proposal to be considered by the selection committee. Once the project is approved, I will continue to interact with the community while creating works that will be on display during the 2015 Biennial festivities,” she said.

Art context in history and culture

“The Biennial theme of ‘Now!’ relates quite directly to my work,” Furness explained. “It’s this sense of ‘we’ as people standing on shifting ground with one foot in a new geological era and one foot lingering on the structures of the past. With my creative research, I am most fascinated by how people living today live amongst ruins of the past and how this history is perceived of today and, at times, mistranslated into something that is quite different than its original form.”

For Furness, it is important to go to a place and absorb cultural aspects and take the time to observe, listen and interact with its people.

“I have most recently been interested in the contemporary simulated archeological artifact, which takes on multiple forms over the span of time,” she said. “The art object is first produced by the so-called ’craftsperson,’ which is then used in some form by the public. The object is then forgotten, and perhaps buried or mistreated in some manner and then resurrected, reconstructed, preserved and made anew again outside of its original context, with intermediary guesses as to what the object ’might have been.’ In the end it becomes something quite different—something that is most often viewed alone in a museum, robbed of its original use value, leaving the public to somehow make ’sense’ of it.”

While Furness’ work primarily is based in painting and drawing, her interests and skills extend to sculpture and printmaking in the production of installations and site-specific works.

“I am interested in taking the guise of the epic public history painting and transforming it into a personal narrative of struggle,” she said. “This is the sense of peril, this fear of failure, I suppose. However, at the same time, there is a hopefulness, a desire to uphold beauty while also recognizing that it is an invention which translates the sublime—nature consuming a man’s structures—into kitsch—man consuming the landscape, which manifests itself in my work through the use of ’fake’ materials or thrift store paintings and the like.”

The exhibition is set to be installed at the McNichols Building in Denver, with an opening during the Biennial on July 14, 2015.

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